Hunter Hayes performs at the 2012 CMA Music Festival on in Nashville, Tenn.
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Hunter Hayes’ speech pattern mirrors his life — fast-paced and hectic.
“We’re getting to the point on this tour, where it’s starting to freak me out. We had like 95 dates. That’s such a large number, and now we’re a little over 10 shows from finishing. It’s flying by. It’s like in fast-forward mode, but, man, it’s good. Opening for Carrie Underwood every night, playing in front of full arenas. Dude, we are having a ball.”
He completes that train of thought in what seems like one breath. Hayes is used to doing things quickly. He started sitting in and jamming with a band when he was 3 or 4. He fronted a band at 7. Check out YouTube. There are videos of him playing the accordion and singing “Jambalaya” with Hank Williams, Jr., when he was 4. The list of memorable early performances goes on and on and on.
Hayes moved to Nashville from Louisiana when he was 16, which seemed about five years too late for him.
“At 16, that was the latest I could have gone without going crazy,” he said, chuckling. “I had been wanting to move to Nashville. That’s the country music capital of the world, so that’s where all my favorite music was being made. I just felt that I needed to be there.”
Hayes isn’t the only artist with stories of early musical achievements. Bruno Mars was singing on stage in his family’s band when he was 5. But he came from a musical family. Hayes has no clue how he got the performance bug.
“It beats me. Nobody in my family is musical,” he said, pausing to mentally flip through his family tree. “No one plays music at all. I don’t know where it came from, but I’m just glad I got it.”
A lot of teens are focused on the big game on Friday night, who they might want to ask to homecoming, or maybe the calculus quiz on Monday morning. Hayes had a singular focus in school.
“I had pictures in my binders when I was in high school of tour buses because that was the easiest way for me to visualize what I wanted. What I wanted was to be on the road, doing exactly what I’m doing now.”
The 21-year-old has three solid hits — “Storm Warning,” “Wanted,” and “Somebody’s Heartbreak.” It’s an understatement to call “Wanted” a hit. Besides being a No.1 country single, it was a crossover smash on pop and adult contemporary charts. It has sold close to 3 million downloads and earned three Grammy nominations.
“I’m so grateful. I’ve dreamed about all this, and here we are,” he said, stopping and admitting that he was getting teary-eyed. “I worried that the first couple of years would be fun, then it would start to get stressful. It’s just gotten more fun.”
When he steps on the stage Sunday night in Toledo, he’s going to have a big smile, and it’s going to be authentic.
“You make a connection with an artist from their songs, what they’ve said, based on the story they’ve told you — because you share that story. These songs become your soundtrack. They play in the background of your life, become part of your memories. Every time you hear a song, you’ll remember the first time you heard it and remember how you feel. I call these soundtrack songs,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s been my dream to write that type of music, sing that type of music, walk on stage and have somebody sing along with one of my songs because that’s the only way of knowing if I’m doing it successfully. I write about my life — that’s boring or interesting depending on who you talk to — but at the end of the day, that means nothing until it means something to someone else.”
Hunter Hayes will be the opening act for Carrie Underwood at Huntington Center on Sunday night. The 7:30 show is sold out.
Contact Brian Dugger at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DuggerCountry.