Daily Dispatches from Country Thunder, No. 1: Brandon Ray Kinda Rocks It.

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Ray: A little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll. - ADAM GAUB
  • Adam Gaub
  • Ray: A little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll.

FLORENCE— A little Nirvana and then it was Lit and Country Thunder was, well, lit, thanks to the rock-influenced set of West Texas native Brandon Ray.

As the opening act for Country Thunder on Thursday, Ray’s crowds won’t be the biggest the main stage area will see, but he knew it was his job to set the tone.

“It’s intimidating,” he said. “You’re the first impression these people get.”

Though it was his first time as a solo artist at Country Thunder, he wasn’t unfamiliar with the Arizona desert, having played six years ago as a guitarist in another band, and playing in Brett Eldredge’s band in the same role before that.

His sound isn’t what many country music traditionalists may expect, but in the genre’s changing landscape, it may be exactly what it needs.

“You gotta do your own thing and stick to it,” he said. “The beauty of country music is it’s all over the place. The hardest thing we do to ourselves is compare ourselves to others.

“You’ve got to blaze your own trail.”

In a sense, he’s doing that, getting six weeks in the top spot on CMT with his music video for “American Way,” one of the two singles he’s released. It didn’t have any of the storyline and flair of some music videos—it was a live take letting the words and energy of the song speak for itself.

He also got played on Sirius XM’s The Highway and The Bobby Bones Show, and saw “American Way” find its way into the Top 10 of country music singles on iTunes for a time.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I get one play from Bobby Bones,” to get that result, he said.

He plays with his wife on backup vocals and his brother on drums, along with two of his best friends filling out the band.

“I came from nothing. My parents worked their asses off to put food on the table,” he said of his upbringing in Big Spring. “Now I’m on the road for 250 dates a year, selling T-shirts just to pay for gas money.

“For us, it’s ‘Hell yeah, let’s do whatever we’ve got to do.’”

He’s making progress though, working with Keith Urban on some new songs that he hopes to get a chance to play live when he plays the same day as Urban at Country Thunder Wisconsin over the summer.

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