Gary Allan made his recording debut in 1996, but he remains mostly unknown to country music fans.
Augusta-area fans fond of Mr. Allan's music (Her Man, It Would Be You, Smoke Rings in the Dark) can see him perform Sunday, May 7, at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds on a bill that also includes Merle Haggard, Lace and Shiloh.
Mr. Allan's performance is part of the 15th annual A Day in the Country Festival, which should change its name. It's neither a day nor totally country. The first day (Saturday, May 6) offers a concert at 7 p.m. featuring Elvis impersonator Jeff Barnes (a finalist at the annual Elvis contest in Memphis, Tenn.) and beach music groups the Catalinas and the Chairmen of the Board. Gates open at 6 p.m.
The second day maintains the festival's original country theme with the Shiloh-Lace-Allan-Haggard concert starting at noon. Gates open at 11 a.m.
Tickets for each day's concert are $10 advance (at Pump 'N Shop locations or through www.tixonline.com) or $15 at the gate. Take your own blankets or lawn chairs, unless you don't mind standing for the concerts.
Mr. Allan's national image could change dramatically next week, depending on the outcome of the Academy of Country Music awards show. He is up against Chad Brock (Ordinary Life, Country Boy Can Survive) and Brad Paisley (Who Needs Pictures? and The Man He Didn't Have to Be) in the Top New Male Vocalist category.
The 35th annual awards show airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WRDW-TV (Channel 12). For more information, see the Web site (www.acmcountry.com).
Mr. Allan will perform Tuesday at Hollywood's House of Blues nightclub, with his songwriting and recording friend Jim Lauderdale opening for him. Mr. Lauderdale co-wrote several songs, including the truly different Wake Up Screaming on Mr. Allan's debut album, Used Heart for Sale. It is an incredible piece of music that, like his recent single, Smoke Rings in the Dark, is not your typical commercial country release.
When I first interviewed Mr. Allan in May 1997, he told me how he picked Mr. Lauderdale's song and other tracks for the debut album.
"I met with a different song publisher every half hour for a week and heard about 1,500 to 2,000 songs on tapes that didn't have any names on them," Mr. Allan said. "I didn't want to know who wrote them or who had the publishing rights on them so I wouldn't be influenced by somebody's friend."
Out of that critically acclaimed debut album came his first big single, (All I Want to Be Is) Her Man.
In his personal life, Mr. Allan seems to have a hard time staying "her man." His first marriage out of high school produced three daughters and ended in divorce. Mr. Allan told me he married too young. He walked down the aisle again last year, but that marriage to model Danette Day lasted only seven months.
"It was just a big mistake, and I realized it and got out," Mr. Allan said in an interview in the April/May issue of Country Music magazine. "I rushed into something, and I shouldn't have. Love makes you do stupid things."
On top of the bad marriage, Mr. Allan's Decca label was closed recently by its parent company, MCA Records, just as his single and third album (also titled Smoke Rings in the Dark) were gaining momentum. He and three other Decca artists, however, were kept on contract with MCA.
A native Californian, Mr. Allan loves to surf and knows that you can survive if you successfully and skillfully ride out the big waves and don't let them pull you under. He's now finding, as he grows older, that goes for his personal and professional life as well.