Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller//Sacks & Co
Nashville by way of Dallas singer-songwriter Andrew Combs will cement his place as one of the area’s brightest young musicians when he makes his debut at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
Combs is set to perform at 7:15. p.m. Friday at the New Music on Tap Lounge at the 15th annual festival just outside Manchester, Tenn., which opens Thursday and runs through Sunday.
The long road from the Lone Star State to Music City started when Combs migrated to attend Belmont University, a move he says was made to get to the city where his heroes, such as Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury, cut their teeth in the songwriting industry. The only problem, however, was getting his parents on board with their son moving nearly 700 miles away.
“The history — that’s why I moved here,” said the 29-year-old, sipping on a coffee at a 12 South coffeehouse in a recent interview. “I fell in love with the songwriter’s songwriters. … I remember being in high school and finding out there were people who were just songwriters, and I thought that was really cool. I still like the idea of someone who gets up in the morning and writes and that’s his job.”
“(College) was an excuse to get up here,” Combs said. “My parents said, ‘We’re not gonna help you pay for college if you want to get an English degree in Nashville.’ I was like, ‘Well there’s this thing called music business, whatever that means,’ and my mom took the bait.”
In the decade after resettling for college, Combs has made Nashville his second home. While at Belmont, he interned on Music Row at American Songwriter magazine and dedicated the title of his 2010 debut EP to his new home state. That release, “Tennessee Time,” and his two full-lengths, “Worried Man” and “All These Dreams,” were recorded in Nashville, with plans to record his next release here as well.
While on tour with Church, Combs played his biggest show to date at London’s famed O2 Arena.
“(London was) by far the biggest crowd I’ve ever played to,” he said. “In some respects it’s easier, for me at least, to look out into a mass of people and not have to try and establish a connection with a smaller crowd. That was actually my favorite gig of the tour. The sounds so big, it’s cool. I don’t think I’d wanna do it every night, but it was a nice experience.”
While O2 may have been a large show for Combs, he’s now eyeing another big date: his Bonnaroo debut. While this will be the first time performing, it will be Combs’ second time at the Farm. He visited when his friend and alt-country artist Jonny Fritz played the festival in 2013.
Combs, whose soft-spoken songs mirror his mild-mannered temperament and introverted tendencies, has mixed feelings about festival environments.
“I’m excited (to be playing), but I’m not a festival kind of guy,” he said. “The things I get nervous about are playing a block party, a festival street party or a party situation where people aren’t necessarily there to hear music. … I just kind of put my sunglasses on and get in my own world. That’s definitely a hurdle that I’m trying to still clear.”
After Bonnaroo, Combs has a busy year ahead, with his next gig being Nashville’s Fourth of July concert at Ascend Amphitheater alongside Sheryl Crow, Maddie & Tae, Ruby Amanfu, Erin McCarley and the Nashville Symphony. Later this year, he’ll head out for a short jaunt with fellow up-and-comer Lera Lynn in addition to some solo dates.
All of this is happening while he’s settling into his new ranch-style home near Donelson, preparing for his October wedding and — somewhere in between all that — releasing a new, bare-bones album inspired by folk rock stalwarts Tom Rush and Gordon Lightfoot.
“The idea is that I want to make a late ’60s folk record,” Combs said, “not a lot of drums and still some strings. But I want us to limit ourselves with what we put on top of a track. I don’t want any song to have like four electric guitars. If there’s electric guitar, there’s an electric guitar, and that’s it. I want to strip it down a bit.
“I wanted a big, full-sounding record for ‘All These Dreams,’ and that’s what I got. Now I wanna do something different. I don’t ever want to make the same record twice.”
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