Ben Gallaher is traveling through the desert, somewhere in Arizona, watching as the odometer on his band’s 15-person van adds another mile to its tally. There have been more than 4,500 miles added on this leg of the Pennsylvania native’s tour.
“We were in Huntington Beach, Calif., last night, and we’re off today, so we drove through the night to see the Grand Canyon. There are five of us in here. There have been a lot of things we haven’t seen out West, so we’re trying to check those off on our off days,” Gallaher says.
Country music artist Ben Gallaher
Gallaher, 26, is experiencing the joys — and the tribulations — of being an up-and-coming touring musician. There are daily adventures and new experiences, but also occasional frustrations as the Sony Music Nashville artist slowly builds a fan base, makes radio connections, and waits for the big breakthrough that he is sure will come.
“Through this process, I have become a pretty patient guy,” Gallaher says, chuckling. “I signed a deal in 2014, and last year, my EP came out. It’s been a long time, but it has all been time well-spent. I’ve been able to hone in on my sound and write toward it every single day. This definitely hasn’t been rushed.
He is exactly the kind of artist that K-100 was looking for when putting together its New Artist Series at the Stranahan. Gallaher will headline a show Friday night.
“After looking at a number of promising young acts, Ben emerged as the best, and we just felt it was the right time to bring a sound like his to the Great Hall stage at the Stranahan Theater,” says Andy Stuart, regional vice president and market manager for Cumulus Media. “This is a unique series in that we’ve got people who have worked hard to get to the place where they now have a lot of original music and are just waiting for that breakthrough single to help them launch their career to the next plateau.
If there is one thing that Gallaher has, it is original music. In putting together his five-song EP, which was released last August, Gallaher had more than 150 songs he wrote from which to choose. At some point — soon, he hopes — he will put the finishing touches on his debut full-length album, checking off another box in a bucket list that has been filled with Nashville-centric goals since he received a guitar at the age of 6.
“I grew up on ‘90s country music. That’s all I listened to. I just had the bug. My sights have always been set on Nashville. In high school, it went from a dream to ‘wow, I’m going to do this,’” he says.
Nashville’s Belmont University, a melting pot of aspiring musicians from all genres, was a natural step in Gallaher’s journey. He headed to the Music City campus to study music business after spending a year at Penn State. In his final semester at Belmont, an instructor, Allison Booth, took some of his music and pitched it to Sony Music, a label where she also worked.
“Someone called a couple days later from Sony, but it wasn’t like they called, then I was signed. I played several different showcases, with a full band and also acoustically,” Gallaher says.
By this time, Gallaher had built a loyal fan base in his home state of Pennsylvania. Growing up in Camp Hill, just outside of Harrisburg, Gallaher cut his professional teeth in clubs and bars throughout high school. When he was 19, a friend and fan of his approached him with a unique offer.
“He worked at a prison and he said, ‘hey, we’re looking for entertainment. Have you ever thought of playing at a prison?’ I said no, but I was thinking of Johnny Cash [and At Folsom Prison ]. So I said, ‘heck, yeah, I’ll do it.’”
That first concert turned into an annual December tour of Pennsylvania prisons. This winter will be his eighth year for his “Barbed Tour.”
“When I first played these acoustic songs for the inmates, I got such positive feedback and I realized that music is universal. No matter where you are — bar, church, a prison, anywhere — music can have a positive impact on people,” Gallaher says. “That’s why I do this. Maybe a song lyric of mine can have a positive impact and be enough to turn somebody around.”
His stop in Toledo will be an opportunity for Gallaher to try out some of his new lyrics.
“I love trying out new songs, some that I haven’t even done before. It’s a good way, especially with a live show, to see what is connecting.”
Creating an experience for the artist and the fans is at the heart of the series’ purpose. The show will be in the Great Hall, not the larger theater.
“It’s a very intimate setting. The concept is for it to be more like a nightclub, not to be like a bar. You get to be up close and see acts in an intimate setting,” Stuart says. “We’re rewarding young people for hard work and encouraging them to stick to it. There is so much young talent out there. We wanted to find a way to spotlight it.”
Ben Gallaher will headline the K-100 New Artist Series at the Stranahan Theater at 7 p.m. Friday. There are a number of ticket options, including packages that include craft beer tastings. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, on etix.com, or by phone at 419-381-8851. More information about the event can be found at stranahantheater.com.
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