High school concert a first for Paris' Brett Eldredge

High school concert a first for Paris' Brett Eldredge

PARIS — Country-music star Brett Eldredge said on stage Tuesday night in his hometown that he remembers being a kid and having done almost everything in his old high school gym.

But he had never given a concert there.

"Let's sing together," he told the nearly 3,000 people in the gymnasium as he launched into the second song of his set, "Wanna Be That Song."

The free concert presented by Ram Trucks and recorded by CMT for an hourlong program, "Hometown Heroes," to air later this month, started an hour later than scheduled.

Eldredge finally came on stage to shouts of "Brett, Brett, Brett, Brett," and younger adults pumping their fists, standing on the gymnasium floor directly in front of the stage.

Eldredge, the 2014 Academy of Country Music Awards New Artist of the Year, opened with "Beat of the Music," after being introduced by Mayor Craig Smith.

"I'm too damn old to be Brett, but it's a great day to be in Paris," Smith told the crowd.

"Thanks to CMT and Ram National for bring our boy home," the mayor continued. "Brett's my favorite son and the city of Paris' favorite son and your favorite son, and he always was and always will be our hometown hero."

After coming on stage, Eldredge said, "I've got to soak it in. It's great to be back in Paris."

Earlier Tuesday, the 2004 alum of Paris High School spoke to students at an all-student assembly in the new Paris Cooperative High School on the north side of town, telling them Paris is his favorite place.

He also visited Laker Stadium, a baseball field to which he has contributed.

"They put up a new scoreboard; he helped with the labor," said Paris Police Chief Mike Henness, who with other officers and K-9 Diezal was helping with crowd control before the concert.

"His dad pitched him some balls, and he almost hit it over the fence — on more than one occasion," the chief said of the country star.

Eldredge also taped a Dodge Ram commercial while in Paris, the chief said. And with a CMT camera crew, he visited the Paris home of his former music teacher, Judy Carroll, who taught him in junior high school but had started giving him private voice lessons when he was 5 or 6 years old.

"I was his go-to person whenever he was prepping for a concert or high school musical or 4th of July in the park," she said. "He'd hang out in my living room, and we'd practice."

In April of last year, Carroll, now retired, was her former student's guest of honor at a CMA Music Teachers of Excellence event.

She always knew he could sing.

"And I knew he wanted to do this in high school," she said. "He decided he would try this. I knew he had the talent and I hoped he could persevere with the ups and downs of getting into the music industry, and that he did."

Eldredge also had breakfast earlier Tuesday at the Paris home of one of his aunts, Margo Kraemer, who like many of his relatives have traveled to hear him in concert.

"He's a great kid. Nobody deserves it more," she said of her nephew.

Success has not spoiled him, she and other relatives said.

"He is who he is," Kraemer quipped.

Even though, as another aunt, Lori Zins, pointed out: Her nephew performed last week with Luke Bryan at Madison Square Garden in New York.

"From Madison Square Garden to the Ernie Eveland Gymnasium," said Zins, who came from Minnesota for the Paris show.

They were in a line of relatives and Paris High upperclassmen who waited in one line to get into the show. The general line on the west side of the gym stretched down Central Avenue and then down Crawford Street to the east.

The first person in that line was Taylor Snelson, 19. She and her mother, Michelle, had arrived in Paris at 11:30 p.m. Sunday and slept overnight in their car to be the first in line for tickets. They were distributed starting at 5 p.m. Monday.

The Snelsons arrived at the Eveland Gymnasium at 9:30 a.m. Monday to wait for the show.

"I haven't seen him yet in concert," Snelson said before the show started. "When I saw this (was happening) I was, 'Mom, we're going. I don't care what. We're going."

A country music fan, Snelson was wearing a cast on her left foot. She had had it signed by other country musicians, among them Maren Morris, Chris Lane and members of the Florida Georgia Line. Her goal was to have Eldredge sign it too.

Taylor also held a sign on which she incorporated names of his songs: "You have 'Illinois' 'Drunk on Your Love' so 'Don't You' wanna take a selfie? #SomethingI'mGoodAt."

Also at the front of general line was Dan Smith, 64, of Paris, who was wearing, like more than a few others, a red T-shirt reading, "Our Hometown Hero Brett," over the outline of a map of Illinois, with a star designating Paris, which is about 60 miles southeast of Champaign.

He said everyone in Paris, population 8,561, knows Brett Eldredge or his family.

"This is a big deal for Paris," said Smith, who had played paintball with the star's father. "He thinks a lot of his hometown. We're proud of him."

Melinda Young echoed that sentiment. She has known Eldredge since he was a little boy, singing at birthday parties and in high school productions.

"He's just a good guy," she said. "There aren't a lot of celebrities that stay true to who they are. He loves his hometown. He sings about it. He supports it in any way he can."

A third-grade teacher, Young said she uses the singer as an example to her students.

"You tell your students you can set your mind to do whatever you want. That's Brett. He always wanted to be a star. We tell them through hard work and perseverance they can do that.

"It gives me goosebumps."

The "Hometown Heroes" idea was brought to CMT by Ram, said Emily Beekman of CMT corporate communications. CMT decided to take it up and follow Eldredge and country stars Darius Rucker and Chris Stapleton, who also have given back to the places where they grew up.

Each performed a free show in their hometown. The shows were taped, with the first "Hometown Heroes" show featuring all three to be broadcast by CMT at 9 p.m. March 31. Beekman said it's likely a one-off but might develop into more.

"I think everybody needs a little good news," she said.

Topics (2):Music, People