Like many artists, Drew Baldridge hasn’t been able to tour due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But, he has found a unique way to get his music to the fans.
The 28-year-old country singer has been performing solo for high school seniors as part of their 2020 graduation ceremonies. His first show kicked off in May in a virtual Zoom setting and has since evolved into in-person drive-thru concerts, at the request of students who wanted to see him perform live.
Baldridge conjured up the idea to celebrate the class of 2020, after seeing his 2019 single, “Senior Year,” take off on TikTok. The nostalgic tune, which includes lyrics, “Never thought it’d disappear / Senior year,” has become an organically-discovered anthem for this year’s graduating class as they didn’t experience a normal post-high school send-off.
In order to perform for graduates around the country, Baldridge has been handling most of the work himself, calling high school principals, booking the shows and planning out his travel. And it’s all to make sure high school seniors don’t lose out on one of the most important moments of their life.
“I don’t want them to lose the light that they deserve,” Baldridge told Country Now. “It’s a lot to just navigate through the school websites to figure out what day they’re graduating. So it’s been really interesting. I never thought I’d be able to do this in my career. But it’s really awesome!”
A native of Patoka, Illinois, Baldridge, co-wrote ‘Senior Year’ with Jordan Walker and Tim Nichols after being reminded of his own senior year. The song, released independently via Baldridge’s “Patoka Sounds” banner, previously spent five weeks on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart peaking at No. 50.
Country Now caught up with Baldridge to talk about his viral single, Senior Year Tour, musical journey, and more. Read on to learn more about Drew Baldridge.
Did you always want to pursue a career in country music?
I was around 16-years-old when I knew I wanted to be a country singer. I took piano lessons until about third grade. And, then, I was like, ‘Mom, that’s a girl instrument. I can’t play that!’ Then, around age 16, my mom got me a guitar for Christmas. That’s when I picked it up and started playing. I was like, ‘Man, you know, I love country music already – It was so much about my life. So, I started writing songs a year later and started playing little local shows with a friend. Then at 19, I moved to Nashville.
How did you navigate your career during those first few years in Nashville?
It’s kind of scary at 19-years-old, especially coming from a town of 600 people. I graduated from High School with 22 other kids. So, moving to a big city was a culture shock! But, I moved and started playing at Tootsie’s [Orchid Lounge] and Rippy’s [Bar & Grill], and I played at those venues on Tuesdays and Thursdays for about two years. I would also drive up to my hometown area in Southern Illinois and play Friday and Saturday nights. Luckily, it was only about a four-hour drive. But I would do that every weekend. Then, I finally got a publishing deal when I was 21-years-old. I signed with a company that’s now a part of Sony/ATV, called This Music. But, I think moving and playing downtown is such a good thing to do. It helps you learn how to perform and how to perform in not the greatest situations. It also teaches you to adapt when things don’t go right. That’s honky-tonk school!
As an artist who began your career playing downtown Nashville, is it strange for you to see how recent events have impacted many of those businesses on Lower Broadway?
I mean, the tornadoes were a terrible thing. I have friends who live in Mount Juliet that lost everything. We’ve been out there with a chainsaw and helping as much as we can. Then, with downtown, some people in my band, when we’re not out on the road, they’re playing music downtown. That’s how they make their living. And, that is something that’s not talked about very much. You know, everyone has lost their jobs, but musicians don’t have jobs either, and it’s a weird thing. My drummer, my guitar player, my bass player, they don’t have regular gigs. But, I know it’s finally starting to pick up, where they can start playing downtown again. And that’s exciting. So, obviously, we are not able to play with the full band out on the road yet. But, we do have a gig on July 23 in Iowa. It’s going to be at 50% capacity. Other than that, I’ve been flying around and playing at graduations all around the country by myself.
Tell me about ‘Senior Year’ and what it’s like performing that song for all the students who are graduating in 2020.
We put ‘Senior Year’ out for the graduates last year. And, the hook, which says, ‘Never thought it’d disappear. Senior year’ has taken on a whole different meaning for the class of 2020. A lot of kids started reaching out to me, telling me that this song is what they’re going through right now. It really hit home for them. So I thought to myself, ‘What can I do as an artist and performer to get as many kids from the class of 2020 to hear this song? Because it seems to be healing for them.’ So, I started reaching out to some radio friends to see if they had a class in their local market that wanted a Zoom concert. So I did that, and I also posted about it on social media. Before I knew it, I had over 60 Zoom concerts booked, and I was doing about six or seven of them a day. It was so rewarding! We started doing that in May, and then kids started messaging me, asking if I could play them a song in-person. So, I was like, ‘Hey! Put me in contact with your [school] principal.’ So, it’s me making all of the calls, not my manager. And, I wanted it to be personal because I knew what these kids were going through. I couldn’t imagine not getting my senior year, not being able to play spring baseball. When we almost went to state that year, still to this day, when my buddies and I get together, that’s what we talk about.
Talk about those in-person shows. I’m assuming you all have to social distance from one another.
