Brett Eldridge has toured with some of the biggest names in country; with artists such as Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, and Taylor Swift - but it’s the first time his name is the largest on the marquee. He has seven top-10 singles, he has even performed at the Grand Ole Opry, but for Brett, he’s just starting.
Brett is making the transition from opening act to headliner look effortless with his debut tour, “The Long Way,” and just sold out his first arena show. If you check out his Instagram profile, he’s humble as ever, posting sweet messages to fans, funny dancing videos and lots of pictures with his adorable chocolate lab, Edgar.
Whitney Hubbell [WH]: Does Edgar go on tour with you?
Brett Eldredge [BE]: Yeah he’s grown up on the road from when he was that little. [referring to his latest IG post] When he was a lil’ pup he was backstage with Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan… he’s grown up with all these big stars and been on big tours, so he’s really good with people. There’s probably 100 people backstage and he’s always just walking around like he owns the place. He even had his own dressing room on the Luke Bryan tour and his own sign for the dressing room - it was pretty funny.
[WH] So Edgar must be a pretty big country music fan if he’s hanging out with all the stars.
[BE] Oh yeah. He doesn’t really have a choice, he’s gotta be! [laughs]
[WH] Now that you’ve had multiple singles under your belt and you’re currently on your first headlining tour, where would you say you get your inspiration from as a songwriter and artist?
[BE] It comes from a lot of places. For songwriting, it was always my grandfather, because he was such a larger-than-life storyteller and character; he was like straight out of a storybook. The way he would tell a story was just something that was almost hard to believe - it was so magical and beautiful. You’d always wonder if [the stories] were accurate then later I’d find an old connection or friend of his and they’d verify it …it’s crazy! So I’ll picture life, through songwriting, as a story that I want to tell, just like how my grandfather taught me growing up.
I always had a big imagination — something I probably got from my grandfather - and thats where I got my song writing inspiration. And as an artist; it comes from my family. My parents and brother were always there supporting me — helping me load in speakers in the back of a minivan when I was kid. I’d go and sing around town and my mom would run the sound. They were my first real fans, and they’re still always there to support — same as day one.
[WH] It sounds like your larger-than-life grandfather’s storytelling sounds really similar to the dad in one of my favorite movies, Big Fish. Have you ever seen that?
[BE] Thats my favorite movie of all time, for that reason! My grandfather was definitely the big fish. He passed away, but we were so close. He got to see [my career] start to rise - but he never got to see the big part of my career take off. But he saw it on its’ way… so that was cool. But yeah he was definitely the ‘big fish’ that’s why I love that movie so much. I cry a few times every time I watch it.
[WH] If you could say something to your grandfather now, what would you say?
[BE] From the first moment I’d pick him out in the crowd, I’d say, ‘can you believe it?’ I’d just want him to see it. And he would wanna get up on stage with me [laughs] because he loved performing. He wasn’t really a singer growing up - he discovered singing later in life, it was always fun, we would sing Karaoke together.
I brought him up on stage one time in his later years and he got up, held a beer up to the crowd and everyone was so pumped and excited, it was awesome. Now, I’d just want to share the moment with him and show him the dream became a reality and that he was a big part of it.
[WH] Speaking of the stage, you have such a natural presence up there. Did you always have that or was there a moment you realized you were going to be a country star?
[BE] I knew early on that I wanted to sing. But I was really nervous in front of other people, staring at the floor, pacing back and forth. I’d even sing from the other room… At family parties I’d hide behind the door and belt out my favorite tunes! But I’d be so nervous, I couldn’t look at people in the eye and sing.
And then I started listening to Sinatra and watching how cool he was… he had this swag on stage, he was so confident, and that's when I learned I could start feeling good about what I was doing on stage.
At around age thirteen, I started performing and by fifteen, I really started hitting my stride and just kept rolling and getting more confident. I went to Chicago and lived up there for couple years and sang anywhere that I could sing from fancy events and big fundraisers to weddings, it was kind of like I was growing to sing all these different genres.
