The first night of the Rockin’ Country Festival is an example of small town songbirds that have sang their way to the top. The Carter Twins and Tony Rio were participants in the festival that demonstrated what it takes to make it in the industry.

Carter Twins press photo

Photo courtesy of the Carter Twins

The Akron-born, Hudson-raised Carter Twins made the move to Nashville to pursue their music career after graduating from high school in South Carolina. Since their move only three years ago, they’ve managed to write 60 songs, which the crowd at The Kent Stage got to experience.

The duo put on an acoustic singer-songwriter – a style that’s popular in Nashville at venues like the famous Bluebird Café. Josh and Zach Carter returned home with a piece of Nashville. Perfect. I wanted to bring a piece of Nashville to Kent, so they fulfilled my expectations.

Will Bowen, also from the Cleveland area, moved to Nashville and spends a lot of his time writing songs with Josh and Zach. He surprised the audience by joining the twins on stage with his heart-felt lyrics and amazing voice. This went over super well. The audience loved him and even assigned him the nickname Willbo; it’s how we refer to him now. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Here’s the performance of “You Just Can’t Stay,” that had everyone tearing up. Be sure you have tissues nearby.

Although the twins’ met my expectations, I think they surpassed what the attendees expected. Concert goers got more than they bargained for, especially for the $10 ticket.

Although there was a low turnout, it gave fans an experience of a lifetime. It allowed everyone to get unbelievable seats for the performance. Plus, each person felt like Josh and Zach were singing directly to them. It was a really intimate setting that made the hearts of the girls in the audience melt. Plus, Josh and Zach got to break out their routine. Who wants to be on a schedule all the time? This show gave them so leeway to do what they wanted. And again, it provided fans with a more personal show. We got a better look into their personalities along with their talents.

After their show, Josh and Zach spent about an hour signing autographs and taking pictures. Because they had the time and weren’t rushed, they were able to spend a generous amount of time with each fan. It all had an incredible impact on the fans. Hey, I bought a T-shirt. Yes, I’m wearing it now. I might as well just admit it.

Meeting Carter Twins at Kent Stage

Megan Ohnmeiss, Jenn Pinney and I met the Carter Twins after the show.

When Tony Rio took the stage, a whole other dynamic was added to the concert. His show was party country and beyond entertaining. Tony was full of energy, and despite the dwindling fans, he kept his momentum up. That’s the best type of performer I know for giving it his all. His bio was right – he gives his all to provide A-level entertainment. And those in attendance loved it. We even stood up, clapped our hands and danced around (we didn’t know any line dances to bust out in the aisle).


Tony Rio

Photo courtesy of Tony Rio

In 2010, Tony had a career breakthrough. His humorous song “She Looks Like an Angel” from his 2009 album Dance, was added to radio playlists throughout the country. Tony, in an interview I had with him, said he was surprised by the success of the song. He wrote it as a joke and never imaged it would make it would be successful. Goes to show how difficult it is to predict what will fuel one’s career.

The Carter Twins and Tony Rio know what it feels like to achieve success on a national level. I’m sure it’s just an extra incentive to keep pushing. To me, their dedication to the music shows how bad they want that superstar label. Perhaps someday they’ll be right up there with the king of country music Mr. George Straight. Maybe they just need a good publicist to take them to the next level. Pick me, pick me!

Tony Rio is still performing locally, so check out his schedule to try to catch one of his upcoming performances. The Carter Twins should be recording an album this year, so be sure to stay updated on them, especially for those of you who missed out on hearing their new songs.


The Rockin’ Country Festival lineup is complete. Check it out!

The Kent Stage — March 31
Carter Twins at 9 p.m.
Tony Rio at 10:30 p.m.

Walk of Fame — April 1 (seriously)
Katie O. at Pufferbelly Restaurant — 5:30 p.m.
Rob Duskey and The Rounders at Mugs Brew Pub — 7 p.m.
Courtney Bergman at 157 Lounge — 7:30 p.m.
Derrick McKee at Venice — 7:30 p.m.
Laura Fedor at The Loft — 10 p.m.
The Flaughers/Curtis Band at Water St. Tavern — 10:30 p.m.
The Ryan Humbert Band at Ray’s Place — 11 p.m.

