You could say 2014 will go down as a fine year indeed for Sam Hunt.
It kicked off with a signing to MCA/Universal Records, sailed through the summer with a monster radio hit (Leave the Night On) and an accompanying EP disc (X2C) that paralleled a marked rise in attendance at his live shows.
Then, in late October, Hunt dropped a debut album titled Montevallo that entered the Billboard Top Country Albums chart at No. 1 and the all-genre Billboard 200 at No. 3.
Now that's what you call an introduction.
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"A year prior to the record coming out, I felt nobody had any idea who I was or had heard any of my music," said Hunt, who performs at the Opera House on Tuesday as part of Acoustic Jam 2014.
"Slowly, you start to play more live shows and you have these pockets of people who have heard some of the songs. Then that grew. For example, I met a stranger from Seattle who had heard my music, and that just blew my mind — that somebody that far away from Nashville had heard what I was doing.
"Gradually, these little things started to happen, and it was continuing to evolve without me even knowing it. So by the time the record came out, all these things, all this exposure we've been having with small groups of people had turned into larger groups of people. This small army grew by sharing the music and spreading the word. That turned into a pretty good group of folks that were waiting on the CD to come out. When it did, they went out and supported that, too."
If Hunt has come a long way in a year's time, he also has strayed considerably from what initially seemed to be his life's calling — football.
A Georgia native, Hunt was a quarterback at Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. He was briefly signed to the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent. But by then, something else was competing for football time.
"I think it started with me purchasing an acoustic guitar when I graduated from high school. At the time, I just thought it might be a fun hobby to have in college. I really had no idea I had any musical abilities or potential to write songs, sing songs or play the guitar. But my love for playing and writing songs grew. By the time I finished up college, I was just head over heels with it. I wanted to figure out a way to pursue it further."
That evolved into a songwriting career, and Hunt's tunes were soon cut by Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Billy Currington.
"Songwriting came out of being bored with learning other people's songs," Hunt said. "After a while, instead of going to look up chords and finding music for songs I might want to learn, I just sat down and started to write my own. My first attempts were very raw and amateur, but slowly it grew to where I was writing full songs. That was about the time I graduated from college and moved up to Nashville."
All of that led eventually to the MCA contract and Hunt's remarkable 2014. But the singer and songwriter is already looking at an equally fruitful 2015. He will kick off a set of headlining concerts, dubbed the Lipstick Graffiti Tour, in California on Jan. 29. Tickets for all 15 shows on the tour sold out within minutes.
"That's been sort of the pinnacle of all this," Hunt said. "It's great to have chart success with singles and then to sell records and have people listening to the music out there. But to go and buy tickets and commit to coming out for a show the way that they have with this tour is just incredible."