But my true, original love was country music and that’s when I made the move to Nashville and never looked back. I was so naive when I first moved there, I would just knock on doors and drop off CDs, I was that guy! [laughs] I would never do that now! But that’s what it took to get where I am now. And being so naive and not knowing how hard it really is to make it - that helped me get to where I am today. I just thought, ’there’s no way I’m not doing it.’ And I still see some of those people today-some of the people whose doors I knocked on, are now my friends!
[WH] Did any of those people end up helping you along the way in your career?
[BE] Oh yeah! Some of them set me up with songwriters - which led me from one thing to the next. You climb the ladder… they set you up with a writer, you end up writing a better song… then maybe someone says, ‘I love your voice, I want you to go meet a producer’ and that producer makes your first song. All of that led me to where I am now!
[WH] Were there ever any knock-down moments that almost made you feel like giving up?
[BE] There were a lot of knock-down moments — but the opportunities you do get, you make sure they really count. And eventually, it just falls into place. But it wasn’t overnight by any means! I’ve enjoyed the ride from the very beginning. It’s a beautiful thing. You really have to stop and take it all in, because it’s kind of surreal — especially when you think about how many people try to do this; I feel very fortunate.
[WH] What’s it like being on tour and traveling so many miles in a day? Do you ever get burnt out?
Yes, that happens to me all the time! When you’re constantly on the road — it’s like any job — you can get burnt out. There’s a lot of times where I’m like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this.’ A lot of the time you’re sitting around all day waiting to play that night for an hour and half, and you’ve travelled thousands of miles … and you have the whole day to think about it and psych yourself out of a show because you’re just exhausted.
But everyday I’m revived by the crowd — it’s the weirdest thing! I’m like, ‘I don’t know how I’m gonna do this show,’ and then I hear the crowd and the music that we’re walking on stage to and I get this sudden voice in my head that everything’s going to be fine and next thing you know I’m up there jumping around on stage! And right before that, I was pacing back and forth, like man, I need a break. But then I get off stage and I’m like… man, I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow!
I’m reminded why I love it so much. When I have that connection with fans and everyone’s singing all the words — it’s why I started this. It’s an amazing reminder and I’m so thankful that my fans stuck with me for so long, it’s been a crazy journey to get here. It’s awesome to see people in front of the stage when there were literally 20 people in the crowd, I still see those people in the crowd today. That means so much to me, and why country music is so special too, is because these great folks are so loyal it’s a great big love fest. [laughs]
[WH] You’ve had such an amazing journey already, what has been your proudest moment?
[BE] There’s a lot of them. Every time I think of one, there’s another one that shows up. My proudest moment I’ve ever had on stage was a week ago. We sold out the first arena ever. 8,000 of my fans were in the crowd and it was a very surreal feeling. Starting out in Nashville when sometimes there’s only two people in the crowd — sometimes not even, you’re playing to yourself on a stool in a bar!
It was very surreal to be playing to a sea of lights and people singing every word of a song in a giant arena. Sharing that connection was so powerful, I teared up several times. That was definitely a defining moment in my career.
I spent so many sleepless nights all those years, wondering why my moment hadn’t come yet, and I’m so glad that it didn’t just magically just turn up overnight because I wouldn’t be as appreciative of it as I am now. It makes it so much sweeter when you get knocked down enough times, and people would pull me back in the game and tell me that my story is worth telling.
So I’d just try to keep telling it and keep going, and it and it was that moment last week that I was like ok wow, we are here! My first headline tour - it pretty much sold out in the first day and that feeling was like …unbelievable.
I didn’t know what to expect because I had been the direct support [what they call the guy right before the headliner] the last several years — and they’d been huge tours, but now I’m in front of my own fans and it’s just a whole other level. It reenergizes and inspires me to make the best show that I possibly can.
Photography by Andrew Eccles