BROOKSVILLE — If you're hosting a big-time public event such as the Florida Blueberry Festival, its organizers say, you need a big-time attraction.
And the people running this weekend's festival in Brooksville think they have found that draw in 31-year-old country music upstart Easton Corbin.
"We brought him in to bring a bigger audience to the festival," said Sue Rupe, entertainment chair of Florida Blueberry Festival Inc.
Corbin will headline a Saturday night performance at Hernando Park in downtown Brooksville.
Since breaking onto the country music scene in 2009, Corbin — who hails from the tiny Gilchrist County community of Trenton — has built his growing reputation with a twangy traditional sound that veers somewhat away from the rock-laced stylings of his contemporaries, including Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.
"Yeah, I'm traditional, and I'm very proud of that," Corbin said in a recent interview with the Lima (Ohio.) News. "We spent every Saturday night listening to Hee Haw.I think whatever you grow up around is what influences you."
That distinction is what landed Corbin's debut single, A Little More Country Than That, and it's follow-up, Roll With It, at the top of the country charts in 2009.
Since then, Corbin has toured with the likes of Shelton, Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley — all of whom taught him a lot, he said.
"As a new artist you learn watching those guys, what they do," Corbin said, according to publicity material. "And, of course, with a big crowd like that you've got to learn how to entertain. It's a different thing from playing a club."
Growing up in central Florida, Corbin was surrounded by country music. That was all his high school buddies listened to as they drove around town in their high-lift pickup trucks. But the Trenton teen developed a certain affection for the classic, fiddle and pedal steel-driven styles of singers such as Merle Haggard, George Jones and Keith Whitley, whose voices and songs he describes as "phenomenal."
At 14, Corbin started taking guitar lessons and playing in a local band, all the while dreaming through his years at Trenton High School of someday performing on the Grand Ole Opry. But after graduating, he started thinking he needed a backup plan, and enrolled first at Santa Fe Community College and then at the University Of Florida, where he majored in food and resource economics.
A couple of years later, Corbin's acoustic demo recording found its way to the senior director of artists and repertoire for Universal Music Group Nashville, which decided to take a chance on the unknown singer.
As success begets success, Corbin said he's always continues to set his sights higher. His recently released sophomore album, All Over the Road, has done well on the charts. And yes, he's even appeared on the Grand Ole Opry several times in the past couple of years.
"That meant so much," Corbin told an interviewer with Florida Magazine. "It was so great to get up there. That's where everybody wants to play if you play country music."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.