Sunday Jun 9 11:50 AM
on Chevrolet Riverfront Stage
Expectations for aspiring teenage singers are fairly well defined thanks to a pop culture that seems to be saturated with them. The list starts with a charming vocal ability, some stage presence and a bit of charisma. Seventeen year-old Rachel Farley definitely possesses all of these characteristics, but where the young Georgia native stands out from the rest is that she also exudes an undeniable air of strong, yet humble confidence, tenacious independence and songwriting that radiates wisdom beyond her years.
When stacking attributes in an attempt to define RED BOW Records Rachel Farley and her music, many qualities quickly step to the fore: Strength. Purpose. Conviction. The rest is almost baseline, a foundation upon which rests her single most unexpected characteristic: Artistry.
Rachel’s cohesive sense of self, message and mission casts everything else in sharper relief. Her powerful voice becomes an oak-cured alto equally adept at gut-punch emotion and fire-breathing raucousness. Years spent performing with and learning from Brantley Gilbert, Colt Ford, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and more seem to be the apprenticeship of a craftsman. And a fearless honesty amplified by personal tragedy render all but truth inconsequential in the songs she writes. For Rachel Farley, life and music are much too real and much too raw to be forced into a box.
After all, it's not often a 17-year-old breaks onto the scene with a fully formed worldview. "You can be tough and a strong person without being a bad girl or mean," she explains. "You don't have to be a pushover to be a good girl, and you don't have to be fake. And that's what I hope comes across in my music. Obviously I'm young, and with people my age there’s a lot of insecurity and trying to fit in, but that’s too much pressure. Be who you are and let people respect you for that instead of trying to fit their mold. You can’t be extraordinary if you’re trying be like everybody else."
And if anything is certain, it's that Rachel Farley won't be following the crowd. "Music is all I ever wanted to do," she says. "When I was four or five I was playing concerts in my bedroom for millions of people and writing songs. When I started playing guitar at 12 and got my first gig, there was no question in my mind."
That first show wasn't exactly a dream come true. "The show was two hours long and, about two weeks before the show, I realized my eight songs weren't going to go very far," she laughs. "So I had my elementary school music teacher come out and play a few songs with me. That made it last about an hour, I took a 15-minute break and did the exact same set again. I had the place packed with friends and most of them never came out to see me again. And I don’t blame them at all."
Rachel's learning curve was steep and lightning fast, however. The following year she played 100 shows. At 13, she met then-rising local performer Brantley Gilbert and started opening shows for him. "Of course now he's got radio hits and is blowing up everywhere, but even back then he was huge in Georgia," she recalls. "He was such an inspiration in showing what could be built and the kind of show that could be put on at that level. You don't have to have expensive lights and videos to reach people."
The commitment was already intense. "I went to my first two days of seventh grade and that was it," she laughs. "I had to start homeschooling. You can only have so many fake doctor's appointments before somebody gets suspicious. We were playing so many gigs and driving to Nashville so much that it just didn't make sense anymore."
And there was another kind of education going on anyway. "My mom was really smart," Rachel says. "She read every book she could find on the music industry and did everything she could to help me without being overbearing with my artistic development." Farley met her manager and producer Michael Knox (Jason Aldean) about this time and went on to sign her first recording and publishing deal at 15. It was a bittersweet period for the Farley family.
"That was the year my dad was diagnosed with a very rare cancer," she says. He passed away in August 2011. "You learn so much and it's not all negative," she continues. "There's a side of me that's very blessed to have been through it and have the perspective I have. He was so proud of me – the kind of dad who made sure his co-workers all had my demo CD from when I was 11.
"I don't know that it's affected my music; maybe it's too early to know. You do realize that a lot of things aren't important and some things matter more than people know. Carrying that with me in life is going to make me stronger. At the end of the day what matters is how you and God view yourself. If you know that you can come before God with what you've done in life and he can be proud of you, you’ve done things right."
Now Rachel's opening for Jason Aldean's sold-out tour with Luke Bryan, and she can be heard on Brantley Gilbert's latest single "Kick It In The Sticks." "'Hey, trouble, whassup?' Yeah, that's me," she laughs. "I'm in the video for a millisecond. And with the tour, Jason heard my music about a year ago and apparently liked it. For him to pick me without a radio hit or anything is amazing." Meanwhile, she's finishing work on her debut album for Broken Bow Records – home to Aldean, Dustin Lynch and more.
One song is particularly dear. "I just call it 'My Daddy’s Song,'" she explains. "One of the last things he asked was for me to write him a song, and I actually wrote it the night he passed away." Brantley Gilbert and songwriter Mike Dekle were among the first to reach out to Farley after her father's passing, and she joined them that evening at a benefit show for a fallen police officer. "Getting ready for the show, the chorus just hit me. I remember telling Brantley that if I finished it, I'd sing it at the funeral. I woke up that morning and the rest just fell out in no time at all. I thought, 'Okay, I'm doing this today.' It's everything I was feeling; very honest, very raw."
That kind of depth might not be expected from some precocious kid singer with a big voice, but it's exactly what can be expected from an artist like Rachel Farley.