By Will Estell
It’s a hot sunny Saturday in Montgomery Ala., and there in a dusty steel arena, kicked back in a folding chair, watching her three children and husband compete in various rodeo events, sits Casey Kearney. An unassuming 30-something who I was watching, just two weekends before, at a live concert as she filmed the video for her first single to achieve country radio airplay.
The day after the 16 hours of rodeoing and traveling, this same mom/songwriter/performer/teacher was partaking in this very interview, because she had to get this in on a Sunday so she could homeschool her three kids on Monday. Well, that, and there are always horses to feed, chickens to gather eggs from, and the typical never-ending chores that go along with farm life. Did I mention she also has a new album dropping soon? That’s what you call a balancing act, and that seems to be the real-life and times of small-town country girl turned popular Northwest Florida music sensation, Casey Kearney.
Your inspiring entrance into writing and performing came once you were already a wife and mom. Tell our readers a little about your musical background and how you came to be Casey Kearney the performer.
I honestly did not know I could actually sing until my late 20’s. I could not play any instruments and I had never written before. Both of my parents sang when I was growing up and both were amazing, but I never did. Songwriting started as an outlet to release feelings I was dealing with at the time, then evolved into something I really enjoyed. I had an extreme case of stage fright and that took a lot of work to get over. Learning to play instruments between nap times and laundry loads was challenging. I had two little ones and was pregnant with my third. When I meet musicians that have played their whole lives I think, wow, don’t take that for granted, I’ve been playing catch up my whole career!
In 2016 I reached a now or never moment. The kids were slightly older, and I knew that music was something I absolutely had to pursue. I really buckled down on learning to play guitar, and I went to Nashville to record my first EP. It was expensive, but I charged it on a couple of credit cards, determined to pay for it myself before the interest hit me hard. I did and it felt so good. I just continued to press on from there, learning several other instruments and developing artistically.
Where does your desire to create come from, and where do you want to take that? What does the ideal future hold for you?
I think the desire to create is a gift that God gives us. Whether we choose to use it or not is on us. It is one of those things that is just in you. If I am not making music, I am building, remodeling, painting or creating something, somehow. It’s who I am.
Real-life. I would consider myself a literal writer. I can paint a picture with words, but it’s typically going to be a pretty clear message, not as flowery and abstract as some. So much of what I write comes from pieces of my life, stories I hear, and things I am feeling or am passionate about. I need to connect to the words on some level.
I’ve asked everyone from Jimmy Buffet to Kenny Chesney to Darius Rucker if they consider themselves writers or more so performers, and which side is more important and fulfilling for them as artists. What about for Casey Kearney?
I started out dealing with an extreme amount of stage fright; it was a huge hurdle to overcome. I eventually learned the power of stage presence, how to connect with an audience. I realized how much of a performer I am, even if I didn’t know it was in there. As for songwriting, when I write something that I connect to so deep, it brings a smile or tears; that’s when I truly realize what songwriting is. I honestly feel very connected to both almost equally.
You recently completed a new album in Nashville. I particularly like “Waffle House,” “More to the Story,” and your first single from the album, “Better Days.” Tell us about the new album, and what it was like to already hear “Better Days” being played on country radio’s Sirius XM The Highway that first time.
I am so excited and proud of this album. I released other projects here and there, but this full album of originals was what I really wanted. It is full of songs and stories of my life and friends’ lives. There are lyrics from the depth of my soul and some dripping in sarcasm. The whole project very much embodies pieces of my personality.
We would’ve had it out by spring, then the pandemic hit. But, we had enough done on “Better Days” to release it as a single. When I have introduced this song at shows, I would say, “This song is a pep talk that things won’t always be rough and better days are coming for you.” It couldn’t have been more perfect timing. Hearing my song played on Siruis XM The Highway was something I never thought would happen. When Buzz Brainard said “Welcome to The Highway Casey Kearney!” My jaw dropped. The whole experience felt like a dream…I thought it would be the coolest thing of 2020, but then a few weeks later I was invited to sing our National Anthem for the Atlanta Braves, and that was just over the top awesome. Especially as a lifelong Braves fan! Even though I had to film it in the hallway of my house, seeing the video of it playing in the stadium was a moment I will never forget.
