Eric Paslay talks college football, country music's best athletes and more
Eric Paslay never played high school football.
“They said I was too mean,” the country singer and songwriter said with a laugh from his home in Nashville. “I wish I did sometimes, but then my knees don’t feel too bad right now, so I’m glad I didn’t in that sense. But I always love watching it.”
He’ll have a front row seat this weekend in Tampa. Paslay is Friday’s opening night headliner to the College Football Playoff’s Playoff Playlist Live, a three-night concert festival featuring Usher, Flo Rida, Gavin DeGraw, Rachel Platten and others at Curtis Hixon Park.
The 33-year-old Texan made his name as a songwriter in Nashville, co-writing No. 1 hits for Jake Owen (Barefoot Blue Jean Night), Eli Young Band (Even If It Breaks Your Heart) and Love and Theft (Angel Eyes). His self-titled 2014 album included the hit Friday Night, and he was nominated for a Grammy for performing on Charles Kelley’s single The Driver.
With Alabama and Clemson meeting in Monday’s title game at Raymond James Stadium, it’ll feel like half of the country-music loving South is converging on Tampa for the game, which makes a Nashville star like Paslay a good pick to kick off the party.
“That’s a friggin’ awesome lineup,” he said of Playoff Playlist Live. “I’ll start it off with some good old country music, get the crowd riled up, put a little stories and lyrics and melodies in there. I’ll run around the stage as much as I can after a good monthlong Christmas break; I’ve eaten way too many sweets and drank a little too much. But it’ll be a good show.”
This is basically just a festival, but it’s part of a big, broad sporting event. Have you ever played an event like this?
I did a tour with Brad Paisley last fall, with ESPN and college football. It’ll be awesome to see all the fans rocking again.
Between that and ESPN and ABC using your song High Class in promos for bowl season last year, does that basically give you a golden ticket to any college football game in the nation?
I probably should ask. We’re usually playing shows every time they have a football game — they have their shows on Saturday, and so do we. We have gotten to go to a few, though, so it’s awesome. They’re hooking us up. It’s pretty cool that they’re digging the songs I’m making, and making it a part of football. I grew up in Texas, so it’s definitely a huge part of the culture, and cool to be a part of it.
Do you have a prediction for the game?
Um ... let me think of all the people that would hate me more if I predict either team. (laughs) I really don’t have a prediction. Whoever scores the most, I predict will win.
Who was your college team growing up?
I lived right in the middle of UT, A&M and Baylor. Between those three teams and family members, it was like, Okay, who’s sitting with me tonight? I usually just root for the underdog. It sounds like I’m totally Switzerland, but really, my parents didn’t go to a college that was all one team. I’d go for the Aggies, typically, because Baylor had a terrible football team.
Because the South is such fertile ground for country music, you probably have to be apolitical about your rooting interests, or at least delicate about it.
If you’re actually passionate about a team, then root for them. I just honestly never had the one team I rooted for growing up. I’m kind of bummed out about that, and I’m sure some people don’t understand. It’s like, How do you not have your one team? I just don’t. In a way, it’s probably good — I can honestly go and root for whoever I’m sitting with, unless they’re complete jerks.
I did see that your alma mater, Middle Tennessee State, lost their bowl game to Hawaii this year.
Aw, dang ’em. What the heck? At least they got to go to a bowl game, right?
There are a handful of country artists who actually played college football — Sam Hunt, Lee Brice, Chase Rice, Trace Adkins. Who’s the best athlete you know in country music?
Tim McGraw is kicking some butt, I’ll tell you that. I’m actually cleaning out my garage right now to get my weight set back together, because it’s a new year, and everyone that’s a little bit older than me has more muscles, so I’m going to start rocking it again. I gotta run around the stage. I gotta keep up with him.
-- Jay Cridlin