Justin Moore follows the adage of many wordsmiths of all stripes: “You write best when you write what you know.”
It’s a philosophy that’s obvious, but is it applicable? Can a guy like Moore, a 31-year-old country singer who grew up in a tiny Arkansas town with a population small enough to fit in a single section of the venues he now plays, possibly “know” enough to connect with fans?
Can a guy from Small Town USA connect with fans from Everywhere USA (and beyond)?
Watch Moore’s set Sunday when he opens for Brad Paisley at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center and you’ll get the answer. Or, if you’re an experienced country showgoer in Western New York, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen Moore already. He’s played Buffalo at least a half-dozen times, including the WYRK Acoustic Show last March.
Moore’s string of hits – the first of which is indeed called “Small Town USA” – are songs that resonate. Back at his WYRK acoustic gig, Moore’s rendition of another of those hits – “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” dedicated to his grandfather and all the service men and women in the audience – brought the crowd to its feet.
“If you grow up in the South, a common misconception is the only country people or country fans are from the South,” Moore told The News in a phone interview earlier this month. “Going places like Buffalo, fortunately, we got proved wrong a lot of the time.”
Moore’s world is a lot bigger than his hometown of Poyen, Ark., population 292 at last count. But to him, nothing out there – not Nashville, where he moved to kick up his career in 2002, nor any other big city – is more important. Actually, Moore and his wife Kate (a Louisiana native) moved from Nashville to Poyen five years ago to start raising their family. The Moores have three daughters, ages 5, 3 and 11 months.
“The people in my hometown and the surrounding areas don’t necessarily see me as ‘Justin Moore, country singer,’ ” Moore said. “They just say, ‘Oh, that’s just this idiot who used to play ball here.’ I think they would treat our children with a bit more normality than what we may have gotten in a bigger city.”
Keeping life real and rooted for their kids is a priority and a challenge. Moore grew up with a dad working two jobs, 60 hours a week, and his mom took a second job simply to fund her son’s music career. But that career has been successful since 2008, when Moore signed his record deal with Valory Music Group during his wedding reception at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville.
That means Moore’s daughters don’t know what it’s like to grow up poor. They get to travel on tour with dad (a family dynamic that will change when Moore’s eldest daughter enters kindergarten in a couple of months). They get vacations. They get fun stuff – if their mom and dad feel they can keep perspective.
“If they want a toy they don’t need, or a pair of shoes they don’t need, we have the means to get them, which is opposite of what I had growing up,” Moore said. “We always say as long as we can make them understand that’s not the norm, make sure they appreciate it and don’t take it for granted. That’s a big thing for us.”
Or when the Moore girls get a little older, they can just listen to Dad’s music. That’ll teach them exactly what they need to know.