The story of Eric Ethridge’s unlikely foray into country music stardom is almost too good to be true.
“It was kind of a happy accident,” said the 26-year-old Sarnia native, whose rising popularity has landed him a coveted spot at Canada’s largest country music festival, the upcoming Boots & Hearts in Oro-Medonte, Ont.
But it’s no accident the former St. Patrick’s High School student is making waves with his smooth vocals and unique, country-southern-rock sound.
It’s just not at all what he expected.
“It’s been a pretty crazy ride,” said Ethridge, who, after high school, played four years of football at UWO while completing a degree in kinesiology.
Around that time he realized athletics and academics weren’t his only strengths.
“I discovered I could sing — and it wasn’t all that terrible,” he said with a modest laugh. Having picked up guitar skills from his older brother Mike, Ethridge started performing at bars around London, earning an impressive reputation and fan base.
Ironically, he never cared much for country music; but the sound seemed to come naturally.
“People would say I had more of a country voice… and now it’s all I listen to.”
But music took a back seat after he was accepted into chiropractic school in Toronto.
“In my third year, I had pretty much decided that music was just going to be a hobby,” he said. “Then I got a phone call out of the blue.”
It was his now current manager, Jordyn Elliott, who had seen Ethridge perform and liked what she heard.
“She was pretty persistent, and convinced me that I ‘really had something.’”
In fact, Elliott was so sure of Ethridge’s talent she booked his first gig at London’s Rock the Park festival last summer.
The only catch: “I had to get a band together in seven weeks,” he said.
Luckily, big brother Mike, who had been a longtime member of Sarnia-based Miles Fault — an alternative rock band, came on board. Other band members include Marty Oblak, Dan Ainsworth, Jacob Burton, Scott Wilkinson and Matt Piche
Ethridge would take on 60 to 70 hours of schoolwork in Toronto, then drive to Sarnia and back for rehearsals.
But it was all worth it when the seven-man band wowed the crowd of thousands.
“The show ended up being a huge success; way beyond our expectations,” said Ethridge, adding a second gig followed at the Western Fair, where they opened for Canadian country star Brett Kissel.
“That’s when the realization came that, this is serious … like, we can do this for real.”
Since then, Ethridge has been approached by a number of producers looking to collaborate.
He recently posted a handful of videos online — featuring popular cover songs — that garnered tens of thousands of views. That led him to the top eight of the Boots & Hearts Emerging Artist Showcase, an online competition inviting people to vote for their favourites. (http://bootsandhearts.com/showcase/). The winner will perform on the festival’s main stage, with all eight guaranteed to perform. Voting for the contest closes June 19 — the same day Ethridge graduates from chiropractic school, and then moves back home to Sarnia.
“The ultimate goal is to have songs on the radio. I’d like to make a career out of writing and performing music,” said Ethridge, who is playing a free concert outside the Refined Fool Brewery at 7 p.m. on June 6, and at Corunna’s Captain Kidd Days on July 31.
He then hopes to make it to Nashville to record.
“It’s been a crazy year-and-a-half, trying to finish chiropractic school and trying to get a record deal,” said Ethridge, who is currently working at a clinic in Windsor in his third rotation as a chiropractic intern.
“I would love the opportunity to travel and play in front of thousands of people. That would be awesome.”