By MEAGAN BRUNSON
It’s just one BYU student and his guitar — on a stage in Nashville.
Nate Hammond, 22, a junior from Idaho Falls, majoring in zoology, said he is going to school so he can have a career to fall back on, but he has always dreamed of making it big in the country music business.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do,” Hammond said. “It’s just me and my guitar.”
Hammond is currently attending BYU, but he has been to Nashville to sing country music three times since he was 17 years old, and he is planning to return there this summer.
“I had heard horror stories about people being booed off stage,” Hammond said. “It was really scary, but I thought — this is my chance, I’ve got to work hard and do what I can.”
Hammond said he has put his music career on hold for the past couple of years, but he is anxious to get the ball rolling again. While at BYU, he has continued writing music, playing occasionally and talking to his Nashville contacts.
Hammond said he got his first guitar when he was 15 years old. After he won a city-wide talent show, he began playing and singing country songs at high school parties, clubs, weddings and school functions.
“I finally figured out people liked me and they wanted to listen,” Hammond said. “I got to be a pretty hot item in high school, I guess.”
Soon after that, the 17-year-old high school senior was recruited to go to the country music capital of the U.S., where he sang a Garth Brooks song on Nashville Star Seek and won his first real competition.
Three months later, Hammond was back in Nashville singing and was being offered opportunities to record songs and make albums.
“I was pretty overwhelmed, and I had always planned to go on a mission,” Hammond said. “If I had signed a contract then, I wouldn’t have been able to.”
Hammond served a mission in Brazil for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he said he did not take his guitar with him so he could devote those two years completely to the Lord.
After his mission, Hammond came back to BYU.
“I know it’s important for me to finish school, so I can have something to fall back on,” Hammond said. “It’s a very risky business. I can’t put everything on the line.”
Hammond said he had been back in school for one semester when his itch to start writing country music began again. He sent a demo CD to Nashville producers who urged him to come back there and get a real country performing experience.
“After Spring semester that year, I just drove out there by myself,” Hammond said. “I was really discouraged at first. It was the first time in my life I had ever been completely alone.”
In Nashville, Hammond played and sang at clubs, met LDS Church members in the music business who helped him tremendously, met others with connections and played off-stage with stars, such as country music group legend Diamond Rio.
Hammond said as excited as he was to be writing and singing songs with people at the top of the music business, he knew he needed to come back to BYU.
He said during the year-and-a-half that he has been back in Provo, his Nashville contacts have been telling him he should return there. He said he will probably go back in April — to stay for a while and see where his music takes him.
“I wear a hat on stage, but I’m not your stereotypical cowboy,” Hammond said. “I like the lifestyle.”
Hammond said he once performed right after a boy who was booed off the stage.
“The crowd was picky, and I think they could tell that was why I was nervous at first,” he said. “But they ended up liking me; they really got into the gig.”
Hammond said while playing at the popular club Tootsie’s in Nashville, someone from the crowd asked him if he was LDS.
“Yes I am — are you?” he replied from the stage.
Hammond said he had never been put on the spot like that before, but the tension eased in the crowd after he answered.
Since school keeps him busy, Hammond said he has not gotten to play and sing as much as he would like to, but he wants to start performing in Provo at places like Wrapsody and even get a band together.
Cody Olson, 23, a junior from Pocatello, Idaho, majoring in exercise science, said Hammond writes all of his own songs now and can really make it big if he stays dedicated.
“There are a lot of people around here who like to play the guitar and sing, but not a lot of them sing country,” Olson said. “There’s a big demand from country lovers for singers here.”
Olson said Hammond’s performances should give other people encouragement to pursue their talents.
“I think he inspires others to try their hand at it,” Olson said.
Megan Newell, 20, a junior from Walnut Creek, Calif., majoring in audiology and speech language pathology, said she wants to use her voice to reach out to people as well.
“I love country music, so I think Nate is great,” Newell said. “But besides that, I think it’s awesome that Nate had the guts to just go to Nashville and put his heart into what he wanted to do. One day I hope I can do that.”