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Cole Swindell with Michael Ray and CJ Solar
April 6 @ 7:00 pm
The North Carolina Azalea Festival brought Cole Swindell with opening acts Michael Ray and CJ Solar to The Miller Lite Main Stage at the North Carolina Azalea Festival on Thursday, April 6th.
Cole Swindell, who has a record-breaking six consecutive No. 1 singles (first four being off his self-titled debut album) and who Rolling Stone declared is “clearly ready to move on to significance,” kicked off a national launch of his sophomore album You Should Be Here with performances on Good Morning America and TODAY, and the history-making first-ever live radio and TV event from the 57th floor terrace of 4 World Trade Center, broadcast on Fox & Friends. The hit singer/songwriter debuted his most recent No. 1 new single “Middle of a Memory” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! when it was released. The song was also the No. 1 most added that week and is now his 6th consecutive No. 1 single.
Cole Swindell, a Platinum-selling recording artist and record-breaking six-time No. 1 hit maker, released his second album You Should Be Here and it shot to No. 1 on the iTunes Top Country Albums Chart and No. 3 All Genre within hours of release. Its lead single and title track held a four week run on top of Billboard’s Hot Country songs chart (tally of digital streams, radio airplay and sales) in addition to multiple weeks sitting at No. 1 on country airplay. His Platinum-certified “You Should Be Here” already boasts over 65 million streams, 1 MILLION tracks sold and over 30 million YouTube views. The career-defining single surpassed over 1 BILLION audience impressions (Mediabase audience: 1.1b, On-demand audio/video streams: 65m, digital track sales: 750,000+). The song joins Swindell’s first four No. 1 consecutive singles as a solo artist (including Gold-certified “Let Me See Ya Girl,” along with Platinum-certified hits “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight,” “Ain’t Worth The Whiskey” and “Chillin’ It”) from his Platinum selling self-titled debut album, which tops his own record of being the only solo artist in the history of Country Aircheck/Mediabase to top the chart with his first FIVE singles.
The Georgia native was named the 2016 NSAI Songwriter/Artist of the Year and was nominated for CMA New Artist of the Year. In 2015 the Georgia native won the ACM New Artist of the Year, was named to Billboard’s Top New Country Artists, awarded CMA’s “Triple Play Award” for having (at least) three No. 1 songs in the past twelve months, and was the only performer to claim the title in 2015. He was nominated for CMA Awards’ “New Artist of the Year” and named Music Row’s Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year, with celebrated songwriting credits which include not only his own six No. 1 hits but “This Is How We Roll” by Florida Georgia Line, “Get Me Some of That” by Thomas Rhett, and several songs with Luke Bryan such as his No. 1 single “Roller Coaster,” among others. He is currently touring with Florida Georgia Line’s “Dig Your Roots Tour.” Swindell is currently on his sold-out headlining tour, CMT ON TOUR Presents the COLE SWINDELL DOWN HOME TOUR, after opening for Florida Georgia Line’s Dig Your Roots Tour. The Down Home Tour coincides with the release of his third and newest EP, Down Home Sessions III. To date, Swindell has sold over 1.5 million+ total album equivalents in the two years since his debut, including 5 million+ tracks sold and 400 million on-demand streams.
When rising country singer Michael Ray made his first exploratory trip to Nashville, he got a life- changing piece of advice from an industry insider.
“He said, ‘Don’t move. The way the music industry’s going to become, you’re not going to be able to get a record deal just doing a showcase anymore. You’ve got to bring something to the table,’” Ray said. “He said, ‘I want to you to go back to Florida, grab a band and become the biggest you can be in Florida on your own, and then I want you to come back.’ So I put a band together of friends of mine and we started to play.”
Turns out it was the best thing Ray ever did. He built a rowdy fan base tilling the same fertile Southeastern soil Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan used to start their careers and returned to Nashville three years later to claim a record deal, a publishing contract and a few unexpected opportunities along the way.
