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For Queen (City) and Country (Music): Caroline Keller On Making It In Nashville And Breaking It In Charlotte

Photo courtesy of the Caroline Keller Band.
Caroline Keller Band performing country music during Charlotte's Tosco Music Party.

If you tuned into the 2019 Grammy Awards in February, you might have confused it for the Country Music Awards. Up-and-coming country star Kacey Musgraves took home some of the biggest awards of the night with "Best Country Album" and "Best Country Song," not to mention beating out Drake, Cardi B and Post Malone in the coveted all-genre category of "Album of the Year." And let's not forget the star-studded tribute to country legend Dolly Parton, featuring performances from Maren Morris, Miley Cyrus and Little Big Town.

If one could say that the pioneering spirit of country music is bringing brought to the forefront of pop culture, one could also say that Caroline Keller is helping bring that Nashville sound to the Queen City.

"It wasn’t until I went to other places and came home [to Charlotte] that I understood that what we have here is so great... I see it growing. The sky’s the limit."
– Caroline Keller, country singer

Interview Highlights:

On starting her music career in her teens:

I was a country gospel singer. And I feel like I ended up there because it was easier. I met a lot of people that introduced me to that genre. I didn’t know that I was even able to go there [and make that music] until I got there. It was fun. My parents shuffled me to lots of different places, and I sang in lots of churches. It was great for what it was. It was a giant learning experience.

I started when I was 15. I went to Nashville for the first time and recorded a small record. And that was intimidating. I didn’t know how to even wrap my mind around that, but it was a really cool experience and it catapulted me into the country gospel scene. I don’t think I really understood what I was doing. To me, I was a normal person... I was a normal kid. I went to school, I had friends, and [music] was something I did on the weekend. I don’t think my friends even understood it either. It was just, “Oh, Caroline travels and sings songs on the weekend. And that’s what she does for fun.”

On what inspired her country music career:

I was always looking at country artists. I don’t really think I ever dove into the whole gospel scene to that extreme. I was more interested in country music, which is why I ended up there. I did gospel because it was what was put in front of me. But for me, [my first love] was always country music.

The first song I ever learned how to sing was Patsy Cline. I love that time in country music, and it was the reason I was so attracted to it, to begin with. The first song I ever really connected with was “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline. I still have it on a cassette, the moment that I did this. And that’s probably the moment that I realized that I loved country music the most — when I was like, “I can sing a Patsy Cline song, and people want to hear it! That’s pretty cool.” And that probably catapulted me to where I am today. Because I felt like I had something special in music. Thanks, Patsy Cline!

On recording and performing music in Nashville (the home of country music):

It was a great experience. It taught me how hard those people work. The musicians in those studios are just absolutely, insanely talented. And to learn from people like that? You can’t put a price tag on that. It’s so valuable.[I’ve performed at] The Bluebird Cafe [in Nashville], which is the mecca of singer-songwriter venues. We have a similar venue here in Charlotte called The Evening Muse. Their number one rule is that you are not allowed to talk while the songwriters are playing, and that is extremely rare as a songwriter to have people actually listen to every word that comes out of your mouth. It’s awesome and intimidating and wonderful and so many emotions. It’s really a place where you can try new things and not be afraid of what people think of you. Most of the people who are there are tourists, which is really cool because you meet people from all around the country and the world and are able to share your songs with them.

On the Charlotte music scene:

I think that music as a whole is changing, just like anything always. But I think the scene in Charlotte is also changing, and I think it’s for the better. If you had asked me three years ago, I would have told you, “I don’t think the music scene in Charlotte is going anywhere, and you have to go somewhere else to get there.” It wasn’t until I went to other places and came home that I understood that what we have here is so great. There are so many different types of artists here, and there’s so much support from the venues, venue owners, managers, and the songwriters and artists themselves. It’s just great. I see it growing. The sky’s the limit.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Caroline Keller Band - “Radio”
Patsy Cline - “Walkin After Midnight”
Caroline Keller Band - “Broken”
Caroline Keller Band - “Say Goodbye”
Caroline Keller Band - “Trouble”
Caroline Keller Band - “What’s Above”
Caroline Keller Band - “Whispering To Me”
Caroline Keller Band - “Busted”
Caroline Keller Band - “Get Gone”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier.