HOLMEN —The venerated Confederate Railroad might be the big name for this year’s Kornfest Sunday music lineup, but others will likely be excited about Texas-based up-and-comer Curtis Grimes, whose band includes a couple players with local roots.
Grimes’ percussionist Bryan Zannotti graduated from Holmen High School in 2008 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in percussion performance from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. A friend told him there was work in Austin, Texas, so he moved there in January 2013 and eventually hooked up with Grimes.
Zannotti’s mother, Lisa Weaver, still lives in the area, so the concert is a homecoming of sorts for the busy drummer.
“It’s an honor to come back to Holmen and play music for friends and family,” Zannotti said.
Another UW-L alum, Madison native Alden Hedges, plays bass for Grimes and is sure to have a few fans in the audience.
Even Grimes himself, a native of Gilmer, Texas, hopes to have family in attendance. His grandmother, Judy Ledvina Grimes of Green Bay, should be on hand.
Zannotti and Hedges are the newest additions to Grimes’ band. The pair played in a number of La Crosse area projects while at UW-L, even teaming up as part of the band Mouse Pocket back in 2010.
Lead guitarist Nick Gardner of St. Louis has been with Grimes the longest, followed by fiddler Shawn Dean, a native of Kimberly, Ind.
Fans of the NBC show “The Voice” shouldn’t have any trouble remembering Grimes. Just 25 years old at the time, he finished in the top 12 in the show’s first season back in 2011, earning a spot on Team Cee Lo.
Grimes and his band tour nationally year-round and promoted by Texas radio stations, they typically head out on Thursday, play through the weekend, and are usually back home in Texas on Sunday. In all, the band has 200 shows scheduled for 2014.
“It’s awesome, man. I love it, being in a different town every night,” Grimes said. “Singing is the easy part. Everything else is the actual work.”
Grimes’ rise to relative fame has been meteoric. Still a young man, Grimes didn’t become interested in performing until his freshman year of college.
“I didn’t pick up a guitar until 2005,” he said.
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He started by performing first at parties, for friends and family. In 2007, just three months after putting together his first band and playing a few small gigs in and around Texas State University in San Marcos, he won a radio contest to open for country music superstar Kenny Chesney.
“It was one of those surreal things,” Grimes said. “To go from playing in front of 30 people … to singing in front 16,000 people, it was awesome.”
From there, his agent got him an audition on “The Voice.”
“The next thing you know, I’m flying to L.A.,” he said.
After his departure from the show, Grimes’ career continued to escalate. By the time he opened for Toby Keith at the North Dakota State Fair, he realized that he’d gotten somewhere in music.
That state fair show was his first big performance outside of Texas, where his music had already gotten a fair amount of airplay, so getting the kind of positive reaction from the audience he got was validating.
“That went pretty good for us,” he said of the show. “It’s different than playing back home where most people had at least heard of you.”
At Kornfest, Grimes will be a playing a number of songs from his recently released album, “Our Side of Fence,” which spent two weeks atop the Texas radio music charts. Although it’s difficult for him to choose favorites among his songs, he says he’s awfully proud of “I Think I Know,” which he wrote. Another song from the album, “Keg Party,” was released on iTunes just this week.
Calling himself a “traditional guy,” Grimes’ early musical influences included George Strait, Alan Jackson and Keith Whitley as well as outlaw country icons Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr.
Grimes says he never has played with Confederate Railroad before, but remembers as a kid his dad having one of their CDs in his truck.
“I’ll probably be able to sing along with a lot those songs,” he said.
Confederate Railroad rose to prominence after the release of its eponymous debut album in 1992. It included the songs: "She Took It Like a Man," "Jesus and Mama," "Queen of Memphis," "Trashy Women,” "When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back" and "She Never Cried,” several of which were Top 40 hits on the country music charts.
Once the backup band for Johnny Paycheck and David Allen Coe, the band’s current lineup includes Wayne Secrest, Cody McCarver, Mark Dufresne, Danny Shirley, Gates Nichols and Jimmy Dormire.