By Alan Sculley - For Weekender

Country bad boy Brantley Gilbert set to perform Aug. 21 at Montage Mountain

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SCRANTON — With a string of chart-topping country hits and a pair of hit albums under his belt, Brantley Gilbert has become a bona fide headliner in the genre.

Stepping up to headlining status means Gilbert is expected to deliver a polished show that brings his songs to life, know how to work a big stage and how to engage and entertain an audience numbering well into the thousands and beyond. He’ll have his chance in Northeastern Pennsylvania when he takes stage Aug. 21 at Montage Mountain.

Gilbert, though, doesn’t seem to have found headlining arena stages that much of a challenge. He’s been topping bills since fall 2012 and looks to have taken easily to playing big shows like he’s been doing it all his life.

That makes sense when he compares the shows he does now to the ones he played while cutting his teeth and honing his performance chops coming up.

“Looking back, we had the hard time, but the privilege, of actually coming up playing biker bars and little bitty college bars,” Gilbert said. “I’ll tell you … trying to keep an audience engaged with just you and a guitar as opposed to – even though it’s a larger audience and a larger platform – I’d say that’s 10 times harder any day of the week than (it is now) going up there with my guys (in the band) and being up there in that comfort zone. I feel (at home) up there. I’m up there to have a good time, sing songs and throw a party.”

Gilbert indeed paid his share of dues before he became one of country music’s fastest rising newer stars with a hard-edged sound and a knack for making his concerts a good-time party.

Born Jan. 20, 1985, the native of Jefferson, Ga. began his music career a decade ago by playing solo acoustic shows around the Southeast.

Those early shows gave way to full-band gigs, which allowed Gilbert to begin creating the rock-influenced country sound he envisioned for his songs.

Things began to fall into place for Gilbert when he moved to Nashville and landed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell. His songwriting began to put him on the country music map about seven years ago after Jason Aldean covered the Gilbert tune, “The Best of Me,” for the Walmart version of his 2009 album “Wide Open.” Aldean later had a top five hit with the Gilbert tune, “My Kind of Party,” which was also the title track from that singer’s 2010 multi-platinum album. Aldean also cut the Gilbert-Colt Ford co-write, “Dirt Road Anthem.”

As he gained songwriting credits, Gilbert also started recording his own music. Signed to the indie label Average Joe’s Entertainment, he released his first album, “Modern Day Prodigal Son,” in 2009.

His second album, “Halfway to Heaven,” was released a year later on Average Joe’s, but got a second life when Gilbert signed to Big Machine’s Valory Music imprint in 2011 and that label reissued the album.

That’s when Gilbert’s career began to take off. The first two singles from the album, “Country Must Be Country Wide” and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” both topped “Billboard” magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart. By the end of 2012, Gilbert was starting to headline sizeable venues and “Halfway to Heaven” has gone on to sell more than a million copies.

His career and profile has only accelerated with his current release, “Just As I Am,” which arrived in May 2014. The album so far has given Gilbert two No. 1 Country Airplay singles, “Bottoms Up,” and “One Hell of an Amen,” and a top 10 single in “Small Town Throwdown.”

The latest album delivers more of what fans have liked from Gilbert. There are brawny Southern rock-tinged country on tunes like “If You Want A Bad Boy,” “Small Town Throwdown” mixed in with a few rockers that have a slightly softer edge (“Bottoms Up” and “17 Again”) and several muscular, but tender hearted, ballads (I’m Gone” and “Let It Ride”).

Lyrically, Gilbert lives up to the album title “Just As I Am” with songs that feel authentic and lived through. That honesty is something he’s tried to convey throughout his career, and Gilbert says the image of him as a bad boy with a heart of gold is pretty close to the truth.

“I don’t write about anything I haven’t been through,” Gilbert said. “I don’t try to be somebody I’m not. They’re real stories. They really are about me. I tell everybody, if you want to get to know me, if you listen to those three records, you’ll have a really good idea. And they were released at different time periods in my life, and those are the things I was going through.”

Gilbert seemed to come along at a time when country music was ready for some guys with a little tougher exterior.

Sure, the charts still feature plenty of the sensitive, romantic guys whose songs have always been safer to play on radio and have traditionally been big sellers in country. But some of the hottest acts in the genre during the past couple of years have been Gilbert, Aldean and Florida Georgia Line — as well as Toby Keith, who for years seemed like the lone wolf in cultivating an image of the rugged, pickup-driving, tequila-drinking, good-time guy.

Gilbert may have a lot to say in his songs, but he doesn’t have any grand theories for why country radio has fallen in love with the rocking bad boys of the genre.

“Man, I hope my answer isn’t too boring for you, but to be honest with you, I try not to think about it a whole lot,” he said. “Any time I try to lay something out or over-analyze it, it ends up biting me. But I never came into the business to make anybody mad or, I just really came in to do my thing. I’m a songwriter and I write certain songs.

And country music has been kind enough to me. You can call it timing or trending or whatever you want. Whatever it was, we got blessed with an opportunity. Of course, it wasn’t that way in the beginning, but eventually we found some open arms and some open doors, and we found a platform to exist on for a little while. As long as I can keep doing things, writing my songs and have them played on the radio. I’ll be doing it.”

Gilbert will also continue to play shows, and fans can expect him to bring the party, as he plays songs from across his still-young career.

“We’ve enhanced the production a little bit,” Gilbert said of his live show. “It’s still going to be all guns blazing right out of the chute.

We’re going to come out with all guns blazing and put ‘em back in the holster the same way. It will be a real high energy (evening). And we’ll take you back a little bit and kind of pull some heart strings, or try to, then go right back to raising all kind of hell.” photos

By Alan Sculley

For Weekender

Alan Sculley is a correspondent for Weekender. Reach Weekender at [email protected]


Alan Sculley is a correspondent for Weekender. Reach Weekender at [email protected]