Dianne Frances D. Powell
PARIS, IL —
A big smile was on country music rising star Brett Eldredge’s face as hundreds of cheering people welcomed him back on Sunday to Paris, Ill., the hometown that has been “the rock for me since the beginning,” he said.
“I feel like I won the lottery coming from Paris, Illinois,” the proud Tiger told the crowd.
The same crowd got on its feet when the singer with a “big voice” belted out the first line of his song, “Signs,” which tells the story of the small Illinois town where he grew up.
“Welcome to Paris, home of the Tigers,” he sang.
Paris High School, the singer and songwriter’s alma matter, was the venue for celebrations surrounding “Brett Eldredge Day,” which was proclaimed on Sunday for both the state of Illinois and the city of Paris.
Inside the school’s gym — where Brett remembered singing the national anthem and playing basketball — the singer received a copy of the proclamation read by Paris Mayor Craig Smith on behalf of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, “in recognition of his [Brett’s] tremendous musical success and contribution to country music genre.”
In addition to giving him a copy of the city’s proclamation, Smith also gave Brett a key to the city.
“Brett Eldredge has always reminded his fans that he was from Paris. The city of Paris is proud to have Brett Eldredge as one of its own,” Smith said.
Eldredge just wrapped up a successful year, which he started by opening 19 dates for Taylor Swift’s “The RED Tour.”
In August, Eldredge released his debut album “Bring You Back” with Atlantic Records featuring his first No. 1 single, “Don’t Ya,” which climbed to the top of the charts and was ranked as one of Billboard Country Airplay chart’s top five most-played songs for 2013.
His unforgettable year also included a nomination for New Artist of the Year at the 2013 CMA Music Awards.
“Being in Paris growing up, that town was my whole world,” the country sensation told the Tribune-Star.
“To have it recognize me, it’s a dream come true.”
“I feel like I should be recognizing them because they’ve helped me out so much.”
And this recognition brought pride to his family.
“It’s an interesting feeling and one I never expected,” Chris, Brett’s father and Paris native, said.
The look of awe and amazement was on Brett’s face when the new sign reading “Hometown of Country Music Recording Artist Brett Eldredge” was unveiled at the event. Officials plan to put the sign at all four entry ways to the city today.
“Signs” may be a song that means a lot to Paris but Brett is the singer that inspires residents, particularly the youth.
Gracie Rhoads, a Brett fan, is one of them.
“It just inspires me that he comes home to see us … to do concerts and meet and greets,” the 13-year-old who has met Brett three times, said.
“I like his personality …” and when she first heard him sing a few years ago, “I really liked his music,” she said.
Her favorite song by Brett? “Signs,” of course.
And at a very early age, signs were present that may have pointed to Brett’s future in the country music business.
Although he was born in 1986 at a hospital in Danville, Ill., he came home to Paris, about 40 miles away, only days after birth.
He has fond memories of his early beginnings singing at festivals, school functions, charity events, weddings and other local events in Paris.
For this reason, “that’s [Paris] where my heart stays. I’ll never forget that place,” he said.
Brett moved to Nashville for college and to pursue his country music ambitions seven years ago.
Chris told the Tribune-Star that the first songs the family remembers hearing Brett sing “almost before he could talk” are “Star Spangled Banner” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Paris was the community that first heard Brett’s cool, distinctive baritone, a talent that his dad, Chris, light-heartedly said Brett did not get from him or his mother.
Other members of the family, including Brett’s grandfather, are musically talented, Chris said. West Terre Haute native Terry Eldredge of “The Grascals” is a cousin.
“It was always quite an amazement for us to see him and the gift he was given,” Chris said of his son’s talent.
Although Brett started singing and performing at a younger age and has always enjoyed all types of music, it was while in high school that he gravitated toward country music. It was also during his high school years, “with encouragement from people in Paris,” that he honed his music skills.
With the support and encouragement of his family.
In high school, his parents bought him a guitar and a sound system. His parents and brother accompanied him as soundboard operators, sound system carriers and no doubt, big fans.
“Looking back, it was a really fun experience and a great memory,” Chris, who lived in Paris for 52 years until moving to Nashville four years ago, said.
He described his son as a determined child. “That determination helped him … to try to find success in this business,” Chris said.
But he was also shy as a young child.
“Music helped bring him out of that shyness, [and] raised his head higher,” he said.
Christmas in Paris
After Brett’s “fun but long year,” he wants to “sit back and take it all in with family and friends” over the holidays.
Spending Christmas in Paris with “the most important thing in the world” — family — is the “perfect way to end such a special year,” Brett told the Tribune-Star.
Although Brett, Chris, mom Robin and older brother Brice now live in Nashville, they still visit family and friends in Paris, especially on Christmas.
“It’s fun to be among friends and family. [We] always will connect with it [Paris]” Chris said.
And every Christmas, “we make it a point to be in Paris,” he added.
It is a town that both father and son credit in the making of the new rising star.
“We’re very grateful for the support that Brett and our family has always received” from the Paris community, Chris said.
Paris/Wabash Valley, he said, is a great place to raise a family.
“Both of our sons benefited from being in a small- town environment. This recognition this weekend is part of that.
“I’ll keep doing what I’m doing because you guys are always here for me,” he told the crowd.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.