Some things are beyond coincidence. As a favor to Nashville guitarist and producer Brent Rowans, country music megastar Vince Gill decided to do some of the background vocals on the debut album of the first artist signed to a fledgling record label.
Within a year of the album’s release, Gill would release an album titled “Next Big Thing,” and Joe Nichols, the struggling 25-year-old artist to whose album Gill lent his voice, erupted onto the country music scene, becoming that “next big thing.”
Showered with accolades, Nichols, with his simple approach to crafting songs, has since been designated as the heir apparent to the industry’s more traditional-sounding superstars such as Alan Jackson and Randy Travis, themselves descents of the legendary Merle Haggard and George Jones.
But on his way to apparent country stardom, Nichols is making a few stops at some county fairs.
Nichols takes the stage at the Prince William County fair at 6 p.m. Sunday.
The Arkansas-born baritone last came through Northern Virginia only three months ago as part of May’s WMZQ Fest at Nissan Pavilion.
Different regions of the country are known for different types of fans, according to Nichols. In Texas, the fans are more prone to wearing their “Don’t Mess With Texas” attitude on their sleeves. Midwest fans are more the all-week festival-goer variety. And, D.C.-metro fans have their own special reputation.
“They’re the 100 miles per hour type of groups,” Nichols said. “They’ll go until they drop. It’s like one long all-nighter.”
No stranger to country fairs, Nichols will play more than a handful this summer when not supporting Jackson’s Drive tour. The admitted Comedy Central-aholic said he enjoys the fun atmosphere of the smaller venue shows and fairgrounds.
“I think it’s just like when I was a little kid,” Nichols said. “It was like a two-week party.”
Nichols was recently honored as the Top New Male Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas in May. Only a month prior he had picked up the Country Music Television’s Flameworthy Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year.
In February, Nichols burst onto the country scene, if the word “burst” can be used to describe a career beginning with a failed self-titled debut in 1996, 31 subsequent recording company rejections and a three-year stint as a Nashville cable installer.
His album, “Man With A Memory,” his debut with Universal South, garnered the baritone three Grammy nominations for Best Country Album, Best Country Male Vocal Performance and Best Country Song for the album’s debut single, “The Impossible.”
Country’s new golden boy comes complete with a Midas touch. Both his gospel-like first single ballad and “Brokenheartsville,” the second single cut from his album, have each reached No. 1 on the country radio charts.
After selling more than a half million copies, the album, released last summer, was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America this June.
He has since released “She Only Smokes When She Drinks” and said two more songs from the album may be released as singles. After the touring season slows down, Nichols said he should be in full album production by the first of next year.
Just as Gill says on his 2003 release, “Everybody’s talking about the next big thing.”