Ray continued the journey from tiny Eustis, Florida, to the big time with the release of his first single “Kiss You In The Morning.” The debut single went #1 in just 24 weeks, an incredible achievement for anyone, let alone a straight out of the gate. Ray’s follow-up single, “Real Men Love Jesus,” is currently climbing the charts and touching hearts at the same time. The touching ballad shows a different side to the artist, showcasing his true country roots.
Ray developed his approach in a grassroots way, plying club owners and promoters with press packets that included music, fun facts and a headshot. His pitch: “Dude, I’ll play for free.” He’d stay glued to the riser four and five hours a night at the bar, armored with an acoustic guitar and a growing repertoire of original songs. He put together his first band after returning from that early trip to Nashville and got his first break playing the Boots N Buckles Saloon in Lakeland, Florida, opening for Jason Michael Carroll.
Ray continued to spend about half his time on the road, traveling back and forth to the Deep South, and the work he was putting in began to pay off quickly. He soon met manager Tony Conway, a 40 year industry veteran and owner/CEO at Ontourage Management. Conway helped guide Ray to a publishing contract with Warner/Chappell Music and a record deal with Atlantic Records/Warner Music Nashville. Ray continues to grow his following, having recently toured with Chase Rice, Sam Hunt, Kip Moore, and early 2016 hitting the road with Brantley Gilbert.
“Now he’s stretching the boundaries from state to state to state to stretch those fan bases,” Hendricks said. “Some guys kind of stop when they get here. This guy is a road warrior. He’s out there all the time, playing wherever they will allow him to play to build his fan base. We just need to get those fans some food, some new music to have.”
With the fuel of both Southern rock and country music influences pumping through his veins, it’s no surprise that Sea Gayle Music’s CJ Solar is a natural at fusing the two worlds. Combine that with Delta blues, compliments of a childhood spent in Cajun country, and you’ve got one badass up-and-comer, with the pure musical talent and vocal chops to back him up. Already turning heads throughout Nashville, Baton Rouge and beyond, having been named one of the “New Artists You Need To Know” by Rolling Stone Country, Solar says the driving force behind his untimely success isn’t fame nor fortune – it’s just a diehard infatuation with the music he grew up on.
“I just want to write songs that say something that really means something. I want to ride around in a van, tour the country, and play songs with my buds. Everything I do in music, I want to do it for the love of the music and the sake of the song,” he adds.
It all started back in Baton Rouge where his family’s affinity for music struck a chord. “My grandparents loved country music. My dad was a big classic rock fan,” he said. “Dad kept a guitar in a closet, and I dug it out when I was seven and started making noise of my own with it,” Solar recalls. That so-called “noise” would sharpen quickly, through lessons at the young age of eight, to enrollment at Nashville’s Belmont University, to cuts on albums by Justin Moore and Jerrod Niemann, and, now, his own critically acclaimed solo EP that’s turning heads, Hard One to Turn Down.
And a Hard One To Turn Down, the EP is. Critics at The Daily Country write, “Solar injects a hefty (and welcome) dose of Southern rock into his country, which melds perfectly with his gravelly vocals.” Country Music Rocks was “immediately captivated by all five songs and hopes that [the EP] obtains the recognition it deserves.” The Rowdy found it “exactly what country fans are looking to savor.” And The Shotgun Seat welcomes Hard One to Turn Down as “the perfect pairing of country storytelling and rocking rhythms, married by his dynamic vocals.” And that’s only the beginning.
Solar tracked and produced Hard One To Turn Down, alongside Sea Gayle’s Brent Anderson, (who’s producing and songwriting credits include Chris Janson, Blake Shelton and others), with established country hit-maker Jerrod Niemann joining in on one song as guest vocalist. Its lead single, a paean to the powers of sipping on a “Tall Boy,” dropped in mid-March and quickly garnered over 164,000 Spotify spins in its first month of release. The EP followed on April 15, in both digital and physical formats. In May, the music video for “Tall Boy,” directed by Marcel Chagnon, premiered on CMT. Tour dates from coast to coast include his own headlining dates and opening slots for The Cadillac Three, Old Dominion, The Randy Rogers Band, and the list goes on.