Straight-up country, but with an edge.
That’s how Belmont junior Ben Gallaher describes his music, and it is this edge which led him to take first place, The Hourly Gig, a contest by online job listings site Snagajob.
Out of nearly 600 other submissions, Gallaher won the opportunity to open for country artist Brantley Gilbert at his Richmond, Va. show Sept. 19.
“I’d never played in front of that many people before,” he admitted. “When you play at 6:15, you’re complete background noise. People don’t care about an acoustic opening act.”
However, instead of being simple background noise, Gallaher and his band captured the crowd.
“We had an instrumental intro going into the first song, and the place just erupted. I looked at my guitarist mid-song, because I didn’t expect that,” he said. “I played all originals. After every single song, they were just going crazy. That was the best. They give you energy, and you give it right back,”
Originally, Gallaher never expected to win the contest. He normally doesn’t enter contests, he said, but he felt compelled to enter this one since he is a fan of Gilbert.
After submitting one of his live videos, Gallaher was later informed he was chosen as one of the five finalists of the competition and that popular vote would determine the winner. He then drew upon his fan base at home to bring him the win.
“I’ve built my fan base in Pennsylvania – where I’m from – for years, playing shows and just getting out there,” he said. “I really credit winning to them, because if it weren’t for them, I would’ve never gotten as many votes.”
Gallaher spent his freshman year at a Pennsylvania college then later transferred to Belmont as a sophomore.
“I had to transfer because I didn’t get in [to Belmont]. I was devastated, but it turned out to be the best thing,” he explained. “I don’t think I was quite ready. Jumping in the country music world as a freshman and playing out a lot – [Nashville’s] a tough town. I was much more mature as a sophomore than as a freshman. I could figure stuff out.”
What was an initial disappointment turned out to be a prime opportunity for Gallaher to build a solid fan base at home. Now that he’s in Nashville, he hopes to continue building his fan base by playing as many shows as possible, earning fans one by one.
He currently plans to go on a summer tour starting in Nashville and ending in Pennsylvania. He hopes to play various fairs and bars along the way.
Following in the footsteps of the legendary Johnny Cash, Gallaher will also play a handful of prison shows when he returns home for winter break.
“I played in Pennsylvania’s biggest prison last Christmas break, and this year they want me [to come back] and another prison has contacted me,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. I’m excited to do that go-around and play prisons. Nobody does that anymore.”
He said the prison crowd he played for was especially engaged and energetic.
“They ate it up,” Gallaher said. “If I were playing ‘ole Merle Haggard and Charlie Daniels and Cash, they were singing everything. They loved it.”
No matter where he plays, Gallaher said his passion for performing and his excitement for shows is evident.
“Playing in the hometown or in that area, everyone knows your songs. When I sing the chorus and the whole place sings it, that’s incredible. I can’t wait for my band to experience that,” he said.
He hopes in the long run, he will be able to have this kind of experience at every show.
“Ultimately, my goal is to play shows around the States where people are singing the songs back,” he said. “That is the ultimate goal. I have the taste of that in my home town, but to experience it somewhere else – that’s going to take years and it’s going to be a lot of hard work.”
Even with the hard work he expects to face, Gallaher remains positive about his goals and his future in the music industry.
“My music’s energetic,” he said “When I play live, it’s energetic. And my hopes and dreams are energetic.”
Gallaher’s self-titled album can be found on iTunes.