If it weren’t for a cancelled bar gig, Clayton Anderson may never have followed the path to country music.
He was a student at Indiana University when he started goofing around with a guitar, performing cover songs with his roommate. When a scheduled performer at a bar they frequented unexpectedly couldn’t show, and no other established band could be lined up, Anderson got the chance to perform on stage.
“We got in there, and the next thing you know, I’m hooked on it, my grades are suffering and we ended up getting the chance to open for Kenny Chesney,” Anderson said. “That was the point where I really wanted to give music a shot, so I moved to Nashville.”
From that small opening of opportunity, Anderson worked his way towards his goal of reaching the pinnacle of country music stardom. The Bedford native has opened for names such as Jason Aldean, Sara Evans and Jimmy Buffett, released an independent album that charted in the Top 50 Billboard country albums and caught the eye of Kenny Chesney by winning his “Next Big Star” contest in 2008.
Now living in Nashville and performing music full-time, Anderson is navigating the highs and lows of a career in music.
“You always hope that people are buying into what you’re doing, and that they love your music,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s 100 people or 5,000 people, when they’re singing along, it gives you a high you can’t find anywhere else in life.”
Anderson will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 13 at Mallow Run Winery in a special weekend concert. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 the day of the show.
While in the midst of a Midwest tour, Anderson took some time to talk about his style, being on the road and building his reputation in the honky-tonks from Michigan to Florida.
Where did your love of music come from?
I grew up loving music — there was always music in the house. It was my mom listening to old Elvis Presley records, and she’d have that going while she cleaned the house. My dad had these Kiss records and I thought they were crazy, with all of their war paint on. My grandma always listened to Conway Twitty. So there was always music around.
Did you want to be a musician your whole life?
I love singing. I was in choir, but never really had a clue or an intention of making a career out of country music. It wasn’t until I got to college at (Indiana University) that I got hooked on it.
What was it like getting to open for Kenny Chesney?
It was really eye-opening and a great lesson to see someone at the top of their game. To see the professionalism and everything that went into the show was great. Just to get 15 minutes of fame up there was pretty cool. It really pushed me to want to take the chance on music.
Why did you want to take that chance?
There’s been a lot of great music that’s come out of Indiana, but places like Georgia and Texas, you can see that you can make music a career. Indiana it’s not so much like that. It was a little risky, but I had to try. I didn’t want to be an old man on the porch with a bunch of regrets.
With that decision in mind, how did you develop your sound?
In college, we were a really crappy cover band playing ‘90s pop music. People thought it was really cool that we’d cover these songs and make them country, but that wasn’t we were trying to do. I couldn’t hide my accent, so I started writing songs that came out being country, but with a John Cougar Mellencamp/Bruce Springsteen/Bob Dylan twist to them. Midwestern rock ‘n’ roll.
How did your upbringing in Bedford influence your sound?
Growing up in a small town, everyone can relate. You all go through the same things. Worshiping Johnny Cougar like we all did, it’s easy to see where the influence comes from.
What was it like writing your own songs and transitioning from playing covers?
It was really hard. When you’re a cover band, it’s easy — you play popular songs, and people sing and love it and go crazy. When you’re trying to be an artist, it’s a hard transition. We’d go from playing to 1,000 people to playing to nobody when you start playing your own music. But cover songs were great because it taught you why those songs were so popular.
What’s it like going out on the road to play your music?
For me, it’s awesome. I’ve always loved to travel. I’m a big history buff, so going all over the country, I never would have believed that we’d be doing the things we’ve gotten to do and playing with the people we’ve played with. It’s been a joy to see the country from a van or a bus window.
What kind of atmosphere are you trying to create for the audience onstage?
I always want to have a good time with them, where they can leave their troubles at home and come hang out for a few hours. It’s a high-energy show. There’s a cross between something like Jimmy Buffett and John Mellencamp and Kenny Chesney, all these guys with high energy. We don’t play a lot of slow songs.
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 13
Where: Mallow Run Winery, 6964 W. Whiteland Road, Bargersville
- Picnics are welcome, although food trucks will be out on the lawn.
- This is a rain or shine event. In the case of inclement weather, the show will be cancelled and tickets will become a voucher to any remaining concert during the winery’s Picnic Concert Series.
- Children 12 and under are free and do not need a ticket.
- Blankets and lawn chairs encouraged. Please, no tents.
- No pets allowed during this event.
- Only Mallow Run alcohol is permitted.
Admission: $15 in advance, $20 day of show
Where to buy tickets: Online at mallowrun.com, by calling (317) 422-1556 or in the winery tasting room.
Current home: Nashville, Tennessee
Occupation: Country music singer
Current album: “Right Where I Belong,” with over 10 million track streams.
Musical influences: Elvis, KISS, Conway Twitty, Guns N’ Roses, John Mellencamp, Garth Brooks, Aerosmith, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Diffie, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw.