The CMT concert at Tin Roof Saturday is going to hit close to home for country singer Lee Brice.
Brice, one of the openers for CMT on Tour: Luke Bryan Tailgates and Tanlines, is a Sumter native, and he’ll be performing on the outdoor stage with Bryan, Josh Thompson and Matt Mason.
Brice, who was part of Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour this summer, knows as long as he stays on the road, he’s doing the right thing.
“I’ve been really blessed,” said Brice, 30. “I’ve been writing since I was 10. I was writing songs and singing them because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”
That’s not entirely true. Growing up, it was music and football for Brice, who played the sport at Clemson University. The former center and long snapper had earned a starting spot on the team until he got injured.
“I woke up one morning and couldn’t stretch out my arm,” Brice recalled.
With football gone, Brice entered his fifth year of civil engineering studies knowing in his heart that he was meant to sing.
“So I just packed my stuff up and moved to Nashville,” he said. “You’ve got to be where it’s at. You can’t pick apples from a pecan tree.”
What did his parents think about him walking away from a college degree?
“They just believed in me,” Brice said. “It was tough. They were helping me through college, and I had a year to go. I think (my dad) was really proud of me chasing something that I love.”
Native South Carolinians Josh Turner, Patrick Davis and Lauren Lucas have had recent success in Nashville. Brice immediately got on the circuit of writers’ nights to share his songs. Unlike most Nashville hopefuls, it didn’t take him long to get noticed in the country-music capital.
“Before you know it, I had a record deal,” he said. “And I’ve been on the road for five years. You’ve got to go get what you want.”
Brice’s song, “Love Like Crazy,” was the most played song of 2010 according Billboard. The song ran for 55 weeks on Billboard’s country singles chart. He earned single of the year and song of the year nominations from the Academy of Country Music Awards. (Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” won both categories.)
Brice wrote Garth Brooks’ hit “More Than a Memory,” and he has also written for Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean and Eli Young Band.
“I’ve been fortunate,” said Brice, whose brother is also a traveling musician. “I literally just kind of got fortunate that the artist thing happened at the same time as the writing. I’ve had just enough success that I can continue to do what I want to do.”
Brice, who released his debut album, “Love Like Crazy,” on Curb Records last year, is dropping his next single on radio Monday. “A Woman Like You,” Brice believes, will be bigger than the single that put him on the radio.
“‘Love Like Crazy’ took so long (to become a hit). It was a lot of work,” he said. “I feel like this song is just going to be easier. It’s very simple, but it relates to dudes and girls.”
Brice said he still feels the same as the guy who played in Twelve Bridges, a band that played gigs in Sumter and here almost 10 years ago. But the venues have changed. And so has the transportation, fitting for a guy who toured with Nelson this summer.
“It’s a big deal,” Brice acknowledged. “I wake up on the bus – gah, I love my bus – I just appreciate it.”
Brice spends most of his time on the road playing shows, signing autographs, writing new songs and doing all sorts of interviews. He said he does it all with a smile. And South Carolina is never far from his mind.
“South Carolina is something I talk about all the time,” he said. “I put it in my songs.”
Since he’s averaging, by his count, 250 shows a year, Brice only gets to Sumter a couple of times a year. The 10th annual CMT tour, which started in mid-September, has Brice on the road through the middle of next month.
Even if it seems like Brice has made it, he still thinks about living at home.
“If I can make enough to pay my bills, then I’m happy,” he said. “That’s really the thing for me. If I keep getting bigger and bigger, then maybe I can buy a house in Sumter.”