In mid-January, Eric Lee Beddingfield and his band left Nashville and traveled all day for a show in Riverton, Ill., just outside of Springfield. They’d been to Riverton for a show last summer, but things didn’t quite go as planned, and now they were back to play an ominous show on Friday the 13th.
“There was a really bad storm, and the guy that put on the festival just completely lost his butt on the thing. I don’t think he even had weather insurance,” Beddingfield tells me over the phone before getting on stage.
After calling off the festival, the promoter who put it on invited Beddingfield and his band get up on stage at his bar to play for the fans who had come to see the singer, and Beddingfield happily obliged.
“I said, ‘Sure man, I don’t mind that at all.’ We came over there, and as luck would have it, we weren’t in the place ten minutes and the building got struck by lightning and it fried their entire PA system in the bar. It was just one bad mishap after the next. He said just to kind of put a little twist of irony on it, he wanted to rebook us down here on Friday the 13th.”
The performance on Friday the 13th went off without a hitch. Beddingfield and his band played to a full house, and two nights later he would play to a standing-room only crowd at 12th and Porter here in Music City. After having an extremely successful year in 2011, the shows were a good way to start off the new year.
“We’re really cranking it back up here in 2012,” Beddingfield says. “Last year I did so much radio stuff, I scaled down a lot of the shows with the band because I was just out doing non-stop radio visits. I’m really looking forward to it just being show after show instead of all radio stuff. I really enjoyed the radio tour. That’s a neat change of pace, but I’m definitely looking forward to being out here with the band and playing shows for actual crowds.”
Last year’s radio tour was the result of the success of “The Gospel According to Jones,” the first single from Beddingfield’s album This Life Ain’t For Everybody. The song was a smash hit. With the support of radio and with the video being added to the rotation on CMT, GAC, and TCN, the song rocketed Beddingfield to a new level of recognition in the world of country music. Beddingfield has been able to see first-hand the effect of all the exposure in the crowds at his shows.
“Man, it’s really cool,” says Beddingfield of the difference in the audience at his shows. “We did a show in Columbia, Mo. here this last month. I had been there probably nine months prior, and it was like a normal show where you show up new in town and you’ve got some of your die-hard fans that will come out. But this last time we went there it was just a night-and-day difference. To see that same room, the difference in the crowd—it was packed like sardines in there—and to hear them singing back on some of my songs, it was just incredible. You could tangibly see the difference right then.”
The song has garnered more than just national exposure and larger audiences for Beddingfield; it’s also created a friendship between Beddingfield and country music legend George Jones. Jones sang a verse on the song and was in the music video, and he invited Beddingfield to sing the song at the Grand Ole Opry for Jones’ televised 80th birthday concert.
“I just, as a fan of his, kind of wanted a thumbs up or thumbs down to see what he thought about the song because I knew I wanted it to be my first single,” he tells me. As luck would have it, Beddingfield ran into Jones at a restaurant in Cool Springs, and after hearing the song, Jones asked to be a part of it.
“He and Nancy have just been so nice to me and my family,” he says. “The two of them have taken me under their wing. George has a big screen at his shows as a backdrop of pictures throughout his career, and now, as of about three months ago, every single show he plays, they use that video as his introduction before he walks on stage. That’s been really, really cool.”
Beddingfield certainly has momentum going into this year, and he plans to use that to his advantage:
“The big thing is just getting out there and making new fans. You can have radio support, and you can have video support, but there’s just something about getting in front of a live audience. I think that’s where you earn your fans. I believe that word of mouth through the fans you earn, that’s what really gets the buzz out there and gets the ball rolling. I’m hoping to get out there and reach as many of those people as possible this year and just fill up the calendar with shows.”
By Andrew Miller