Brantley Gilbert does country music his way. Have a listen Saturday at Walnut Creek.
Brantley Gilbert knows he isn’t exactly what some have in mind when it comes to what a country singer should look like. If his tattoos and wallet chains aren’t enough to make some would-be fans turn away, his rap-influenced lyrics and musical stylings will do the trick.
The Georgia native thinks that’s OK, though, as he continues to rack up recognition and No. 1s with his hard-charging weekend anthems, including “Bottoms Up” and “One Hell of an Amen.”
Gilbert, who is performing Saturday at Raleigh’s Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, knew the looks he received in his Georgia hometown would only intensify once he moved to Nashville. But he’s refused to change his look or attitude just to fit others’ expectations.
“I tell you, you find out really early in this business that you can’t make everyone happy,” Gilbert says over the phone during a stop in the current The Devil Don’t Sleep Tour. “You have to understand right off the bat that folks will judge a book by its cover, and sometimes that’ll make them not read it, and that’s OK. It just makes you more grateful for the fans that look past the tattoos and chains and notice that there is more to me than that.”
He hopes people appreciate that the tattoos tell the story of his life, he says, and serve as a reminder of “the battles that I’ve been through.”
“I’ve always just thought of tattoos as an expression, like songwriting, in that it just gives you an outlet to express yourself,” he said. “I dig them, but I know there’s a lot of folks who are turned off and intimidated by them. But if you spend five minutes in a room with me, you’ll figure out that the cover and what’s inside the book are … well, not two different things, but there’s a lot more to me than just that.”
People trying to place labels on both Gilbert and his music has been a constant in his career thus far. Early on, he was lucky enough to find a champion in country rapper Colt Ford — no stranger himself to skepticism from mainstream country outlets — who took Gilbert under his wing. Ford became so close to the young singer that he used his own independent record label, Average Joes Entertainment, to release Gilbert’s 2009 debut album “Modern Day Prodigal Son.”
“I’ve always just thought of tattoos as an expression, like songwriting, in that it just gives you an outlet to express yourself.” — Brantley Gilbert
That business arrangement lasted through the production of one more album — “Halfway to Heaven” — before Gilbert was offered a major label deal from Valory Music Co., a division of Nashville hitmakers Big Machine Records. While such moves could damage a friendship, Gilbert and Ford maintain a close relationship, with the rapper supporting his protege on Gilbert’s sold-out fall tour this past year.
Gilbert says his relationship with Ford is stronger than any contract.
“Colt’s a ride-or-die buddy of mine, and we decided — long before we ever started working together — that if we ever did work together, that business is business and brotherhood is brotherhood,” Gilbert said. “I consider Colt my brother, and I’d do anything in the world for him. Ain’t business or anything else going to get in the way of that.”
With his current tour’s schedule dwindling down, Gilbert knows he has yet another banner year to tack onto his still-rising career. To add to the excitement, the Raleigh stop will be a hometown show for opener Luke Combs, a new country superstar in his own right, who is from Asheville.
When this is mentioned to Gilbert, the musician reminisces about the past for just a moment, and one gets a sense of what continues to drive his work.
“My goal in the music business was to sell out the Georgia Theatre (in Athens, Ga.),” he said. “It’s about 20 minutes from my house, it holds about 800 people, and I did that when I was 20 or 21. Everything since then has all been kind of a blessing and a bonus.”
What else is happening this weekend? Take a look and find more music and comedy.
Brantley Gilbert with Tyler Farr and Luke Combs
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 23
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh.
Cost: $24.75, $34.75, $49.75, $195.25 at livenation.com