Eyes from several aspiring Southern Illinois musicians will keenly focus on the stage inside the Marion American Legion Post 147 this weekend.
They will be watching the Brandon Harris Band perform Sunday, and hear the exact same quality of music that is on display every day in Nashville's music trenches, at popular hangouts like The Stage on Broadway, Second Fiddle, AJ's Good Time Bar, Legends Corner and the Whiskey Bent Saloon.
Those clubs showcase the traditional honky-tonk sound that is a specialty of Harris and his band, which includes former George Jones steel guitarist Tom Killen and Johnny Lee Carpenter, who plays fiddle for Daryle Singletary.
Veteran club singer Craig Gerdes and the Harris Band will be the featured acts at the benefit concert, which doubles as a birthday party for event organizer Jon Mcanelly of Marion and is sponsored by his company, Neat Cut Dirtwork, which is celebrating 30 years in business.
“Brandon is an amazing singer and always puts on an outstanding show,” Mcanelly says. “I've been a fan of his for a long time. There are great singers in Nashville that are flying under the radar and haven't been discovered yet. Brandon is definitely one of them.”
There is no admission for the show, but tip “buckets” will be at the door, on stage and passed through the crowd. All money collected will be donated to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
“I started this as a customer appreciation thing because the people in Southern Illinois have been good to me and my family through the years,” Mcanelly says. “The crowds started to grow once we attached it to a charity. Music fans can come out and see the same quality of talent that is in Nashville without making the six-hour round trip.”
Music starts at 5 p.m.
Mcanelly has carefully blended local talent with seasoned Nashville veterans to form a balanced schedule throughout the evening. Popular Riley Kirk of Du Quoin, Kali Lynn of Carterville and Clayton Gribble of Marion will share the microphone with Harris and Gerdes. Also appearing will be Danny & The Dreamers.
Harris grew up singing in church and discovered his future was down the country road as a teenager. He performed in several local bands around his tiny Cowpens, South Carolina hometown. He always had the musical “itch” he couldn't scratch, until he migrated to Nashville in 2012.
“I'm here chasing my dream,” Harris says. “Making the move to Nashville has been the best thing I've ever done.”
The free advice is food for thought for young artists like Gribble and Riley. Lynn has already lived in the country music mecca for a few years; she temporarily retreated to tweak her plan of attack and plans to move back soon.
Gerdes grew up in Benson, Illinois. When he was just 11 years old, he started fronting his father's country band in central Illinois and was playing standing room only shows. He is old school country and writes his own material, like the hook-filled “Haggard Fan.”
In 2014, he was a partner in the official launch of The Last Honky-tonk Music Series, which has crisscrossed the United States numerous times, spreading the love of the traditional country sound. He will ride the tour featuring headliner Ray Scott into the Pin Oak Pub in Carterville on June 3.
His new album, “Smokin,' Drinkin' & Gamblin',” is due out in the very near future.
Gerdes played in Louisville last night and will appear at 6 p.m. tonight at Tres Hombres in Carbondale. He will play the Pin Oak Pub in Carterville at 7 p.m. Friday.
Mcanelly grew up a fan of Neal McCoy, but developed into a hard core country music fan after attending Fan Fair in Nashville, which has been renamed the CMA Music Festival in recent years.
“I went to Fan Fair just to attend the Mark Chesnutt Fan Club dinner,” Mcanelly said. “When I got down there, I was in the middle of all this great music happening all over the place. I was hooked and have been a serious fan for a long time. I've spent a small fortune on concert tickets through the years.”
His appetite for live music is robust. He was in the pit last week in Cape Girardeau for Chris Stapleton. He flew to Denver yesterday to see new female vocalist sensation Margo Price. In a couple weeks, he will be in Nashville to see Brandy Clark at City Winery on one day and John Prine at the Country Music Hall of Fame the next. He never slows down.
Mcanelly's vision has always been to have a major country star perform at his birthday party/fundraiser. This year he had a signed contract for Ashton Shepherd, the voice behind “Look It Up” and “Taking Off This Pain.” However, she had to cancel at the last minute.