It’s going to be a busy weekend for Lee Brice, starting tonight with the Country Music Awards.
Which is probably why he burnt off some steam last Thursday before his concert at Cain’s Ballroom, a classic cowboy club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had dragged some mats in from his tour bus, to do a little jiu-jitsu and boxing exercise.
“My stresses have to be prioritized,” said Lee, a 33-year-old country singer-songwriter on course for a remarkable breakout year, playing more than 200 tour dates across the country, including an 8 p.m. concert Saturday night in Apalachicola to highlight the 49th annual Florida Seafood festival.
“I try to separate music from home,” he said. “I’m always one to say I can get to the woods if I can find time. Just being home, just getting home and being there for a few days, and being at the house, my stress kind of decompresses.”
Back home in Nashville, Lee has the chance to spend family time with his fiancée, Sara Reeveley, and their 4-year-old son Takoda. “I want him to have a stable thing at home; stability is a big thing for kids,” said Lee. “My little boy requires a lot, so when I’m there, I have to be there.
“Luckily this thing doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been able to slowly adjust to this,” said Lee, whose second album “Hard 2 Love” was released in April and has already spawned the platinum hit “A Woman Like You” and the gold “Hard To Love.”
“I’ve done a lot of things, been on the road for seven years,” he said. “It’s starting to feel this might be our year, that we’re here and we matter. Rubbing shoulders with everybody, it feels good.”
Not only does it feel good, but it looks good, and tonight at the County Music Awards, Lee and Sara will radiate some of that hot look at his being nominated for “Best New Artist,” along with Hunter Hayes, Brantley Gilbert, Thompson Square and Love and Theft.
“I love it for Sara, she gets to get dolled up and I get to take her out. It’s almost like a date,” said her beau. “It’s a big deal for her to walk the red carpet. I like it enough, but I’d rather be in a field hunting.
“I’m proud to be even nominated for that,” Lee said.
Brice and Sara are getting married in April, and then he wants more kids. “We need to wait until we get married, and then as soon as we get married….” Lee said.
Great at football, but loved music
Two big passions coursed through Brice’s own childhood, music and football. He learned to play the piano growing up in Sumter, South Carolina, and then was taught his first guitar chords by his mom’s brother, Carlyle Lewis, known as Uncle Boy for being the only boy among all sisters.
“He taught me chords and then from there I taught myself,” said Brice.
The burly baritone with gentle grey-blue eyes sang in church and wrote his own songs, including one in his sophomore year, “I’ve Grown to Love You,” that won him a talent contest.
“I had my cowboy hat, two-tone, button-down, long sleeves on, and I won, and won every year after that,” Brice said.
He and his friends had a band “The 12 Bridges,” named for a road right down from the two-mile stretch where they were all from. They played locally, everything from Hank Williams, Jr. to Aerosmith, half of them covers and half originals.
That range of musical tastes is in keeping with Brice’s influences, which he said encompass everything from gospel and country, especially Garth Brooks, to Eminem, Foo Fighters, Guns ‘N Roses and Coldplay.
“I’ve been influenced by every genre there is,” he said. “On my next album, there’s definitely a lot more music I want to share.”
Brice’s journey to Nashville came after he indulged the other great love of his boyhood – football. The inside linebacker and offensive lineman on a 17-player team that won the lower state championship his junior year, Brice “was pretty damn good at it,” he said so himself.
Recruited to play for several Div. I schools, Brice was invited to walk-on at Clemson and played there for a year before an injury, and the lure of Nashville, sidelined the gridiron dream.
“I went and visited Nashville and knew immediately,” he said. “I thought ‘Well, I’ll move here for the summer.” There was no turning back, and I never made it back to Clemson.”
Brice, however, is making it back on Saturday morning for the wedding of a longtime college buddy, a fellow engineering student at Clemson, who met his bride after one of Brice’s concerts.
College buddy’s wedding Saturday morning
“We’re sitting at the bar after one of my shows and ice starts getting thrown and we figure they’re throwing it at me. Come to find out this beautiful bombshell is directly hitting Bert with this ice,” said Brice. “Now they’re getting married, and I’ll play a song at the wedding. I promised him.”
Those vocals will be at the marriage of Bert Bagley and Jolene Weikel in Thomasville, Ga. that afternoon, and then Brice is “hauling butt up to the show.”
He said he plans to savor some of Apalachicola’s finest oysters, and see how they compare to the ones he had at the Oyster Fest Block Party he played at Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago three weeks ago.
“I ordered all the oysters they had,” Brice said. “I really like them raw.”
Concertgoers in Apalachicola can expect something special Saturday night, from a talented performer and songwriter whose “Crazy Girl,” was named the most played song of 2011, who has written hits for Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton and more, and who holds Billboard’s record for the longest charting country song with “Love Like Crazy,” which was also named the most played song of 2010.
“I have an unbelievable band, they’ve been with me for a long time, since the very beginning,” said Brice. “That’s kind of rare.”
Leader of the band, who Brice described as brilliant on keyboard and background vocals, is Reggie Smith. On bass is “one of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” Paul Rippee, and on guitar is “an absolute gunslinger from Texas,” Travis Bettis.
The only change in Brice’s accompaniment has been his bringing in drummer Donnie Marple, “a freak of nature” who has been playing drums since age 3, with a shift of the band’s original drummer Michael Gray to second on drums and percussion.
“I couldn’t do this if I just hired guys to come out. I wouldn’t have the same show,” said Brice. “You’ll see the difference; they’re not hired guns to stand there.”
Expect some electric, some acoustic and a whole lot of energy as one of country’s most promising young talents lights up the Apalachicola stage.
“We’re just working hard and while the iron’s hot, I want to strike. We’re doing the best we can,” said Brice. “The iron’s hot for us, we have a song sitting at number one and it’s great for us. I want to play as much as we can. I want to push my shows as far as I can push it. I want to push this forward.”