I’ve talked about Katie O. starting off night two of the Rockin’ Country Festival. I’ve filled you in on a few performers in between. Now, it’s time to tell you about the closing act. The Ryan Humbert Band wraps up the festival at Ray’s Place at 11 p.m. on Friday night.

Ryan Humbert

Photo courtesy of Ryan Humbert

Someone said Ryan is the hardest working musician in Northeast Ohio. I think they might be right. Ryan and his band members start their night performing at Kent State Stark at the main auditorium in North Canton at 7:30 p.m. Then, they all will make a mad dash on up to Kent to entertain country music fans venturing through downtown Kent. Be sure to chant to get him to the stage faster. It’ll make him happy knowing his fans are eager, but I suggest being a little patient. He’s going to have quite the workout – unloading, loading and….repeat!

If anyone can pull this off, it’s Ryan. No doubt about it. Success is in his blood along with creativity.

Roy Orbison Poster

Roy Orbison poster designed by Ryan Humbert

Ryan is one of the most creative musicians I’ve met. In November 2010, he put together a Roy Orbison tribute show that took place at the Metropolitan Centre’s Grand Ballroom in Canton. I was surprised by the show. I don’t know many artists who would put on this type of a show and pull it off like he did. The look on the audience’s face at the end of the show was…well, striking. Ryan definitely made an impact and recruited more fans.

Within a month after organizing the Roy Orbison show (yes, he organized it), it was time for Ryan’s annual Strung Out for the Holidays extravaganza. The show included an 11-piece band in addition to a string quintet. It was a classy event fit for families and enjoyable for all ages. Christmas spirit was in the air for sure.  “You Got It,” an Orbison classic, was a hit at the Christmas show, too.

Ryan’s performances impress me. When I found out he was going to going country with his upcoming album I obviously had to have him in the Rockin’ Country Festival. He’s going to be singing all of his new songs. No worries, though. You’ll get to hear your favorites from Old Souls New Shoes – “Keeps Me Coming Back for More,” “Trampoline” and “Hand Me Down Heart.” OK. I’m guilty. Those are my favorites.

Album Cover

Photo courtesy of Ryan Humbert

But Ryan does more than music. He’s an event planner, organizer, manager and designer, all in one. In fact, Ryan gave me plenty of pointers as I put together this festival and designed the Rockin’ Country Festival logo.

So in addition to the music talk of this small town songbird post, I thought I’d share with you what I learned from Ryan that can be beneficial to other musicians out there reaching for the stars; you get a two-for-one deal today.

Music is what Ryan loves, which is evident from the variety of shows he’s willing to tackle. But he’s easy to carry a conversation with, he has stage presence and he’s humble. I’m always saying what goes around comes around, and Ryan goes all out to help others. Almost all his shows are fundraisers of some sort. He pays credit to those a part of his shows. It all comes back to benefit Ryan. I mean, he did just raise $10,000 to help produce his album. Kudos to this small town songbird.

So what do you want to hear from The Ryan Humbert Band at the Rockin’ Country Festival? Be sure to put in requests for your favorites and let him know what you think of his new ones. Better yet, if you like what you hear, make a donation to help cover the expenses of the album he starts producing in Nashville next week.

Not only is Katie O. a strong vocalist and rockin’ guitarist, but she’s O. so glamorous and O. so fun. Yup, she’s the entire package and exactly what country music is looking for these days. If my job was focused in the artist and repertoire area, I’d take her. She has what it takes to make it.

Katie O. standing in street with guitar

Picture courtesy of Katie O.

Katie is from the Upper Ohio Valley – Powhatan Point, Ohio, to be exact. Do you know who else is from the Ohio Valley? Country superstar Brad Paisley was born and raised there as well. Now that’s what a girl needs to have some confidence. It is possible for someone from a small town to make it big.

Making it big involves expanding your fan base, and the Rockin’ Country Festival is (hopefully) playing a role in it. Katie is excited to debut in Northeast Ohio, and the Pufferbelly Restaurant is equally excited to have her. Katie opens the Walk of Fame night of the Rockin’ Country Festival. She’ll be entertaining guests beginning at 5:30 p.m. on April 1.

Entertaining is definitely the key word in that sentence. Katie really gets into her shows because she’s so passionate about what she’s doing, about what she’s singing. Katie said she chose to sing country music because it defined her best.

