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Sumter native bringing his music home to S.C. State Fair

Oct 6 | Posted by: Lee Brice

With two Grammy nominations, a knack for churning out number one singles and a nationwide tour, country artist and Sumter native Lee Brice might understandably be right where he wants to.

But Brice longs for the dog days of his teenage summers when his opera house was a swampy riverbank in Sparkleberry, the only limelight that shined on him came from the stars above and his audience was a handful of drunken buddies and a skewered hog.

“We’d camp for three nights … play guitar around the fire for hours, bring a generator and hook up amps and play all night long,” he said. “It’s the thing I miss the most. My career has been amazing and I’m thankful for it, but it did take away mostly all of that in my life. That was my favorite stuff, hanging out with my buddies.”

Brice looks forward to seeing those longtime friends at the South Carolina State Fair this weekend when he brings his powerful country ballads to Pepsi Grandstand stage.

“It’s gonna be amazing, man. Growing up there and having so many friends I haven’t seen in a while in the crowd,” he said. “They’ve always been so supportive of me.”

For an artist as prominent as Brice, whose day-to-day schedule includes words like “Letterman” and “Today,” a state fair might seem like small (deep-fried) potatoes. But having grown up in the area, Brice hails the backdrop of rickety carnival rides as a sacred venue.

“To be able to come to the state fair – that’s a big deal – and it’s really surreal to say I’m back to headline,” he said.

‘The House That Built Me’

In Sumter, Kenneth Mobley Brice Jr. was raised in a house his father built right beside the house his grandfather built. He would ride his bike up and down that family road, Bryson Road, past the houses his uncles built and throw dirt rocks at his brothers.

His father was an electrician. His mother kept the books and raised the kids. Everyone was musical. When he was seven, his father, who sang every Sunday at the Eastside Baptist Church, took Brice to perform “I Love Jesus” in front of the congregation.

“It just felt honest,” he said.

Brice attended Clemson University and played for the football team, but his career as a long-snapper was short-lived.

“I snapped 300, 400 a day and wore my elbow out,” he said. “They had to take all the cartilage out … my elbow couldn’t take all the snapping.”

Done with football, Brice decided to focus on a music career instead. He still recalls his early shows in Sumter and in the Columbia bar district Five Points.

“It was the same stuff as it always is around there, I mean, those were some pretty rowdy shows back then,” he said. “We were young and liked to throw down and have some shots before going onstage … just a bunch of rednecks. You never know what’s gonna happen with a bunch of rednecks.”

Since then, his family – except for his grandma – has moved away from Bryson Road and another family’s car now sits outside the house his father built. But there’s a Miranda Lambert song that always takes him back to his aunts and sisters singing around the piano, to his Uncle Boy handing him a guitar and teaching him his first chord.

“‘The House that Built Me’ has been one of my favorite songs the past two years,” he said. “I think about that house all the time.”

Learning to Dance

Brice remembers vividly – well, as vividly as possible – a night on Myrtle Beach that he says was the greatest moment of his life.

“I was 19. She was 18 or something. We were walking in opposite directions on North Myrtle and I caught her eye. I chased her down and had a conversation with her,” he said. “She sat down on the beach, so I sat down beside her. I realized when she pulled her hair out how smoking beautiful she was, so I told her to wait there, ran and got my guitar, and came back. That was always sort of my default – to play music. Thankfully, she liked it.”

Brice, now 35, married that girl from the beach, Sara Nanette Reeveley, last year. The couple has two kids together, but when Brice first started making it big in the mid-2000s, he says he was anything but a family man.

“It was before the family when the band and I first got on the road. We had fun, we really did. We pushed it to the limit and we soaked it in,” he said. “It was like, ‘We’re rock stars.’”

It wasn’t until his health started to go south that Brice realized he needed to reevaluate his lifestyle – but he couldn’t do it on his own.

Then family came along

It was an abrupt transition in his life, a transition he discusses in his song “I Don’t Dance,” which peaked at No. 1 on the US Country Airplay Chart and was as a single for the 2014 platinum-selling album of the same name.

Brice says the song isn’t as much about a fear of the dance floor as it is a metaphor for his sudden shift from a life of touring and partying to the life of a father and husband.

“It’s a picture of my life … it’s more for me about being in places in my life where I didn’t see myself in this daddy mode and this husband mode because I was so caught up in my music,” he said. “It was like, ‘I don’t do this, but here I am.’”

At the couple’s wedding, the song was played for their first dance as man and wife. Brice isn’t afraid to admit, “I ain’t much of a dancer.” 

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