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Country star following in Garth Brooks’ footsteps

Brice brings his music to Wabash drive-in

Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 19, 2020

Members of the so-called Silent Generation used to tell stories about the impact of seeing Elvis Presley perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.

Kids felt that they’d seen something they’d never seen before and parents felt that they’d seen something they never wanted to see again.

Country singer Lee Brice and his father had a similar experience with Garth Brooks, of all people.

Smashing guitars

They were in their Sumter, S.C., living room watching a televised concert during which Brooks smashed a guitar a la British rocker Pete Townshend.

“Daddy couldn’t get over the fact that he’d wasted that good guitar,” Brice said, laughing.

Brice saw things differently.

“Nobody had ever done that in a country show before,” he said. “Nobody had ever gone that rock.”

Little did Brice know as he sat there in his PJs admiring Brooks that he would one day write one of Brooks’ biggest hits, “More Than a Memory.” It was the first song in the history of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart to debut at No. 1.

Nowadays, Brice can text Brooks at will, although he insists that he doesn’t abuse the privilege.

Brice has achieved great success in the country music business, but great success doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes find yourself performing shows at drive-in theaters.

That’s what Brice finds himself doing now. He will make his way to the 13-24 Drive-In on Saturday, Aug. 29.

Enjoying summer

Drive-in theater shows are one way that national musicians have found to play live during the pandemic. Brice said he doesn’t have the usual money coming in, so he can’t pay the people who normally depend on him to make a living.

“It’s been rough,” Brice said. “Luckily, we’ve had one or two shows. We’ve been doing some private things here and there. We’re doing the best we can. At least we’re out playing some.”

The pandemic has not been without its blessings. 

Brice was at the mixing stage of a new album when the world went on lockdown. He was able to finish the album at his home studio.

“I engineered and produced all my vocals and guitars at my house,” Brice said. “Luckily, I’d done all that stuff in my life before. It was fun to get back into the pilot’s seat.”

He was also able to spend a lot of time with his wife and three kids, something he doesn’t get to do as much of as he’d like. 

“Usually, in the summertime, I’m never home hardly,” he said. “Me, my kids, and my wife will look back on this as the best summer we had. We got to spend every day together.”

Beneath his macho exterior, Brice is a softie, something he unabashedly admits to.

He confessed that one of his earliest songs was about lost love. Nothing unusual about that — except that Brice was 10 years old when he wrote it and the girl he pined for was someone he’d lost touch with after kindergarten.

Brice has from a young age loved nothing better than ballads written about girls and beloved dogs. As a boy, he loved ballads written by George Strait. He also loved ballads written by Boyz II Men.

Two of his all-time favorite songs are “November Rain” and “Patience,” by a group that has never crossed over to the country charts and has never even tried: Guns N’ Roses. 

Loving music

Brice went to Clemson on a football scholarship and briefly wondered if he had a professional career in that sport ahead of him.

But the pull of music was too strong. 

He moved to Nashville after college and started paying his dues as a songwriter.

Brice wrote songs for Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean, and Blake Shelton.

He loved Nashville because it was a big city with a small-town feel.

“People who had similar dreams as mine would tell me, ‘Oh, I am thinking of moving to L.A.,’ or ‘Oh, I am thinking of moving to New York,’” Brice said. “I’d be like, ‘More power to you, but I can’t even fathom going there.’ They’re such big, huge places, and Nashville has such a small-town vibe.

“You can go to a songwriter club or a bar and meet someone who got to town that day and who also wants to write songs,” he said. “You make your own group of friends. You write together. You record. You hang out. You get better.”

And because Nashville is such a small town, there is a greater likelihood that you’ll encounter someone who can help transform you into the sort of musician that other people write songs for.

That’s the level Brice has reached, but it doesn’t seem to have spoiled him at all. 

Garth Brooks still represents the gold standard for Brice, not only because of his showmanship, but also because of how he behaves when he is offstage. 

“I am continually amazed at how sweet and humble he is,” Brice said. 

Just like Brice himself.

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