Plus – here comes the re-emerging theme of this blog and festival – country music is the genre the Ohio Valley related to musically and lyrically. And Jamboree in the Hills, country’s biggest party of the summer, is right down the road, giving her so many opportunities to sing along with some of the biggest country stars.

“The energy of a crowd that size is unbelievable,” Katie said, referring to Jambo (Ohio Valley native lingo – I’m from there, so I’m allowed to say it, too). She’s had the opportunity to perform in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Here’s part of the 2010 performance with her band mate Corey Congilio.

Although Katie sings covers of some of the top country performers, she definitely has the knack for making them her own. Obviously. Isn’t that one of the qualities American Idol judges looked for from contestants? Indeed, it is, in addition to the ability to write your own songs.

“Here come the butterflies, the fireflies, oh inside of me. And you say how you been, and I fake smile.”

That’s one of Katie’s originals. Her self-penned song “Butterflies and Fireflies” is catchy. I like to sing along. You should, too. Remember. April 1 at 5:30 p.m.

Katie reminds me of Carrie Underwood, one of my all-time favorites. I’m always singing Carrie’s songs in my head (and in my car, duh).And not surprisingly, Mrs. Underwood is one of Katie’s idols. Her strong vocals and success are idol worthy, for sure.

“Thelma and Louise.” I think I’ve listened to that song about 10 times since I’ve been writing this blog. Along with “You Get Me.” And “That’s All I Better Say About That.” Yes, more Katie originals. I love them. And I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with her show by any means.

Katie O. posed with her guitar on a creek's edge

Picture courtesy of Katie O.

Katie said there are more originals to come later this year. She has an album in the works and continues to write music with Corey, who Katie says helps her become a stronger musician.

“Hold on Thelma…you’re gonna need a Louise.”

Is Corey Katie’s Louise? This sounds like trouble. Just kidding. They make a great team, and I look forward to hearing her new songs.

O.K. I’m off to sing along to Ms. Katie O. Don’t make fun of me too much if you see me at the festival singing either.

“You can’t sweet talk your enemy…”

In a previous post, I mentioned other community events that seem to go perfectly. When I think back to the CMA Music Festival, everything seemed like it was perfect. The shows went well, the vendors seemed happy and fans had a blast. It all went off without a hitch, right?

Biggest fans at the CMA Music Festival

Kirby Smith, Bob Doerschuck, Lindsey Bynum and I -- the biggest country music fans having a blast at the CMA Music Festival.

Wrong. It may seem as if everything is fine because of the glamour of events themselves, but I bet someone behind the scenes is struggling, praying everything works out for the best. That’s what I do.

As I plan the Rockin’ Country Festival, I realize that it’s very unlikely anything has ever gone off without a hitch. Between the plans that lead up to the event, the promotion and the event itself, something is going to cause frustration for those involved in the strategic planning process.

Yes, strategic planning. What? I mentioned this before. Do you think events just happen? Nope. Do you think people just show up? Again, no way. Every event takes a lot of effort. I’ve been working on this festival month after month. And if you count my brainstorming sessions, it’s been a year! I put together a plan, which definitely evolved before I began implementing it all.

Well, now I’m a month out from the Rockin’ Country Festival, and boy, oh, boy do I feel frustrated. I still do not have the lineup finalized, and I need to begin heavy promotions. I’ve been working on this for a solid two months straight now. Coordinating everyone’s schedules with everyone else’s schedule is more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.

Tip #1: Over estimate the amount of time for people to respond to your message. It’s better to allow too much time than not enough time. It will reduce your stress level and provide you more time for other things you need to accomplish.

Clock representing time ticking away

Image from nysut.org

The clock is ticking. Therefore, the next four weeks of my life are devoted to promoting the Rockin’ Country Festival. Here are the promotional tools I think will work best:

  1. Social media
  2. Blogging
  3. Traditional PR
  4. Smaller, pre-events

And here’s why I’m using them and why they’re important for all you musicians out there (hint: promote your show on your end).

Social media seems to be the best method in today’s era. Check out this year’s Facebook statistics to see why it’s such a valuable mechanism. And of course, Twitter is ideal to keep it short and sweet.

Ping Logo

Apple's logo for Ping

Tip #2: If you’re a musician, get on all social media sites, especially Ping. It’s my newest social media membership, but for musicians, it’s ideal. You can be recommended by your fans, which is an authentic way to grow your fan base. Without true fan endorsements, how will increase your visibility? 

