Country artist Billy Gilman — who was thrust into the spotlight as a child with this top-40 hit “One Voice” — will grace the stage next Friday, Aug. 6, for the Chehalis Music in the Park series.
The grammy-nominated artist is known for his young road to fame, his genre-defying vocals and performances on “The Voice,” where he landed in second place in 2016. And after a sabbatical from country music — and months producing at-home “Quarantunes” videos — Gilman is emerging from the pandemic with an even bulkier repertoire, along with plans to re-secure a hot spot in the country scene.
During the pandemic, hunkering down in his home state of Rhode Island, the 33-year-old grew his online fanbase through intimate social media performances.
“It allowed me week after week to really grow my brain in a way where I would learn songs throughout the week that I never would do. Ever,” he told The Chronicle. “I did an ‘80s and ‘90s night, I did a ‘70s and I did a Disney night. I did a Valentine’s thing.”
And along with his fan favorites, he’s packing up some of those fresh new songs with him on his trip to the Northwest: Fleetwood Mac jams, Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” and Journey’s crowd favorite “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Gilman said he lost over 100 concert dates to the pandemic, and was originally nervous to shift to a virtual format, questioning whether the emotion could transcend a digital format. But positive feedback soon transpired.
“I started to get emails from nurses all over. Just, you know, ‘15 patients died because of COVID, and I was able to put your music on and watch you sing, and I could dance around my living room and just let that sadness go,’” Gilman said. “I’m like, ‘this is amazing’ … to be able to do it without you in front of it. That’s what I was put on earth to do.”
This year, the musician remade his 2000 hit “One Voice.” The original song, Gilman told The Chronicle, came off the emotion of the Columbine shooting, and called for unity. Now, the 2021 version comes on the heels of a devastating pandemic.
“Let’s all bring this home together, and listen to each other, unite with each other,” Gilman said.
The tune, a collaboration with Home Free, an a cappella group and NBC’s The Sing-Off winners in 2013, takes on its own life.
Most of Gilman’s song choices have that in common: a theme to unite and uplift listeners.
“If I put a positive song out there that helps people get back up, stand back up on their own two feet, take a deep breath and keep pushing. Whether you’ve got cancer, whether you are the LGBTQ community, whether you’ve come back from war and have PTSD, whether you’re alone, whether you’re thinking of committing suicide,” he said. “Because the heart doesn’t know the difference. It just knows the nucleus of the sadness.”
Pre-dating Gilman’s own stray away from country music was when, in 2014, he came out as gay. Being someone young queer people can look up to, he said, is “a win, like a number one record win.”
Gilman was “scared to death” to come out back then, “because country music, you know, isn’t as welcoming, (let’s) put it that way. But they’re getting better, and it’s a wonderful thing.”
While performing on The Voice, as part of Adam Levine’s team, Gilman leaned into pop, with hopes of reinventing himself.
But now, the artist says his heart lies with country music. Earlier this year, Gilman joined Morton native Brandy Clark and Chely Wright on a CMT video special, “Queer in Country Music: A Conversation.”
“I said ‘you know what? I’ve got to come home somehow to country,’” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it. You know when you leave the nest — you go to college or you go to pop music, or you go to whatever — and then you realize that there is a lane there, it’s who you are at your nucleus, it’s your true north.”
Where should listeners expect Gilman to venture next? The star hinted at a potential TV show, plus singles and records in the works.
The way he sees it, there’s always been a “big singer” in country music — Gary LeVox, Richie McDonald and Kenny Rogers — and maybe he could maneuver into that spot.
“I see an opening for me again. And if it’s genuine, I think people will buy it again. So you just have to fight your way through, you know?” he said. “And I’m confident that we will.”
For now, Gilman is preparing for a few days in Southwest Washington, and says reader suggestions — perhaps in the comment section — on where to explore or grab a bite would be appreciated.
Music in the Park Concert Schedule
Music in the Park, a free concert series in Chehalis, spans three consecutive Fridays, starting this week. Shows will kick off at 6:30 p.m. at Recreation Park. The audience is encouraged to bring chairs or blankets. Food vendors will be at the park, but attendees are also welcome to bring their own meals and snacks.
• July 30 — Billy Dean
• Aug. 6 — Billy Gilman
• Aug. 13 — Randy Linder’s “Creedence Revelation”