Mo Pitney concert

Mo Pitney is set to play The Varsity on Sept. 14.

PROVIDED BY MO PITNEY

Identifying the serious starting point of Mo Pitney's musical journey is easy.

The lanky 24-year old with a constant smile stayed up all night back in 2003, learning every head-turning guitar riff on the revolutionary “Live At San Quentin” album by Johnny Cash.

It wasn't long before the Pitney family had an influential bluegrass band and began developing a fan base in the Rockford area covering Cash's songs.

For more than a decade, Pitney has been touring, making records and videos and saturating social media with his creations. The groundwork has been completed — he just needs that one special song that will propel his promising career to the Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson level.

Local fans will have the unique opportunity to see the hardcore traditionalist up close when he performs a solo acoustic concert at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 on the newly renovated Balcony Theater stage at The Varsity Center for the Arts in Carbondale.

Advance general admission tickets are $15 and available online only. If available, general admission tickets will be sold at 7 p.m. the day of the performance. Advance VIP tickets, which includes a meet-and-greet with Pitney, are $25 and also will be sold online only.

Tickets can be purchased at www.thevarsitycenter.eventbrite.com. For more information call 618-457-5353.

Because capacity is just more than 100, venue management urges those interested in attending to purchase tickets early. A sold-out crowd is anticipated.

Pitney will be singing his popular tunes like “Boy & Girl Thing,” "Everywhere,” “Clean Up On Aisle Five” and act-breaking “Country” this weekend when he appears at the Gstaad Festival in Switzerland with fellow country star Mark Chesnutt and bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent.

Not everything about the music business is glamorous, Pitney says. The marathon 4,664-mile trip to make the Southern Illinois appearance is a brutal part of the vocation.

“I love making music, sharing my heart and meeting new people all the time,” Pitney said. “Traveling constantly to play music is a different type of lifestyle. Psychologically, it can mess with you. Having family on the road with me is a healthy thing.”

Blake Pitney, Mo's brother, is his road manager and bass guitarist. Sister Holly plays guitar and provides harmony vocals.

The two newest members of his family, his wife, Emily, and 8-month-old daughter, Evelyn Nadine, are also part of his traveling entourage.

Before their marriage, Emily Bankester was named Momentum Award winner Vocalist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2012. The award led to The Bankesters family bluegrass band from Carbondale being signed to Compass Records by label owner Alison Brown.

Bluegrass music is responsible for the Mo and Emily love story. Both were part of family bands that relied heavily on the banjo and fiddle. They were both 15 when they met for the first time at a campground festival on the outskirts of Springfield.

“I told all my buddies that I just saw the most beautiful girl I've ever seen in my life,” Pitney said. “Love is the driving force of the universe. I found myself always kind of chasing her around.”

After constantly running into each other on the bluegrass circuit, the two spiritual individuals became friends, which evolved into a closer relationship that had them communicating everyday and making three-hour drives just to spend time together.

Pitney proposed Sept. 10, 2015, and they were married March 10, 2016. Evelyn Nadine arrived Jan. 12. Before the relationship got too involved, Pitney had already made a serious commitment to country music.

He moved to Nashville when he was 18 and got to work making contacts and learning songwriting. A brief introduction to Merle Haggard inspired one of his favorite songs, but it was a four-hour conversation with Bill Anderson that formed the rock solid foundation for the duo to co-write his monumental debut single “Country.”

Pitney used his powerful vocals to mesmerize YouTube viewers listening to his covers of “Borrowed Angel,” “The Farmer's Daughter” and “Don't You Ever Get Tire Of Hurting Me,” but with “Country” he had a potential classic of his own and it led to a 2014 contract with Curb Records.

He released his debut album, “Behind This Guitar,” on Oct. 7. His music has already allowed him to tour all over the world. One of his favorite places to play is the tradition-rich Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

“My respect for that stage and the circle is great,” he says.

Pitney is halfway through accumulating material for his sophomore album.

While it is certainly too early to crown Pitney as the savior of a struggling country music industry, he is more than worthy to carry the torch that has been passed down from George Jones, Haggard and George Strait.

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

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