Country band Mason Dixon Line formed just four years ago, but the men who comprise the lineup were already familiar to rock music fans in the area.
As Synergy, guitarist Troy McDaniel, singer Kerry Schwartz, bassist Brett Browand, and drummer Eric Heminger were a rock cover band, forming in 2002 and playing for a decade before taking a break to pursue other things.
Eventually they started getting ready to form something new.
From Rock to Country
“Eric started talking about it and talked to Kerry, and then I think Kerry called me,” McDaniel said. “This time we decided to be a country band which made sense because country was pretty popular by that time. We all liked a lot of the modern country songs, so it made sense to go that route. And as a country band, we had a lot of opportunities because there was less competition.”
Having a past together, relating to each other for many years as both colleagues and friends, helped the group get up to speed quickly.
“We have a connection,” McDaniel said. “We really are like brothers, and we like to pick on each other. We like to pick on the drummer, but everyone picks on the drummers.”
They got early help from the Rusty Spur Saloon in Fort Wayne, who provided them with chances to build an audience. Within a short time, they found themselves opening for the sold-out concerts of Frank Foster, Colt Ford, Tyler Farr, and Jerrod Niemann and headlining RedNeck Rave 2 and RedNeck Rave 3.
Things built rapidly. They found themselves perhaps more successful than they intended to be.
MOre popular than expected
“As time progressed we’d promise ourselves that we weren’t going to play too much,” McDaniel said. “But we kept getting opportunities and feeling like we should really do them all.”
Having played 38 gigs in 2019 — a number that felt comfortable for the group — they had 53 gigs lined up for 2020 when COVID hit this spring.
“Once that hit, we lost 15 gigs,” McDaniel said. “But we used that time to work on new material. The hardest part was between April and May, and we lost seven gigs during that stretch. But we’d still get together in my garage. We’d distance there, spreading out to play together. We’d each still work on things on our own then come together to play. Practice is what you do on your own, rehearsal is what you do when you’re together.”
Now back out there playing live again, McDaniel said the first few shows were exciting but a bit nerve-wracking.
“I think we felt a little shaky at first, but it also felt good to be out there again.”
Wherever the Audience is
Having recently played at Country Heritage Winery, where they’ll play again on Sept. 5, Mason Dixon Line is also eagerly anticipating their Sept. 2 appearance at the Embassy Theatre as part of the Summer Nights series.
Originally slated to play on May 27, that appearance was one of their cancelations, but the band was happy to take a replacement date understanding that the rules are a bit different this year.
“We can’t wear masks because we’re singing, but we are careful about distancing and the rules set by the governor,” McDanilke said. “It doesn’t worry me too much, but it’s very real and we’re mindful of that and try to set an example. So far we’ve had a lot of shows outdoors so it hasn’t been a big issue.”
One of their outdoor shows provided a very special experience for Mason Dixon Line.
“We were scheduled to play at the Honeywell, and that didn’t happen,” McDaniel said. “So they moved the show to the drive-in, and we happened to play the night before Pink Droyd. The Honeywell has a lot of money to spend, and they already had the big stage all set up, so we got to play on that. And we got a really great turnout for the show, too.”
The turnout and demand for the band has been great because Mason Dixon Line has established itself for its musicianship and its showmanship.
“We play with a harder edge, which works well for a lot of the modern country music,” McDaniel said. “We play along the lines of Luke Bryan, although we play some classics like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, too. But one thing we love is that we get a lot of compliments about being a high-energy band. We get people out on the dance floor. We’re not laid-back like some country bands.”
Working with your comfort level
McDaniel said he waits each week to see what the latest is on the governor’s plan for reopening, something which is continuing to evolve as Indiana remains at Stage 4.5 through August at least.
But Mason Dixon Line is looking ahead and now has new music to incorporate into their shows.
“We want to respect everyone’s comfort levels, and we work with the venues to adhere to what their approach is to distancing and masks,” he said. “We keep a distance not only to set an example, but we know it’s out there. We have shows coming up but also some private parties where people feel safe to see us play after having not been out for a long time. We have shows both indoors and outdoors in the next few weeks, and we’ll see how it goes.”
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