By John Wirt Advocate Music writer
Brantley Gilbert, the country singer, songwriter and recording artist who composed two Jason Aldean hits, “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem,” didn’t believe it when his booking agent told him he’d be touring with three tour buses, three semi-trailer trucks and three supporting acts.
“I was like, ‘What’s the deal?’ ” the traveling Gilbert said from Fayetteville, Ark., two weeks into his Hell on Wheels tour. But the tour’s approach isn’t so different from the step-by-step approach Gilbert has applied to his career since he was teenager. He’s still moving into new markets, just doing so bigger than usual.
“So we got shows with 2,600 people and some shows with 6- or 7,000 people, sold out,” Gilbert said. “And these smaller towns and cities we’re going to, we’ll be able to go back in a few months. So there’s a method to the madness.”
In concert, Gilbert sings his own No. 1 recordings, “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” and “Country Must Be Country Wide,” as well as the Aldean hits that he’d originally written for himself.
“The people who I’d written ‘My Kinda Party’ and ‘Dirt Road Anthem’ for, they can still hear me sing those songs on stage and on my record,” Gilbert said. “So it’s not like I gave my song away or sold it. But Jason, he did his thing with them and that’s definitely an honor.”
The Hell On Wheels tour is the first headlining tour of Gilbert’s career. Everything about it is bigger than a club tour or being an opening act, for instance, for Toby Keith or Eric Church.
“We’ve got a whole new lighting rig and stage set,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure out how to work my way around the stage without tripping over anything. But it’s really cool and the light show is great.”
Like his friend and co-writer for “Dirt Road Anthem,” Colt Ford, Gilbert is a Georgia native. Ford is from Athens, home of the University of Georgia. Gilbert is from a nearby small city, Jefferson.
When Gilbert performed for a sold-out show at the Georgia Theatre in Athens at 19, he thought he couldn’t ever top it.
“Everybody, the B-52s, R.E.M., Widespread Panic, anybody who was anybody, played that venue,” he said. “I thought that was as big as it was getting. I’d made it. I could make a living playing music in Georgia, in the Southeast. I didn’t want a label or nothing like that.”
But Gilbert, having worked himself up from a praise-and-worship band and solo acoustic gigs shared with another Georgia musician, Corey Smith, soon saw more potential for his talent.
“As it grew, I realized that I needed a manager, booking agent, a record label, all those things,” he said.
All of which came to pass, in a big way. Gilbert’s label, Big Machine Records, is also home to Taylor Swift, the Band Perry, Tim McGraw and more established and rising stars.
And now Gilbert is on the biggest tour of his life.
“The other day I was talking with my drummer about it,” he said. “Every day we’re finding ourselves making new goals and new dreams, because these things we’ve worked on for so long are coming true.
“It’s crazy, but we’re rolling with the punches and enjoying every minute of it, man. It’s been one heck of a blessing.”