If he were a little younger, Cole Swindell might have built an online following as a springboard to country music superstardom, posting videos so his talent could speak for itself.
As it stands, the 38-year-old Swindell had to take the old-fashioned path by building relationships, learning the entire business from the bottom up.
When the Georgia native takes the stage at the All Ohio Balloon Fest on Thursday, Aug. 12, it will be the result of a chance encounter at a frat house. Since that night, Swindell has gone on to become a Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum selling artist with nine No. 1 singles to his name.
“Luke told me all the time ‘it’s all about the songs,’” Swindell said.
“Luke” is country megastar Luke Bryan, who was a member of the same fraternity as Swindell at Georgia Southern University. Being older, Bryan was already out of school by the time Swindell joined Sigma Chi, but he visited the friends at the frat house and played some songs.
Though Bryan wasn’t yet a national name, Swindell could tell he was destined for fame as he watched him perform for a handful of frat brothers. The meeting sparked Swindell’s interest in music and the pair stayed in touch as Bryan went on to make a name for himself in Nashville. Though he earned a marketing degree, Swindell’s desire to be an entertainer burned in his soul.
“I just knew I had to be around the music,” Swindell said. “Nothing makes me feel like music does.”
When Swindell graduated in 2007, Bryan gave him a job selling merchandise at his shows. It might seem like a thankless job, but Swindell said it allowed him to immerse himself in the industry, learning about touring, giving interviews, performing and, most importantly, crafting lyrics.
“That’s where I really worked on my song writing,” Swindell said. “Being around it that early.”
After selling tour shirts for three years, Swindell signed a publishing deal with Sony that would lead to him writing songs for Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line, Scotty McCreery and Craig Campbell. His most notable writing credits include Florida Georgia Line’s “This is How We Roll,” Bryan’s “Roller Coaster,” Rhett’s “Get Me Some of That,” and Campbell’s “Outta My Head.”
Swindell said people occasionally ask him if he wished he had kept some of his better songs to record for himself.
“Honestly, I was so broke, no,” he said about selling the songs.
Also, at the time Swindell didn’t have any kind of following as a performer, so the songs may never have been heard.
“There was a chance they wouldn’t have gotten out there,” Swindell said.
But the sale of his work doesn’t impact Swindell’s ability to fold some of the songs he’s written into his live show. He said he still loves to sing the songs he’s written for other people.
“I get to take the crowd back through the years,” he said.
Connecting with the crowd is something that artists have been missing for the last year-and-a-half and Swindell said he craves the interaction.
“I think the fans miss us as much as we miss them,” he said.
He tried to stay busy writing and doing some virtual shows, but in a lot of ways, the pandemic sapped the life out of the industry.
“Everybody was affected somehow,” Swindell said. “(The pandemic) lets us not take things for granted anymore.”
In June, Swindell played his first post-pandemic stadium show in Florida. He said it felt like he was back in 2019 again.
“Nothing compares to the energy of a live crowd,” he said.
Also, Swindell said he is glad to see the Marysville date on his schedule for the summer.
“Ohio – if it’s not my favorite state to play in, it’s near the top,” he said.
Swindell said the Buckeye state has always supported him, even when he was a new artist just getting started. He said other performers he knows hold Ohio in the same regard.
He recalled his first national show in Ohio at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus in 2014 when he was on the road with Bryan and Lee Brice. He recalled just how fortunate he felt to be able to perform in front of an audience, that large, so early in his career.
Swindell said he has been lucky because he genuinely likes the music of the headliners he has toured with like Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line and Dierks Bentley. He said he now gets to provide opportunities for the next generation of young artists.
“I know what that was like,” Swindell said. “Everybody’s had to have a little help to get to where they are.”
Swindell said he hopes to be able to introduce younger Nashville artists to the energy of Ohio crowds.
“I’m just glad I get to get back in Ohio” Swindell said of his upcoming Marysville date. “I can’t wait to get up there after a year and a half and play.”
-You Should be Here
-Middle of a Memory
-Ain’t Worth the Whiskey
-Single Saturday Night
-Break Up in the End
-Hope You Get Lonely Tonight
-Love You Too Late
Other items of note
-Swindell’s performance was made possible by the early sponsorship commitment of Coughlin Auto Group which allowed negotiations for the performance to begin early in the fall. The involvement of Pepsi and Yuengling helped solidify the deal.
-Anyone interested in volunteering on a balloon crew or parking crew during the festival can contact the Hope Center at email@example.com.
-Tickets for Swindell’s show on Aug. 12, Mitchell Tenpenny’s show on Aug. 13, and the collection of artists performing Aug. 14 are available at www.eventbrite.com.
-For more information, those interested may visit www.allohioballoonfest.com.