Inside Columbia


Making it in Music City

By Inside Columbia

For hopeful country artists, Nashville is the place to make or break a career. For several mid-Missouri natives, Nashville was the next step in their natural progression as a singer, songwriter, and musician. From performing on countless stages in Music City to strumming guitar strings, and pulling heartstrings on their albums, these mid-Missouri natives are living their country music dreams.

Stands against domestic violence in latest single.

Raised in the small town of Garden City, Mo., music always surrounded Tyler Farr. His parents were both singers, and by middle school, he joined choir and was taking classical voice lessons.

“It was already there in front of me and it was something that came natural to me,” Farr said.

At 16, his mother married DeWayne Phillips, the guitarist of country music legend George Jones. When teenage Farr was invited to join Phillips on Jones’ U.S. tour, he jumped on the opportunity. Hitting the road with the band and watching Jones perform every night changed Farr’s life forever and inspired him to become a country music artist.

“That’s when I fell in love with country (music),” he says.

Farr said making the jump to Nashville wasn’t easy, but he’s always been an adventurous person who doesn’t mind taking risks.

“I literally packed up and just moved there,” he said. “You have to have the personality for it. Some people would say, ‘It’s too dangerous or risky,’ but not for me. It was kind of scary, but you don’t hit home runs by bunting every time you get up to the plate.”

Farr’s debut album, Redneck Crazy, which was released in 2013, was No. 2 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart and No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200. Two songs on the album, “Redneck Crazy” and “Whiskey in My Water,” were back-to-back No. 1 singles. “Whiskey in My Water” was also Farr’s first No. 1 hit as a songwriter.

His next album, Suffer In Peace, debuted in the Top 5 on both the Billboard Top 200 Albums and Billboard Country Albums Charts. Farr is the only solo male country artist to have his first two albums debut in the Top 5 in the past decade. With so much success, Farr was nominated for the 2014 Music Row “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” and toured with Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Luke Combs and Lee Brice.

Touring with Jason Aldean for a couple years, the two became fast friends, bonding over country music, hunting and other similar interests. When hanging out at Aldean’s home one evening, the country music star approached Farr with the idea of signing him to Aldean’s Night Train Records/BBR Music Group.
“I thought he was saying it jokingly and I called him later and asked if he was serious about it,” Farr, who signed with the record label in March 2019, said. “I’ve always looked up to Jason and enjoyed his music. For a guy I look up to to appreciate my music as much as I do his, I was honored.”

Earlier this year, Farr released “Cover Girl,” an empowering single that speaks out against domestic violence. Farr, who always has songwriting on his mind, was in an Atlanta airport when he saw a Cover Girl ad and the words “Cover Girl” stood out as a potential song idea. Months later when he sat down with fellow songwriters, he brought up the words, “Cover Girl,” and how it could turn into a song.

That’s when he and his fellow songwriters sparked a conversation about domestic violence and realized they all had been touched by it in some way. For Farr, he witnessed the effects of domestic violence when he worked for a rehabilitation company serving youth who were suffering from trauma, affect disorder, and domestic violence.

“‘Cover Girl’ is me talking to a woman who I may or may not know and saying get out of there, you’re not in a good situation,” Farr said. “How many women do you pass who you don’t know who are going through domestic violence in their lives? My hope for the song is to give women out there some healing, some strength, and some hope, and let them know they’re not alone. The song is me saying this isn’t how it’s supposed to be and you can do better.”

Farr and his wife, Hannah, welcomed their first child, Hollis Caroline Farr, on January 27. Being a father has turned Farr into a “big old pile of mush,” he said, and translated into his songwriting.
“I’m writing some dad songs,” he said. “I try to write real songs for real people.”

In August, Farr said he was looking forward to taking “Cover Girl” to radio and releasing a new album created during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Above all else, Farr is most excited and concerned about watching his daughter grow up.

Stays true to herself, love for classic country

From an early age, it was clear that Carissa Biele was meant to be on stage. Growing up in Fulton, Missouri, Biele started performing as a young child and by age 11, she was a local studio dancer and a star in children’s community musical theatre.

