What's better than playing sold-out arenas and stadiums all year on a bill with one of country music's hottest headliners? In the case of Lee Brice, it would be playing a sold-out festival where he is, in essence, the headliner.
Admittedly, this weekend's sold out Red, White and Boom festival, as has been the case in years past, is composed of artists of varying degrees of familiarity. All are in the process of establishing or fortifying their careers. Brice sits comfortably in the latter category.
A South Carolina native who has written songs for such Nashville notables as Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney, he established his own string of hits over the past five years. The newest, I Don't Dance, is the title song of an album that is still two months away from release.
Then there is the little matter of Brice's current touring situation. Since January, he has been serving as one of two opening acts on a tour with country sensation Luke Bryan (fellow Red, White & Boom performer Cole Swindell is the other). So mark 2014 as a pretty decent year for Brice.
"Things are definitely at their highest point," Brice, 35, said Tuesday by phone from his home in Nashville. "We've been doing this a long time and started from nothing but a van driving all over the country, so it's nice to be able to tour like Luke. Now, Luke is a good buddy, but Luke is also the biggest thing in country music right now. It's a privilege to be out there. I mean, all of his fans are rabid, so I'm enjoying this very much."
When Brice played with Bryan at Rupp Arena in February, his manner of connecting to the audience was as casual as it was confident. Sure, the packed house thrilled to hits like I Drive Your Truck (which, despite the title, is actually a requiem for a friend) and A Woman Like You. But it was the singer's direct and completely non-pandering treatment of his crowd that distinguished the performance.
"I grew up singing in church and my mama grew up singing in church, so I watched her for a lot of years soloing on Sunday mornings," Brice said. "She was so spiritual. For her, it was all about communicating the song and communicating that moment. Sometimes, if she needed to not sing and just speak the words, she would, even though she was an amazing singer and still is an amazing singer. I watched that my whole life. She would connect with people on a different level just by getting up there and singing a song.
"I love writing music and I love producing records and I love performing. But one of the most special things is that moment of connection, like trying to look somebody in the eye all the way in the very, very back. I saw Garth Brooks when I was 17 years old. I was way up in the top of the stands and felt like he was talking to me. At that moment was when I knew I wanted to do this. That was what I was trying to follow."
To that end, I Don't Dance will serve as the next part of that connection. The album, which Brice produced and wrote much of the material for, is due out Sept. 9. But the title song — which Brice wrote for his and wife Sara Reeveley's wedding — is burning up country airwaves this summer.
"When I wrote that, I thought, 'This is the beginning of this record.' I started from that moment of production in building each track and taking my time. That was the direction I wanted to go for each and every song, to find out how they needed to be made and not have some big theme over the whole record.
"I Don't Dance also connected my personal life with my career. But that song was just the special thing that got this project started. It was the very beginning."