Two years ago, Drew Baldridge was sitting in a classroom at Kaskaskia Community College in Centralia. Complying with his parents’ wishes, he was pursuing lofty educational goals.
He was his normal smiling and cheerful self on the outside, but deep down in his gut, he was miserable.
Baldridge loves country music. He wasn’t happy being stuck in Southern Illinois. He wanted to pack up all his belongings and move to Nashville, the country music capitol of the world. The Ryman Auditorium means as much to him as the pyramids do to the Egyptians.
In late 2011, the aspiring singer/songwriter migrated to Music City and was burning the candle at both ends. He was taking college classes online and playing the tourist-trap clubs on Lower Broadway until very late at night.
“It wasn’t working,” Baldridge said. “My mind was everywhere. I couldn’t concentrate. I wasn’t doing justice to my education or music. I finally struck a deal with my family. I would take off the fall semester of 2012 and see what I could make happen with my music career.”
In a virtual David vs. Goliath scenario, the 21-year-old Baldridge was ready for battle. Just a few years earlier, he was one of 17 students that graduated from tiny Patoka High School in 2010. The town has 600 residents and no stop lights. Now, he was being thrust into the big city, competing in an industry known for devouring newcomers.
“At first, I felt so small,” Baldridge admitted. “You try to go out as much as possible. It’s all about networking. It takes a total commitment. You never know who you are going to meet that may have a contact that can really help you. After you’ve been here a while, you start running into the same people and discover Nashville isn’t really that big. It’s a tight-knit little community.”
As time was running out and it looked like he may be heading back to school, one of his cultivated contacts signed him to publishing contract with THIS Music Publishing in late December.
THIS Music is associated with Warner Chappell Publishing, the third largest music publishing company in the world. Their roster includes superstar writers like Ben Hayslip, who has written six No. 1 singles, and “Cowboys and Angels” writer Tim Nichols.
“I never dreamed I’d be getting a salary for writing songs. It blows my mind,” Baldridge said.
Baldridge will be making several Southern Illinois appearances in the near future. He will be appearing with his new band at The Keys on Lake Carlyle in Keyesport at 9 p.m. Saturday.
He will serve as the opening act for the Feudin’ Hillbillies at 9 p.m. on March 29 at the Copper Dragon in Carbondale. He will then join good friends Keenan Rice and Jennifer Thompson in the We Got It Covered band at 7 p.m. on May 26 for an appearance at HerrinFesta Ital-iana, opening for Justin Moore.
Later in the year, he will team with We Got It Covered at the Du Quoin State Fair for a show featuring Lee Roy Parnell and Darryl Worley.
“Things have been going good for me. I’ve been very blessed,” Baldridge said. “I’ve worked really hard and put every ounce of energy into making things happen. I go as hard as I can all day, writing with some of the most talented people in town, then I play clubs at night. I’m living a dream.”
He got to check an item off his bucket list in January when he appeared at the famous Bluebird Café, which has become even more popular recently due to exposure from the “Nashville” television series.
“When you sit down in that chair, you know your time has come,” Baldridge said.
He is giving a repeat performance at the Bluebird on April 2.
“I’ve been mentored by some of the greatest writers in the industry. They have taken me under their wings. I’m in awe of the process really, and I just have to step back sometimes and soak it all in,” Baldridge said. “All my talent and success comes from God. I’m just his vessel.”
Mastering the songwriting craft is just half his mission. He ultimately wants a major label recording contract and his songs blasting their way to the top of the Billboard charts.
“The goal is to be an artist and to make hit records. I’m going for a record deal,” he said. “I have a good team in place. I know it’s going to take awhile. Right now I’m enjoying the journey. It’s been a rush.”
VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or email@example.com.