Artist of the day: Chris McCarty
Music or basketball.
That was the choice facing an 18-year-old Chris McCarty of Gainesville. He had moved to Virginia to train for a college hoops career, but on one trip back to Florida, a phone call changed his plans.
It was from an old friend who was trying to set up a band. He’d been calling McCarty for months, every day at one point. But he’d stopped calling for a while — right up until the night McCarty, who hadn’t been home for three months, answered the phone.
“That was a big sign to me,” McCarty said. “On my way back to school, I realized that I needed to do music, not basketball.” McCarty said. “It was a self-realization — I love basketball and will always play basketball, but I’m not going to play in the NBA. But you look at an old guy like Kenny Rogers, and you’re like, 'Man, you can do that all your life!’”
McCarty hasn’t looked back since. Born in Rochester, Minn., he came to Gainesville at age 4 and hasn’t looked back. For more than a decade the rootsy singer-songwriter has performed around the state, often alongside headliners like Dave Matthews, James Brown, Blues Traveler and the Wailers. He now lives in Orlando, which helps with travel as he plays gigs around the state and even outside the country, but he still travels all over Florida, logging more than 200 gigs a year in bars, festivals and special events.
McCarty performs with Daniel B. Marshall at 8 p.m. Friday at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa. Tickets are $10-$13. Click here for details.
We caught up with McCarty after a recent studio session to discuss life on the road and covering other artists.
Driving around Florida, what’s the weirdest setting you’ve ever played?
There’s been a lot of gigs. I played a show in this little bitty room where there was a confederate flag behind me the whole time. That was kind of weird. It was on the wall! And they knew who I was, I guess. Some of them were fans. Some of them didn’t know who I was, and when we got there, they were like, “Huh?” I was so young at the time, that what I thought then would be so different than what I would think now. But I can just remember at the time, thinking of it like a joke. At the end of the day, it’s not like everybody is like that. I have a friend who’s into the confederate thing, and he’s not even about that. He’s just, “I like the flag!” But some people are like, “Slavery is good!” (laughs)
It’s one thing to be a guy with a guitar out busting his ass for gigs, but you’re also known as someone who can open for or play with a national act. What’s the secret to cracking that nut?
You just have to keep playing, because you never know who’s there. I couldn’t tell you how many gigs I’ve gotten just because I’ve played somewhere and somebody saw and liked me. My songs are going to be in an upcoming independent film, and I’m going to be co-starring in it. That was me playing in Tampa, maybe back in 2004, and this girl bought my CD and just loved a song. Six years later, she’s a lawyer, and she knows this guy who’s trying to make a movie. This girl shows him this song, and he likes it and contacts me. You just keep going, and everything is laid out there for you. Eventually good things will happen.
As an artist, do you like it when you get compared to other acts, like when people trot out a Dave Matthews or Ben Harper comparison?
At this stage in my life, I think it’s awesome. When I was younger and full of ego and wanted so bad to have my own identity, as we do when we’re younger, I was like, “No, I’m me!” But now I understand. People who say, “It sounds like that,” when you ask them, “Well, what does 'that’ sound like?” they’re like, “Uh...” I understand that they’re saying I sound like me, and I have my own identity, so it’s cool. As long as they don’t say anything bad, it’s okay. At the end of the day, you’re never as bad as they say you are, and you’re never as good as they say you are. It’s right in the middle, and you’re cool.
Give me a couple of songs that you wish you’d written — and not like Stairway to Heaven or Yesterday or something that would set you up for life.
I can say that I wish a Martin Sexton song called Black Sheep. I wish I wrote Master Blaster by Stevie Wonder. I wish I wrote Redemption Song by Bob Marley. I wish I wrote #41 by Dave Matthews.
Ah, my favorite Dave Matthews song.
Ah! That’s why we’re getting along. Badass!
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*