Nashville newcomer Drew Baldridge likes to call his brand of country music “funktry.”
Horns punctuate the chorus of his debut single “Dance With Ya” lending a funky albeit twangy vibe that some might say blurs the lines of country and pop.
Baldridge makes no apologies.
“It’s got a little funk in the country,” he said during a phone call from home in Nashville. “I love all kinds of music, but I love Earth, Wind & Fire and Michael Jackson and all that groove kinda music.”
At the core of “Dance With Ya” and all of the songs he writes is the small-town boy who grew up on a farm in a tiny Illinois town of 500, sang in the church and graduated high school in a class of 22.
“I love the small-town lyrics stuff,” said the 26-year-old, who is making his Country Thunder debut in Florence on April 6. He follows Neal McCoy a few hours before headliner Jason Aldean takes the stage.
“Dance With Ya” was the anchor of Baldridge’s 2016 debut album on Cold River Records, a small indie label that discovered him after hearing the song, which had been a hot pick on Sirius XM’s The Highway. Cold River released “Dirt On Us” in summer 2016; “Dance With Ya” was the kick-off single, followed by the driving ballad “Rebound,” which briefly flirted with Billboard’s Top 10.
Truth be told, Baldridge didn’t write either song with a consideration of how they would do on radio. He spent nearly five years writing songs, each with the thought of how they would play live.
“I wasn’t thinking about radio when I was writing,” he explained. “I was like, ‘Oh, I can do this live and this live.’ ”
Baldridge decided when he was a kid attending concerts with his parents that one thing missing from the country shows was the entertainment factor. The artists did a good job singing their songs, but when it came to pure entertainment, there seemed to be a hiccup.
So when Baldridge started his career playing the tiny bars around his hometown of Patoka, Illinois, entertaining audiences was his top priority.
“It was so much fun, and we’re big dancers on stage. We like to have fun and move around,” he said of his show. “I tell people I have the Temptations behind me.”
He and the band had a strong following close to home, but when they went out of their comfort zone, no one knew their music.
“We wanted to make sure they were still entertained, and the only way we knew how to do that was to put on a show and make sure the words were going with what we were doing on stage,” Baldridge said. “And if it said spin, we made sure we would spin. People loved it; they didn’t care what we were singing as long as they were having fun.”
It’s been a philosophy that has guided him even after he landed his record deal and saw “Rebound” rack up an impressive 23 million plays on Spotify. Wherever they played, including in Australia, he would hear audiences singing along.
“People were singing every word of it around the world, which was just crazy to me,” he said. “To think about (‘Rebound’) reaching that many people and being played that many times is like a dream come true.”
Baldridge’s debut album didn’t exactly burn up the charts nor did it sell a million copies, but it laid a foundation for his future that is guiding him as he gets ready to release his sophomore album. He is a few songs shy of finishing the record, which he hopes to release this summer.
Next weekend, he’s checking the box on a longtime dream.
“I’ve always wanted to play Country Thunder so I am really, really excited to come,” he said. “If you see us perform at Country Thunder, you will think, ‘Wow, these guys just want to have fun.’ ”