I know you’ve been blessed to continue to book shows throughout the summer. What has the whole playing through a pandemic been like for you?
As a musician, I joked a lot that we found out how “non-essential” we were. When restaurants aren’t even allowed to be at full capacity, hiring a musician for only 25-50% occupancy doesn’t make sense.
I feel so extremely blessed to have been able to play for venues that got us back to work as soon as possible. Several even made sure to book make-up dates when we opened back up. I have played more private parties this year than I ever have. I love being a part of special events, whether it’s celebrating a milestone occasion, a vacation bonfire, or one of many corporate parties lately.
My gig schedule is unique because I choose not to play every night. I homeschool my three kids, and they are very active in rodeo, so I like to be there for as much as I can. I typically play 2-4 nights a week. This year on average, 1-2 per week have been public shows and the others private.
I think your life is more country than most any country artists I personally know. Tell our readers about the Casey Kearney behind the scenes, the farm living wife and mom and some of the activities beyond the stage.
Yes, we live in the woods—three miles of orange clay dirt road. It is a very small rural area about an hour from the beach. At home we have horses, cows, dogs, goats and chickens. My husband and three kids all rodeo. My favorite thing to do, besides music, is to ride my horse, but I don’t put in the effort they do to get as good as they are in rodeo event. I got shows to do and can’t afford to get hurt.
Where do you want to be in five years professionally? What’s the dream Casey Kearney is working toward?
It sounds really nerdy and cliché, but my ultimate dream is to enjoy whatever stage I am on, or at, in life. I just want to play music that I enjoy creating, and do it for people that like it. I am blessed to live in a region that is so supportive of musicians and creative people of all types. I love my family, and I love making music, and I strive to find balance in both. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I fail miserably. I just want to look back knowing I tried and did my best at both.
You’re always one of the favorites for all the members, locals and tourists who attend our Mattie Kelly Concerts in the Village shows. What’s it like to play to that crowd and for such a good cause as this local non-profit benefits the arts in Okaloosa and Walton counties?
I absolutely love playing the MKAF show each year! I really appreciate the beautiful stage and top-notch sound ya’ll provide us artists. The crowd is always there to have a good time at those shows, and it’s an awesome concert series I’m honored to be a part of. MKAF is an organization I truly believe impacts our surrounding communities and schools in such a positive way by supporting the arts and encouraging creativity in our area.
Any parting words for your fans and readers?
I am just so thankful to the faithful fans I have come to know over the past few years and for all of the support. Not only do they hire me for shows, share my music with their friends, and enjoy the happenings of my crazy family life on social media, they truly do care and have taken an interest in helping me succeed. If we haven’t connected I would love to get to know you and your stories, and have you along on this ride.
When and where can fans get your newest music/album?
The new album will release digitally on October 2, 2020. I will be doing three special album release shows, with a killer Nashville band joining me Sept. 10-12. Martin McDaniel Band has opened for Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson and many others, and will be playing with me these dates:
September 10 – Mattie Kelly Arts Village, Destin
September 11 – 3rd Planet Brewery, Niceville
September 12 – Papa Joe’s Bayside, Panama City Beach
You can also catch Casey playing at the 30A store in Seagrove September 4th and October 9th.
For more information about Casey, including her blog, performance dates and merchandise, visit www.caseykearney.com. To join her exclusive “Text Groupies,” text CASEY to 31996. And for bookings email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will Estell is a multi-published writer and editor with over 20 years in magazine publishing. He’s been instrumental in bringing nine magazine titles from concept to fruition, as well as serving as editor and publisher for others beyond those. Originally from the backwoods of rural Mississippi, then Alabama, he now makes his home in Destin, where he serves as Editor-In-Chief of The 30A Company’s Beach Happy magazine, available on newsstands around the country. He’s also a board member of the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation and Trees On The Coast, locally. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his three children, watching live music, and hanging out on boats and beaches. You can follow him @WillEstell on Facebook, and @ifWillusedInsta on Instagram.