There’s been a boatload of changes on the country landscape since a rough-and-tumble quintet of hard-core, true-blue pickers set about turning a complacent, soft-around-the-edges and squishy-in-the-middle Nashville on its collective ear in the early-’90s.
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Adopting the “one-call-gits-all” phone number spouted weekly on TV by portly “Hee Haw” huckster Junior Samples as their moniker, BR549 injected some long-missing energy, self-deprecating humor and true country grit into their refreshing, sprawling revue of rustic roots music.
The band’s now-legendary, four-hour-plus romps at Robert’s Western Wear quickly built a rabid fan following and an industry-wide buzz, and the 1996 releases of the LIVE AT ROBERT’S EP and their self-titled full-length CD torched a critical firestorm.
Expertly blending Western swing, pub-rock, rockabilly, honky tonk and vintage country pop, BR549 continued their crusade to remind us that a REAL band that may be rough around the edges but PASSIONATE at its core trumps contrived, by-the-numbers slickness every time.
The boys released 1998’s BIG BACKYARD BEAT SHOW and yet another “live” set (COAST TO COAST in 2000), garnering further critical kudos.
Along the way, their tireless touring ethic and mix-and-match stylistic range found them sharing stages with such diverse artists as Bob Dylan, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Nick Lowe, and country’s two King Georges--Jones and Strait.
Their flexibility has brought appearances on such hipster tube fare as “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “The Late Show With David Letterman,” active participation in the promotion of the newly-opened Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, AND a standing invitation to appear on the legendary Grand Ole Opry’s stage.
In 2001, the group traded in its hyphen (which never seemed to know where it belonged, anyway) on some new tires for the tour bus, and signed with SONY Nashville’s hip Lucky Dog imprint. Sharing a label with such copacetic alt-something cohorts as Jack Ingram, The Derailers and Charlie Robison, BR549 aired out its aerodynamically-sound ‘new’ name on THIS IS BR549.
Produced by Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride, Pam Tillis) and engineer Mike Poole, THIS IS BR549 continued to explore the band’s anything-goes ethos, boasting an eclectic mix of vintage country chestnuts, too-cool originals and out-of-leftfield covers.
As mentioned at the outset, though, there HAVE been a lot of changes over the years, both in the shape of country music and, most recently, in the shape of BR549.
Seven years in the life of a band as hard-working, aggressive and interactive as these ol’ boys means a lot of time, miles and music spent together, and a band’s task of continuing to meet the needs and goals chosen by five individuals becomes increasingly more difficult with the passage of time.
And so, there are changes in the works, but even as they are being finalized, BR549 continues on, cranking out their trademark blend of crowd-pleasing shit-kickers, roadhouse stompers and late-night weepers.
The current lineup is comprised of original members Chuck Mead (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals), Shaw Wilson (drums and percussion) and Donnie Herron (all things stringed), and augmented by Chris Scruggs and bassist Geoff Firebaugh.
“As a lot of our fans have already heard, there are some changes coming in the band’s lineup,” says Mead, “but until everything gets settled, I have to keep my mouth shut--‘doctor’s’ orders.
“But I CAN talk about the extra players we’ve got with us for these shows. Chris is a musical genius from a family that has been an integral part of country music for three generations now, and Geoff is an old friend of the band whose a great player too.”
BR549 survived the loss of its hyphen in a tragic table-saw accident (or was it in a brain-damaged, high-stakes poker game?). The new lineup represents a bigger change, for sure, but when you think back to where and why they started up in the first place, change has always been what BR549 is ultimately about.
Do your best to roll with it...it’ll work out just fine.
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