Biele said she was always an artsy and creative person, finding any opportunity to sing, dance, or act. In her youth, Biele stayed vigilant in pursuing anything she could audition for, including plays at Westminster College and William Woods University.

Her dream chase began after graduating with a degree in broadcast journalism and losing her father to cancer. On the day he died, Biele said she kept hearing a song in her head and wrote it down. She took the song to a fellow songwriter, asked for his advice, and they worked together on finishing the song.

“Writing that song gave me confidence in my songwriting and country tone of voice,” she said.
Biele spent the next few years performing throughout Missouri, Nashville, Memphis and several southern states. When she wasn’t singing on stage, Beile was attending classes for her masters degree and used her natural talent to add other exciting experiences to her impressive resume.

Not a stranger to hard work, Biele has been a news anchor for KRCG 13 and traveling production assistant for the drag-racing TV series “PINKS All Out.” No matter her day job, Biele’s passion for making music never stifled. Biele recorded her first album, “Easier Said Than Done”, in Nashville and released it in March 2013.

Biele was growing her music repertoire when she was offered the position of traveling reporter for the International Hot Rod Association. Living in Nashville was more advantageous for the job and also presented the opportunity for Biele to officially move to Music City, which she did about nine months after releasing “Easier Said Than Done.”

“After losing my father from cancer, my attitude changed because it’s never the right time, you just have to do it,” she said. “I have to live in faith, not fear, and live life to the fullest. I moved and haven’t looked back.”

In Nashville, Biele’s voice — boasting a natural twang and country sound — was welcomed on many stages. Her love of classic country is woven through her 13-song album, “Karma,” which shows off Biele’s musical range and emotional depth in songwriting.

Since landing in Music City, Biele has stayed true to herself by pursuing her favorite style of music — classic country. Her soulful sound went against the country-pop trend that has been on the rise for years.

“It has been very difficult and I have second guessed who I am and who I should be in the seven years I’ve been here,” she said.

In more recent years, Biele said she noticed more tourists seeking the classic country sound. She said she’s glad she “stuck to her guns” and built a solid reputation as a classic country artist. This year, she’s received two nominations for the Josie Music Awards, the largest independent artist award show that celebrates music from all genres. Biele is up for Modern Female Artist of the Year and Female Music Video of the Year for her song, “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby.”

Biele has been an inspiration to her fans as she opened up about her experience caring for her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia. She recently put her song, “Strong Like the Whiskey” to a homemade video of her and her mother singing and dancing in the memory care unit where her mother lives.

At about 45 seconds into the video, emotional images appear on screen with the words: “So everytime I start to doubt myself, I listen to this song. I’m reminded that I will get my mother and I through this.”
In addition to her music, Biele is a dementia coach and advocate for Alzheimer’s Awareness and cancer. Throughout her career, Biele said she’s learned to always stay true to herself and do what she loves most.

“I’m doing a lot of this for myself and wherever it goes, I’m less worried about it,” she said. “Life is short and you have to do what makes you happy.”

Finds her voice in both fun, emotional songwriting.

At 16, Halle Kearns knew she would someday sing on the stages of Nashville. But first, the Columbia native had to gain some experience performing in front of a crowd and confront her stage fright. After she graduated from Rock Bridge High School in 2015, many of Kearns’ classmates were heading to college, but she knew that wasn’t the route for her.

Around the same time, Kearns’ father, Kevin, moved to Kansas City and recommended she play shows there before making the move to Music City.

She did just that, playing about 300 shows mostly in Missouri and Kansas with a few in Texas. Kearns performed at restaurants, coffee shops, theaters and anywhere she could get permission to play. Playing those hundreds of shows did ease Kearns’ stage fright because she was able to make mistakes, learn from them and dissolve that frightful feeling, setting her up for greater success once she hit the Nashville stages.

“Not all artists have the same path, but this was the best one for me,” Kearns said.

