One of the stars headlining the A Day in the Country festival at Augusta Riverfront Marina on May 6 is a very likeable 32-year-old Kansas native with the unusual name of Jerrod Niemann.
He’s been building up a lot of local fans with his appearances at The Country Club Dance Hall and Saloon in 2008, Coyotes nightclub with his friend Lee Brice in March of 2011 and at the WKXC-FM Guitar Pull at James Brown Arena last November.
Niemann has been gaining international attention through his hit singles Lover, Lover (which also was his first No. 1 hit) and What Do You Want From Me? as well as opening major venue concerts lately for Miranda Lambert.
He was born in Harper, Kan., but grew up in the small town of Liberal, Kan., where he early on became very focused on music.
“We were so small that we didn’t get any of the big TV stations,” Niemann said in a call last week. “Amarillo (Texas) was our closest airport and that was three hours away. Our local radio station broadcast programs of a syndicated station out of Denver. My family also watched old VHS tapes of the Louisiana Hayride shows.”
Niemann learned to play a piano and began writing songs when he was young.
It’s appropriate that he will be performing just before Tracy Lawrence for the A Day in the Country outdoor concert because his first guitar was a guitar autographed by Lawrence that his mother won in a contest.
He also won a national talent concert when he was 17 in 1996 by singing the Lawrence hit song Texas Tornado.
I asked him if he ever had a chance to tell Lawrence about those Lawrence-connected major life-altering events in his life.
“Yes, I did,” he replied. “I was in Jacksonville, Fla., at a show where Tracy was performing and a friend from a local radio station took me on Tracy’s bus. We laughed about my learning to play on his autographed guitar, and we chatted about our love of old country music.”
Niemann said the first song he ever learned was the Johnny Cash hit Ring of Fire; picking it out while visiting an aunt and uncle in Sequoia, N.M. He lists as one of his all-time favorite singers Lefty Frizzell.
One of the songs that Niemann came to know as a kid listening to the syndicated programs out of Denver was the 1992 reggae-flavored hit single Lover (You Don’t Treat Me No Good) by the group Sonia Dada.
When Niemann was recording songs for what became his Arista Nashville’s Sea Gayle album Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury in 2010, Niemann wanted the Sonia Dada song on it and re-titled it Lover, Lover. It became his first Sea Gayle single release and first No. 1 hit.
It took 10 years in Nashville before Niemann became an “overnight success.” He had moved to Nashville in 2000 after attending South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, and had self-released his debut CD Long Hard Road in 1996.
He lists among his greatest accomplishments as having Garth Brooks call him up and ask him to come to Oklahoma and write some songs with him. One that came out of that session was Good Ride, Cowboy, a tribute to rodeo champion and Brooks’ late musical hero Chris LeDoux.
“We sat around for a couple of hours, and I kept throwing out stuff that Garth didn’t respond to, and I thought, ‘Man, he hates everything. I bet he’s sorry that he invited me out here.’
“But then he just picked up a guitar and played a verse and a chorus of what we had been trying to put together. He had been absorbing every thing all along.”
225 YEARS OF CONCERTS: Speaking of the A Day in the Country concert on May 6, it was 225 years ago that the first organized concert was held in Augusta on May 1, 1787. That’s when music instructor Claude Simon, formerly of Savannah, performed selections on a pianoforte (an early version of the piano).
The main purpose of Simon’s concert was to raise money for musical instruments for his students. The admission price – even though the concert was being held a decade after the Americans had defeated the British in the Revolutionary War – still was 10 shillings.
The concert was held in the entertainment house of Belgium-born Emanuel Wambersie, located at what is now the parking lot of the building at Fourth and Reynolds streets.
Two months later, Simon staged a concert on the Fourth of July celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He again played the pianoforte while a “Mr. Verdel” played a French horn and clarinet.
Concerts also were held in 1787 at Wambersie’s house with both singing and playing of other instruments that included a harpsichord, a clarinet, violins and flutes.
There have been thousands of concerts in this area over the past 225 years, but they all started when Claude Simon and “Mr. Verdel” offered to entertain local residents with their musical talents.
ALWAYS PATSY CLINE. The Edgefield County Theater is staging its first musical with the two-person production Always, Patsy Cline.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays, April 27 and May 4, and Saturdays, April 28 and May 5 and at 3 p.m. Sundays, April 29 and May 6 in the William Miller Bouknight Theatre at the Joanne T. Rainsford Discovery Center, 405 Main St., in Edgefield. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling (803) 637-3833.
There will be a three-member band backing Melissa McElmurray of Augusta portraying country music superstar Patsy Cline and Debbie Fryer of North Augusta playing Cline’s real-life fan, Louise Seger, a housewife from Houston, Texas.
For more information, call Bradley Watts, the director, at (803) 295-1826 or (803) 642-9977 or Fryer at (803) 279-7792 or (803) 645-7802.