When I got to Nashville, I was 20 years old and couldn’t even get into the bars up here.Braxton Calhoun
SPRINGFIELD — It’s not the Grand Ole Opry. It’s better.
That’s the way Springfield native Braxton Calhoun views the Mars Theatre. The singer-songwriter, now based in Nashville, Tenn., last performed in the nostalgic venue in 2017.
“It was probably one of the greatest events of my life just because a lot of people leave. They want to get out of their small town,” Calhoun said. “I was guilty of that growing up but I love Springfield and I love Effingham, and I want to end up back down there.”
Calhoun, eager to perform in front of the people he cares about the most, is set to return to the Mars Theatre on April 13 at 7 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Calhoun said. “It’s going to be even better than the last time.”
Calhoun will not be alone. The acoustic guitar duo of Scott Bass and Kent Wells will open for him.
Wells is Dolly Parton’s lead guitar player. He also produced some of her recent albums
“He’s also played with Lee Greenwood and Brooks & Dunn,” Calhoun said. “He’s just one of those guys who has been doing this forever and is kind of a heavy hitter. He picked up this artist, Scott, and through me writing with him, he has brought me into the circle and we have started writing together out at his studio.
“They are working on (Bass’) first album right now and we are hoping to get it pitched out there to some major artists through Kent. That’s kind of the ultimate goal with all of it.”
Calhoun invited Bass, a relative newcomer to the music business, to open for him and Wells ended up being a bonus.
“Kent decided to come play lead guitar for Scott,” Calhoun said. “That’s means we’ll have a high-profile figure instead of just little ol’ me.”
Calhoun is using the April 13 concert as a way to support the Mars Theatre. He will have a CD featuring eight of his tracks available during the event and all proceeds will go toward theatre improvements.
“If you donate to the Mars, you get a free CD,” he said. “I just want to give back. I didn’t know if I would get to play there again after the first time.
“This is just to give back in the little way that I can.”
Calhoun hasn’t seen the recently completed renovations at the theatre but is looking forward to doing so.
“My dad talks about going there to see movies in the 1950s — old Westerns,” Calhoun said. “He jokes about a little cowboy hat he had when he was five or six years old. It got left there.
“When I played there last time, he said, ‘If you see my cowboy hat, let me know.’”
Calhoun is known for energetic shows with lots of interaction with his listeners. That will especially be true with a familiar audience.
“I’m really a game show host inside a country music singer’s body,” Calhoun said with a laugh. “I like to talk to the crowd.”
Fun is Calhoun’s ultimate focus.
“It’s very much an engaging show,” he explained. “Last time we played, during the encore, I had everybody out of their seats at the front of the stage on the floor. I joked that’s more my style than everybody sitting in their seats behaving themselves.
“We like to get up, get rowdy and make everybody feel good. ... It’s something my mama and daddy can be proud of, and that’s the way I like to run my business.”
Calhoun left Springfield shortly after graduating from Effingham County High School in 2002. It was a moment during his commencement ceremony that eventually caused him to pack for Nashville.
“We were the Class of 9/11,” he said. “That’s when the Alan Jackson song ‘Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?’ came out. They asked us to play that (song) so me and two other boys got on stage at the old Rebel Field and sang in front of 8,000 people — and we watched 8,000 people get on their feet and cheer.
“I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do.”
Calhoun made a couple of attempts to get a college education but kept getting pulled toward music.
“When I got to Nashville, I was 20 years old and couldn’t even get into the bars up here,” he said. “I would literally be outside watching the bands from the outside. I was mesmerized by all the talent.”
Calhoun has been chasing his dream since.
I do this because I love it,” he said. “I don’t necessarily want to be famous. I don’t think I will ever get fame or fortune but I enjoy playing music and I like writing songs.
“That’s why I moved to Nashville. I felt like I could sit down with the No. 1 songwriter in Nashville and earn a seat at that table.”
Tickets for Calhoun’s performance cost $20. They can be purchased at http://marstheatre.com/films-events-concerts/ticketing/.