In 2018, she started taking consistent trips to Nashville. Playing there felt natural for Kearns and by the next year, she moved to Nashville and lived with a family friend experiencing health problems.
Kearns helped care for the family friend while getting her foot in the door as a country artist.

Since then, Kearns’ music career has taken off and she’s become known as one of the most exciting young artists in Nashville. She’s opened for Trace Adkins and Eli Young Band, her “Finally” EP hit 3.8 million streams on Spotify and reached No. 7 on the iTunes country charts, and she’s preparing to release a new album later this year or sometime in early 2022.

Kearns’ songs before those on her new album, such as “Pick Me Up,” “I Drink Whiskey,” “Finally,” and “Plans,” all fall under feel-good music that would make anyone want to roll down the windows and crank up the turn dial. Her latest single, “Nothing Left” is unlike her previous songs, showing a more personal and emotional side of Kearns.

Describing herself as a motherly and nurturing person, Kearns said the song is the most vulnerable she’s been in her music. Because the song is incredibly authentic and relatable, “Nothing Left” has also been the song most embraced by her fans.

“They may have felt an emotion but didn’t know how to express it,” Kearns says. “I write songs for people and I put songs to melodies that they might not be able to do for themselves.”

Kearns’ new album, yet to be named or released, is an honest reflection of her journey of self-love and discovery. The song, “Are You OK?” is a reminder for Kearns to check in on herself like she does with the loved ones in her life.

“I wear my heart on my sleeve in this album and it has a journal-entry vibe,” she says.

Kearns marked a major milestone this September when she returned to her hometown to play at the Roots N Blues music festival. Her hopes for the future include playing at the Grand Ole Opry, joining a tour, and, of course, continuing to build upon her music by writing her most authentic songs.
“I never know exactly what’s next,” she says. “What I think and envision, doesn’t always turn out. I just have to let go, keep my head down, work hard, let it play out and pray.”

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Excels at Childhood Dream.

For Kassi Ashton, there was no road filled with twists and turns to get to her music career. “As soon as I realized I could pick a career, I chose being an artist, absolutely no debating,” she says.

“I never allowed myself another choice or backup plan. I knew I could take on Nashville for that simple reason alone. I believed in myself and knew I would work as hard as it took to get what I’ve always wanted, so I moved the moment I graduated high school. You have to be present to win, so away I went.”

Ashton says the first time she sang on-stage, she was only 4 years old. “From there on, anyone who would listen got a show, whether it be in beauty pageants, musical theatre, choir or the Walmart checkout line.” Around age 15, Ashton began writing her own music and her passion grew from there.

Although Ashton didn’t initially believe college was the right choice for her, she attended Belmont University in Nashville, where she majored in commercial voice and minored in music business. “Belmont was a blessing to me,” Ashton says. “My grandma insisted I go to college and I considered it pointless for what I wanted to pursue, but I love my grandma, so I bent. My mom was born and raised in Nashville, so she mentioned Belmont. I auditioned, got a scholarship, and in my final year at Belmont, won a university-wide showcase that is heavily attended by the music industry. I signed my publishing deal the semester before I graduated and my record deal a year later. Transitioning was more than a dream thanks to that process and the team I built around me.”

Ashton’s mid-MO hometown, California, Missouri, is a place she says she has a complicated relationship with. “I think if someone has a romantic view of where they come from, that’s wonderful,” Ashton says. “I have tiny bits of that, but mostly, my relationship is a double-edged sword.” One of Ashton’s top songs titled “California, Missouri” reflects this. “I knew that there had to be a million more people who felt the same way that I did,” she says. “As an artist, my job is to not only write for myself and my experience, but to write for those that can’t. If I could make at least one kid in a small town somewhere who has the same view feel seen and understood, that’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I’ll always want to do.”

While Ashton enjoys song writing and solo singing, she’s also worked with some pretty big names in the country music world, in particular Keith Urban and Maren Morris. “I pinch myself and try to be a sponge, soaking up all the knowledge and insight I can,” she says of her encounters.

In the near future, look for Ashton’s post-pandemic radio tour cross-country, and, she says, “send the good juju my way.”

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