The Seminole Tribe of Florida is celebrating the 119th anniversary of its Big Cypress Seminole Reservation this weekend. The party will be wild with the expected alligator wrestling but also with a proper country-music hoedown.
The Seminoles tapped country music stars Gary Allan and Montgomery Gentry to close out the night's festivities. But before all the honky-tonking takes place, the tribe is inviting attendees to explore its fair and exhibition, which will feature Central Plains Dancers, a critter and alligator show, carnival rides, and scrumptious food vendors throughout (get your fry bread on).
Kentucky natives Montgomery Gentry, who have five number-one hits to its name (including rousers "Something to Be Proud Of" and "If You Ever Stop Loving Me") will warm up the crowd before handing over the main stage to modern-day country outlaw Gary Allan. With his rugged and ragged vocals, he echoes the sentiments of renegade country crooners such as Merle Haggard and Buck Owens but with a mainstream appeal -- selling more than 7 million albums without crossing over into full-blown pop-country terrain.
What it takes to be an outlaw country singer in the context of modern times, he explained, is "doing things my own way." He's much more approachable than one would assume for a musician billed as a "renegade." From his Nashville, Tennessee, home, Allan told us that since getting his big break in 1996, he's stuck to his guns and never ceded to what was considered popular.
"I've been able to make a living outside the system," explained Allan, who admittedly doesn't "do the award shows" or "campaigns on [my] own behalf."
"I've never sought out to be the greatest thing ever. Whenever I have a gig, I just come out to play," he said.
Despite his evasion of the pop-star spotlight, Allan has seen his dusty throwback style yield a dozen top-ten hits and land him on such TV shows such as The Tonight Show, Live With Kelly and Michael, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Allan got his big break while working for his brother at a used-car lot. One of the dealership's customers just happened to buy a truck that had his demo (containing a scraggy version of "If I Was a Drinkin' Man" by Neal McCoy) in the CD player. The lady became so enamored of Allan's road-weary croon that she subsequently lent him more than $12,000 so he could go to Nashville and record a proper demo.
Allan never looked back, making the move to country music's heartland, cutting a four-song demo (songs of which would make up his 1996 debut album, Used Heart for Sale), and landing a record deal within six months' time. Allan tells us that he paid the customer back with dividends and still maintains a relationship with her to this day.
Allan hit the ground running, releasing eight stellar traditionalist country records that garnered mass appeal. His career took a major setback in January 2011, though, when he had to have a polyp removed from his vocal cord. He tells us he hit a dark point during this time, with the vocal problems and battles with his label that held him up from releasing an album for three years. But Allan persevered, enduring the frightening and possibly career-ending surgery with a newfound optimism. "I felt like I was 18 again," Allan said of his postsurgery recovery, telling us he could hit falsettos he hadn't been able to reach in years.
When the dust settled, Allan had waxed "Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)," the fastest-rising single in his career and his first top-ten hit in ten years. He explained that the time spent in recovery not drinking and smoking for months made him feel like "a million bucks." It proved fruitful, as he then released the 2013 effort Set You Free, the highest-charting album of his career.
Keeping the momentum going, he already has 17 songs cut for his next album and has been working in the studio with Chris Stapleton, who penned number-one hits for the likes of George Strait, Kenny Chesney, and Darius Rucker. Allan tells us it will be a bit of a departure from his renegade sound, songs that will either "boost his career" or "completely ruin it." Allan assures, however, that he's not trying to "hang with the times" with this effort; he's just "doing things his own way," as he always has.
Regarding his gig at the Seminole Reservation, Allan is no stranger to performing on Native American soil. He's played many reservations, winning the favor of many tribe elders. Matter of fact, Wyoming's Arapaho Tribe was so captivated by the crooner that it made him one of its own. No shit, the tribe adopted him as a ceremonial member and granted him an Arapaho name, "He Loves the Earth."
"I've been fascinated with the Native American culture since I was a kid," he said. "Thanks to all the great rooms for playing music on reservations that are popping up across the country, I've been able to foster a close tie to that community."
Gary Allan with Montgomery Gentry on Saturday, January 10. Show starts at 6:30 p.m at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Grounds, 36500 Rodeo Drive, Clewiston. Tickets cost $54. Visit bigcypresscelebration.com.