I’m using my blog to tell potential concert goers more about the bands participating in my festival. I figure it’s a great way generate buzz and develop a conversation. This way I know if I’m on track, if I’m giving concert goers what they want. Hopefully, my readers will recognize the opportunity to let me know if they have any suggestions for the Rockin’ Country Festival as well.

Tip #3: Your fans want to hear about your shows, about what’s going on musically for you. Start a blog. Include posts about the inspiration for a song, how a show went or anything to make your fans feel as if they’re getting to know you personally.

In an article I read the other day, people look forward to traditional promotion. The article called “5 reasons PR pros still need traditional media” explains it all. I plan to have advertising in newspapers and tackle the old-guerrilla marketing technique of posting flyers everywhere.

Tip #4: Don’t rule out traditional promotional tactics; they help with credibility.

Although this creates more work for you, smaller events will generate buzz about your main event. It takes a lot to capture people’s attention. I joined forced with the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank and their Harvest for Hunger campaign. Simple enough. Also, get ahead of the game by reading about 10 Event Trends for 2011.

Tip #5: Jump on board with already planned events. You’ll be helping them out as well as increasing awareness about your music or event.

As my energy for this festival wanes, I envision the success of the event to keep me going strong. I’m overcoming strategic planning process blues by fueling my mind with pictures of crowded venues. So don’t let me down. Join in with my promotional tools, give me some advice if you have any and, last but not least, make plans to come to the festival already!

The Flaughers/Curtis Band just might be the band that defines the Rockin’ Country Festival. The band’s characters Steve Flaughers and Jay Curtis are ready to turn the Water Street Tavern into a true rodeo when they take the stage April 1 at 10:30 p.m.

Flaughers, originally from a middle-of-nowhere town in West Virginia (yes, we were thrilled when we figured out we were both wild and wonderful) called Chloe (check it out on the map), was born into country music. Although he was exposed to other genres, “country,” Flaughers said, “is real. It tells the story of real things, about real people; it’s honest.” Exactly what I said in my first post, right? Told you!

Flaughers sings lead vocals in the band and occasionally plays the guitar. But it turns out Curtis is the real wild one. Curtis, a Brunswick, Ohio, native, has been playing in these neck of the woods for some time now. From the old Screwy Louie’s to nearly every bar in Kent, Curtis has made an appearance. He’s also been known to bust out his harmonica and his guitar, playing them both at the same time. I can’t wait to see that move!

Steve Flaughers playing the guitar and singing.

Photo courtesy of Steve Flaughers

Although I’ve never seen the band play live, their resume  shows the two must have some talent up their sleeves. They’ve recently written a couple songs that were sent to national recording artists Clay Walker and Pat Green. But they also sing their songs as well. At their show at Water St. Tavern, you can expect to hear their originals, such as “Wish Upon You.” Notice the music video is posted on Country Music Television.

Wish Upon You video picture of Steve Flaughers

Photo courtesy of Steve Flaughers

You’ll also be able to sing along with some top hits the band plays to keep the fans entertained. Everyone loves the tunes of country’s top rocker Keith Urban. Check out the acoustic cover “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me?” performed by Flaughers and Curtis.

Flaughers said fans just might hear Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition,” David Allan Coe’s “You Never Call Me By Name” and some George Strait on their playlist as well. In my opinion, it’s always fun to hear some of our classic favorites. Sometimes it’s the best part of the show! The covers definitely eliminate any chance for boredom to overcome the audience.

Music is really just an addiction for the two countrymen. They’re willing to play them all, and they are up for any challenge, especially the challenge of entertaining the audience. Their goal is to give every performance 110 percent so everyone has a great time and leaves loving their sound. What’s a band to do without the adornment of fans?

Despite the band’s already quite fulfilling history, Flaughers and Curtis definitely have a future. They’ve been spending quite a lot of time in the studio writing songs. Yes, the songs tell stories about their lives. They claim they do have some of their own life experiences worthy of songs. Guess we’ll find out.

Lastly, they’re putting together a Christmas album. Is it bad that I had to start a Christmas list already? Nah. It’s never too early for Christmas.

In the meantime, you can stay up to date on the plans of the Flaughers/Curtis Band on Facebook and MySpace. And be on the lookout for other upcoming performances as they finish up in the studio; they expect to be playing around Akron, feeding their music addiction, throughout 2011.