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"Fresh" Faces Dot Downtown Hoedown Lineup

Of the Oakland Press

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Jack Ingram

7:15 p.m. Friday (May 15), Upper Stage

Jack Ingram’s one of the oldest new boys on the country music scene.

The Houston-born singer and songwriter was the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male performer in 2008, following the success of 2007’s “This Is It” — which was the seventh album in a recording career that started in 1992.

Ingram, 38, laughs at the irony but explains that “there’s a big difference between asking someone to go to the prom a couple times and getting turned down and then asking again and getting the acceptance. That’s more the way I look at it.”

Ingram, who started performing and writing while studying psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, doesn’t write off the early portion of his career, but he does view it as a kind of trial period for his eventual breakthrough. He spent a decade recording for independent labels — scoring a couple of minor hits with “Flutter” and “How Many Days” — before signing with Columbia Nashville. But his solo release there, 2004’s “Young Man,” went nowhere.

Moving back to the independent world with Big Machine proved more fruitful. The company’s first gambit was to tap into Ingram’s concert following with “Live: Wherever You Are.” The album brought him back to the Top 40 on the country charts, while the title track topped the country charts and “Love You” hit No. 12.

The market was thus primed for “This is It,” which peaked at No. 4 and spun off the Top 20 hits “Measure of a Man” and a cover of Hinder’s “Lips of An Angel.”

“To country music fans who listen to radio, primarily, to get their music, I am brand new to them,” Ingram notes. “I made a few attempts before this that, for various reasons, didn’t work — but all the while, I still had a career in Texas and was doing pretty well.

“It’s all relative, really. I’m just finally glad to be getting some of the exposure and achieving some of the level of success I’ve been waiting for a long time.”

Now, Ingram hopes to keep things on an upward trajectory. He’s “real close” to completing his next album, “Big Dreams and High Hopes,” for a late August release and already has one hit from the album, “That’s a Man,” which peaked at No. 18, and another, “Barefoot and Crazy,” climbing the charts.

“It’s basically done,” says Ingram, who produced portions of the album along with Radney Foster and “This Is It” cohort Jeremy Stover. “I think there’s a little bit of work to be done, a few songs I’d still like to record.

“For me, as an artist, it’s not done ’til there’s a due date, but I’m really happy with where we’re at. I think the people who have been and have become my fans will really like it.”

Stephen Cochran

4:10 p.m. Friday, Upper Stage

A successful 2007 debut album is letting Stephen Cochran see the country.

But he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on Metro Detroit.

Cochran, a U.S. Marines veteran and son of country songwriter and artist Steve Cochran, spent a chunk of his youth in Waterford Township, where he lived with his grandparents and attended Waterford Mott High School. “Every summer from (ages) four to 16, I’d spend in Waterford,” Cochran, 27, says. “My grandma still lives on the same street I grew up on. Some of my oldest friends are there.”

So, needless to say, Cochran understands the impact of the economic spiral on this community.

“It hurts me to see that,” says Cochran, who also grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, enamored by music from Garth Brooks to Kiss. “My grandpa worked for General Motors. General Motors paid for my college — for my whole life, really.”

With that in mind, he’s written a new song, “Back Seat of My Chevy,” which delivers a message that “we’ve been here before — not only GM workers or Ford workers or Michiganders, but as Americans we’ve been here before, and we’re gonna get through it again.”

That’s just one of the songs Cochran — who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, receiving numerous medals (including a Purple Heart) and remains active in veterans’ affairs — has lined up for his second album, which he’s nearly finished for a planned October release. Another, “Wal-Mart Flowers,” is already getting airplay, and Cochran, who writes most of his own material and directed the new single’s video, says, “I’m putting pretty much my heart and soul into this (album). I want to make every inch of this album 100 percent Stephen Cochran.

“I know what my style is now, what kind of music I’m playing. It’s been two years of pounding the road, hitting it hard to get that sound down — and to find out what the fans want, ’cause it’s all about them, really.”

Cochran comes to the Downtown Hoedown, meanwhile, as a fan turned performer, which only makes his spot on next weekend’s bill more special.

“I’ve been going to the Hoedown since I was 13,” he says. “I watched George Strait on that stage, so to get to walk in those footsteps and play the same event, that’s another dream I can check off the list.

“There’s two music venues I grew up going to — Jamboree in the Hills in West Virginia and Hoedown. I get to play both of them this year. How cool is that?”

Zac Brown Band

7:40 p.m. Sunday (May 17), Upper Stage

Zac Brown was pleased when his band’s national debut single, “Chicken Fried,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard country chart — and No. 20 on the Hot 100 — and sold more than a million copies.

But he was in some ways even happier when its successor, “Whatever It Is,” made it to No. 11.

“People are like, ‘You’re the chicken guy!’ ” explains Brown, whose Atlanta-based quintet formed in 2000 and sold more than 30,000 copies of its two independent albums before 2008’s “The Foundation” took it nationwide. “I’m excited for the other songs to follow it up. People are going to be able to dive into the record and see there’s a lot of depth to it, and we’re not just a one-song band.”

The Zac Brown Band initially recorded “Chicken Fried,” which extols the virtues of simple pleasures such as home-cooking and beer, in 2003 and placed it on its 2005 album “Home Grown.” The Lost Trailers recorded a version the following year and planned to release it as a single, but the group’s decision to withdraw it greased the way for Brown and company to toss it into the musical frying pan yet again.

“It’s just about simple freedom and about the things that people take for granted — especially with all the scare going on in the media about gloom and doom,” says Brown, a self-confessed foodie who’s posted recipes on Web sites such as www.eatdrinkordie.com. “If your quality of life around your family and your home and your people is good, you’ll make it through the times of the economy and things like that.

“So I think it’s good timing for the song, and I’m amazed and honored that it’s been embraced the way that it has.”

The best part of the success, Brown says, is it’s allowed the Zac Brown Band to spread its strong regional appeal around the country, mostly via its stage show.

“Our strength as a band is playing live and over-delivering there,” he says. “I’m proud to be one of those bands that ... when people come to see our show, it will exceed expectations.

“And it’s important, ’cause there’s nothing worse than going to see a band that you love their record, and then they’re terrible live. It’s fabricated. There’s nothing fabricated about us. We’re real. We might not be the prettiest guys out there, but we give it everything that we have.”

The 27th Annual Downtown Hoedown takes place Friday-Sunday (May 15-17) at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit. Admission is free. For a full schedule and other information, visit www.wycd.com.

Web Site: www.wycd.com

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