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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Local band is on the 'Road' to stardom

PLANT CITY - All the guys in Clemons Road, a fast-rising country band from Plant City, have day jobs. But that might not be an option for much longer. "Performing on weekends in front of a live crowd is a shot of adrenaline, like flying a fighter jet," said guitarist Josh High. "So going back to our regular jobs on a Monday can feel like driving a Volvo or something." Clemons Road, which formed in February, consists of High, Cliff Brown (lead vocals/guitar), Eric Long (bass/vocals), Matt Richardson (lead guitar/vocals), Jason Baker (fiddle/piano/vocals), Chris Williams (drums) and Gavin Baulac (banjo). Those day jobs run the gamut — from business analyst to cowboy to deputy.
"I just want it known that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has been very, very good to me in terms of letting me do my thing with the band," said Brown, a detention deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "I like to joke that if we all wore our uniforms from our day jobs, we would look like the Village People." The band gets together two or three times a week to rehearse, depending on their schedules. "Usually, we play Friday and Saturday nights and drive back on Sunday if we're out of town," High said. Clemons Road gets its name from a 1.5-mile stretch of road between County Road 574-A and East Trapnell Road in Springhead, which is between Plant City and Lakeland. "That's where we grew up playing," said Brown, referring to himself, High, Williams and Long. Richardson is a jack-of-all-trades musician who connected with the band through a friend of a friend. Baker has played with bluegrass and Western swing acts on a national level, and Baulac has played banjo with several bands across the Southeast in the last decade. Touring with so many people is unusual. "I mean, we've got a full-time banjo player," High said. "Most bands just have their keyboard player or a guitar player pick up the banjo for certain songs." But the chemistry works. "People kept coming on, and it kept working," Brown said. Brown typically writes the songs and produced the band's debut album, "From Florida with Love." In 2007, he won a Grammy as a member of J.U.S .T.I.C.E. League — which stands for Just Undeniably Some of The Illest Composers Ever — a collective from Tampa that has produced several platinum albums. Clemons Road is committed to capturing the eclectic essence of their home state with their music, Brown said. "Growing up in Florida, you listen to everything," said Brown. As a result, the band's sound incorporates elements of bluegrass, pop and reggae to reflect the idea that Florida has an equal amount of farms and beaches. Band members' influences include the Zac Brown Band, Jimmy Buffett and Sublime. "I know there are more than a few Nashville artists who come down here for inspiration," Brown said. That eclectic background shows in Clemons Road's fans. "We don't just play at country music clubs," High said. "Our audience includes a huge cross section of people." "We've got fans from ninth grade all the way up to people in their 60s," Brown added. The seven-track "From Florida with Love," released in August, was recorded in Brown's home on a meager budget. "We'd been jamming for a while, and we really wanted to get a product out to the people as fast as we could," High said. The band is committed to maintaining that connection between Clemons Road and its fans, High said. Band members are active in social media, using their Facebook and Twitter pages to offer sneak peeks at new music, or share behind-the-scenes photos from the recording studio or backstage at a live show. "We're not trying to make fans, we're trying to make friends," Richardson said. The band's first live performance was June 22 at O'Brien's Irish Pub of Plant City. "That first performance was a real eye-opener because the place was packed," Richardson said. "A lot of other country bands are more on the mellow side, but we bring the high energy of a rock concert," Brown said. "The craziest part was that it was our first live show, but people were already singing along to all our songs." Several Central Florida shows, including a gig at the Fourth of July Plant City fireworks show and a performance at Ybor Cigar and Spirits in Lakeland, followed soon after. On Aug. 24, Clemons Road opened for Dustin Lynch at Boots N Buckles in Lakeland. On Aug. 31, the band returned to Boots N Buckles to compete in the Central Florida portion of the Texaco Country Showdown, a nationwide country music talent search. The competition began at the local level with radio stations selecting regional participants for preliminary rounds. WPCV97 Country selected nine from Central Florida, including Clemons Road. "We were very impressed by the sound and production values of their submission," said Mike James, the station's operations manager. "They have a very fresh and contemporary sound." Clemons Road won the Central Florida preliminary round, but did not advance beyond the next round, featuring winners from all over Florida. Right now, the band seems on the verge of something big. "If they were willing to make the move to Nashville, which nine out of 10 acts have to do unless they win a TV singing contest, I think they very well could be approached by a label," James said. But the plan is to remain in Florida, build up the band's fan base and continue to open for bigger acts, Brown said. Jimmy Buffett and his legion of Parrotheads are on the band's wish list. "We really want to get into the colleges in the state because that's a rotating fan base every few years," High said. In the meantime, Brown hopes to take a leave of absence from the sheriff's office to work on material for a new album — maybe with a spring break theme. "When we recorded our first album, we had more time because we weren't gigging or practicing as much as we are now," he said. If Clemons Road keeps picking up fans and booking gigs across the state, quitting their day jobs may not seem like such a bad idea. For information on the band, go to www.clemonsroad.com, or check out Clemons Road on YouTube or Facebook.

jceballos@tampatrib.com (813) 731-8120

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