Kali Lynn

Kali Lynn, of Carterville.

PROVIDED

Kali Lynn didn't ease her way into Nashville, dipping in her toe to test the water. She dived head first into the deep end, two weeks after graduating college. The ink wasn't dry on her diploma.

The 26-year-old Carterville native was drawn to Music City at an early age, when she would spend entire days during summer vacation binge-watching CMT and GAC.

“It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a singer,” Lynn says. “They say unless you can't live without doing music, run. It's not for you.”

Lynn spent two years in the Nashville music industry pressure cooker, then decided to take a break and use the brief hiatus to process the information and develop a battle plan.

“It was a tremendous learning experience and something that I always wanted to do,” Lynn says. “Working the fabulous writers in the rounds at The Bluebird Cafe, The Listening Room and The Commodore provided me with an amazing opportunity to develop my songwriting skills.”

Lynn has been carefully sculpting a business model that will give her the best chance for long-term success.

“I wanted to come home and establish an audience,” Lynn says. “It's only three hours to Nashville, you don't necessarily have to live there. I have connections there and plan to move back in the near future. I love this community. I wanted to come home and build a fan base in Southern Illinois.”

Kali Lynn will play at 9 p.m. Friday at the Pin Oak in Carterville. Other upcoming highlights include, a May 6 St. Jude fundraiser hosted by Jon Mcanelly, opening for Old Dominion at HerrinFesta Italiana on May 27 and headlining Freedom Fest in Goreville on July 4. Many other local appearances are mixed into the schedule.

“I'm staying busy just about every weekend,” Lynn says. “HerrinFest really has me excited. It's definitely the biggest show of my career. It' going to be fun, performing for all the familiar faces.”

Lynn is going to debut her new single “Smoke Show,” at HerrinFesta. She co-wrote the tune with veteran Nashville songwriters Mason Caviness and Andrew Shaver.

The influences of Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert on Lynn are apparent on this tune.

“I wrote it about being in a relationship that you know you shouldn't be in, but you like it too much to get out,” she confesses, without naming names.

The tune was recorded at Saxman Studios in Nashville. She plans on making a video for the song and releasing an EP of all original material later this summer.

Lynn was inspired at an early age by her grandfather, who sang in a Southern gospel group. She was singing solos at the Fellowship in Christ Christian Church in Carterville when she was just 6 years old.

She graduated from Carterville High School in 2008, Rend Lake College in 2010 and Kentucky Wesleyan in 2012, where she was a member of the school's traveling choir that performed at New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall.

“I was in total awe, just taking it all in,” Lynn says. “I'll never forget the moment I was on that stage.”

She says her degree in music business has provided a solid foundation in marketing, promotion and advertising.

Aspiring country music singers never know when, where or if the big break will ever present itself, but Lynn has learned seemingly obscure events in life can have a tremendous impact. In eighth grade, she participated in a road race just for fun.

“My dad (Jim Bonner) watched me and said I could be a talented runner if I dedicated myself to it. He read book after book and trained me.” Lynn said. “He taught me that if you want to get somewhere, you have to be willing to put in the work. He would get me up at 4:50 a.m. every morning to run before school. All of the hard work paid off. I earned track scholarships to Rend Lake and Kentucky Wesleyan.”

Her athletic tenacity has spilled over into her musical ability.

“I finally got enough money to buy a guitar when I was 17. My grandpa taught me the E-chord. After that, I taught myself to play. Most people quit playing guitar after a couple weeks because your fingers hurt and bleed. You just gotta get through the pain and you get to the good stuff.”

Lynn says her music has evolved significantly since she inked her first song, “Sprinkle Of You,” a decade ago. Today, she tackles themes of life, having fun and girl power.

“I want my music to resonate with people,” she says.

At live shows, Lynn is backed by band members Chris Brooks, of Marion, on drums; Curt Smith, of Benton, on bass guitar; and Caleb Phalin, of Goreville, on lead guitar. Her show dates are posted at facebook.com/KaliLynnMusic.

VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or vincehoffard@gmail.com.

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