So, these are all drive-in graduations, where kids are parking their car in the parking lot. We have a little stage set up, and I play them a couple of songs. I play, ‘Senior Year,’ and ‘Middle of Nowhere Kids,’ which is another song of ours. They go together really well. Then, I, just, kind of, give them a commencement speech and tell them to keep their head up because there’s so much to look forward to after this. I’ve played bars, and the biggest festivals in America and I’ve played in other countries, and this is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in music. To see these kids smiling, and to hear them saying, ‘Thank you so much. This was our class song!’ As a songwriter, that’s all you can dream of, to hope to have a song that makes an impact. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I prayed at night for that. I asked God to give me something that could impact people, and this song is doing that.
How about the parents of those who graduated? Have you received messages of gratitude from them?
It affects them in a big way too. I’ve had several parents reach out to me. One, a mom from New York, said she wanted to make it happen. She said, ‘I don’t know if this school is going to be able to pull it off, but I and a couple of moms are going to make sure we get to do this for our kids. We’re going to set-up the town. We’re going to make it happen.’ So I think it affects the parents in a huge, huge way. They didn’t get to blow their horn when their kids were walking down the aisle. They didn’t get to see their kid hit their last baseball or kick their last soccer ball. It’s just as much of a rob from them as it is for the students.
What piece of advice would you tell individuals who are beginning life outside of high school?
I would say, find something you love or something you’re passionate about. I think that’s the biggest thing. I went to college for a year, and I studied physical therapy. I was going to be a physical therapist, which sounds so weird right now. I moved to Nashville, and I did a year of that online, and I was just so unhappy. I knew, deep down, I wanted to play music. I don’t want to look back and say, ‘What if I would’ve tried to chase that dream?’ I think, for these kids, what I’ve been telling them all is, find something you love, something you’re passionate about, whatever your dream is, you can do it.
Does seeing success with ‘Senior Year’ help you plan for what’s next in terms of music?
It does. I think, for me, it’s given me confidence. Sometimes, you feel like you need a radio hit to be relevant. But this song has shown me that I can put out impactful music, even if it’s not quite a hit yet. That’s what ‘Senior Year’ is. I was talking to the principal today, at the school I played for, and there were almost 300 kids in the parking lot. He said, ‘I want you to know that none of this would’ve happened without you. If you wouldn’t have called me, we wouldn’t be doing this.’ I almost started crying. I’ve been turned down by a lot of principals. But to get that one, ‘Yes,’ I mean, that’s how it is in life. You get 100 ‘No’s, but then you get that one, ‘Yes’. That keeps me going. And that’s how I feel with my music right now, and I know I want to make music for the rest of my life.
You were previously signed to a label. Do you feel pressure to find a new label home, or does being independent allow you to have more freedom?
A little bit of both. Being independent has been nice. I recently got engaged and put a song out a couple of months ago about my engagement. I got to create the video for the song, and decide how I wanted to create it. So we put the song out in March, and it was going to be the single. But then ‘Senior Year’ started taking off. So we went with ‘Senior Year.’ So, it’s like, I don’t have as many cooks in the kitchen. I can put out what I want when I want. At the same time, I do want a label. I want a team to help push ‘Senior Year’ to radio because I’ve been pushing this song all by myself. But, I also have new confidence in my music to know I can do it by myself if I need to. I have fans and a community of people that have supported me from day one. And I know they will continue [to support me]. It’s only growing right now.
Congratulations on your engagement by the way! Tell me the story behind that!
It was a mess, actually! (laughs). I had it all planned out. We were supposed to go to Paris, and I had the photographer picked out. My song, ‘Before You,’ literally in the bridge of the song I sing, ‘Never thought I’d fly to Paris to get down on one knee.’ So, I had all of this already planned, and two days before we were supposed to go, they had announced the travel ban, and we couldn’t go. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness! What am I going to do?’ I was stressed out. I was probably a little too stressed out because my girlfriend was like, ‘I don’t like how you’re being right now.’ I wanted to scream, ‘If you only knew!’ So the day before we left, I contacted my producer and went in behind my girlfriend’s back to change the lines of the song. She wanted to go to Aruba, so we booked the flights to Aruba, and the room, literally, the day before we left. It was so last minute. I didn’t have any plans on how I was going to pull it off. I winged it. When I went down there, I found a photographer at the place [where we stayed]. I went and talked to them early in the morning while my girlfriend was asleep, and ended up getting lucky. We found a family on the beach that we became friends with. So when my girlfriend walked away to get drinks, I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to propose tonight. It would be awesome if you could come down here and videotape it for us.’ It just all fell together, and I feel like everything happens for a reason, and God had our backs. We just went down there, and it all worked out.
Have the two of you started planning for your wedding?
Not really. It’s been so crazy. We know we’ll probably do it next year, just because of COVID-19. If this weren’t going on, we would’ve booked it sooner. But we want to make sure all our friends and family are there. We don’t want to have to worry about having to reschedule everything. So we’re taking our time. We’re both from Illinois, so we haven’t decided if we want to have it there or in Nashville or if we want to go somewhere else. I’m letting her figure it out, and I’m just saying, ‘Yes!”
What’s next for you?
I’ve got a lot of people messaging me about graduations in August. So we’re probably going to be playing graduations through August because people are waiting to do in-person gradations. If that’s the case, at the end of August, I’ll need something new to talk about. So, we’ll be getting new music in the works here probably within the next month, if I had to guess.
Fans can keep up with Drew Baldridge on Instagram.