FAIRVIEW UNION BIO
The first time Chad Wilson went to Nashville with a heart full of fledgling songs, he got the sort of reception that might have crushed the dreams of a less dedicated artist.
He wasn’t expecting it to be easy; as a kid, he’d watched his dad and aunts make the journey from the rural Morgan County, Tenn., town of Coalfield to Music City, where they’d knock on the doors of Music Row and pitch songs, occasionally getting a hold but never a cut over a decade of trying.
He wasn’t expecting his own trip to be as sobering as it was, however.
“I got on the Internet and Googled publishing companies, and I remember I got 78 phone numbers and called every one of them,” he says with a chuckle. “Out of 78, one person let me come play them some music. I went in and played some stuff at the time that I listen to now and kind of cringe, but the lady who let me play it, she was pretty brutal. She was honest with me, and I guess I needed to hear it, but she chewed me up and spit me out and basically told me I wasn’t ready.”
Fast-forward a decade: Today, Wilson and his wife, Kelli, front one of the most popular country outfits in East Tennessee & Wilson now writes with some of Nashville’s top hit-makers and has professional relationships with several prominent music row publishers. They’ve released two well-received albums and are on the cusp of putting out their third, this time at an August release show at one of Knoxville’s most hallowed live music venues, The Bijou Theatre. They’ve triumphed over peers at battle of the bands contests, shared the stage with big names like Rascal Flatts and Chase Rice and Rodney Atkins and served their time as weekend warriors in the East Tennessee bar scene, playing every juke joint, roadhouse, tavern and barbecue shack with a stage and a sound system.
With their bandmates – guitarist Mike Barnes, bass player Neal Foster and drummer Chris Potocik – they’ve taken The Fairview Union from a front-porch assembly of music-loving friends to one of the most entertaining, sought-after bands in the East Tennessee music scene, and as they prepare to take the group to the next level, the tables have turned … because the Wilsons aren’t wondering if they’re ready for Nashville. They want to know, is Nashville ready for them?
“It’s an exciting time,” Kelli says. “I don’t mean this to sound conceited, but we’re so confident, and we all know what we’re doing. When we get up on stage, we know what we’re feeling and how much it means to us, and because of that, we’re excited for the people in front of us, because they get to see what we do.
“Chad and I both pursued singing on our own, but it took getting together as a duet and doing this band for doors to open for us that didn’t when we were on our own. And to be able to take this journey together … words just can’t describe how amazing it is.”
Music has always been at the root of the couple’s relationship. It brought them together – at a karaoke contest, where they both placed in the top 10 – and it’s been the cornerstone of their marriage. Another trip to Nashville – this time to audition for the CMT reality show “Can You Duet?” – set the wheels in motion for The Fairview Union: Chad noticed that most of their fellow competitors played instruments, so when the two returned home, he got a guitar and taught himself to play. He eventually got good enough to invite other musicians over, and slowly the pieces of The Fairview Union fell into place. The band’s first show was at a place in Oliver Springs – not far from Coalfield – and from there, they made the leap to an Oak Ridge restaurant, where they played three nights a week, mostly country covers and a few of the originals they started working on together.
They gave every show and every fan all that they had, and they got better. A lot better. The crowds grew from a couple of dozen at those first shows to 10,000 last New Year’s Eve, a multitude of rowdy revelers wanting to ring in the new year who never knew what hit them when The Fairview Union took the stage.
“It was a sea of people, and four songs in, they were sitting in the palm of our hand,” Chad remembers. “To me, when we’re on stage, there’s this look on a person’s face, especially someone seeing us for the first time: It’s like they’re entranced, like they’re completely locked in on what they’re seeing and hearing, and that just absolutely fuels everything that we’re doing on stage. That’s it, man. That’s the thing. You can make music for days in the studio and pretty it up, but it’s just not the same as performing it live.”
“I feel like a lot of our relationship comes through when we’re singing together,” Kelli adds. “Our voices mesh well, and we complement each other well. We both love it so much, and when we’re on stage together, our relationship shows through in what we’re doing.”
Underneath the stage lights, the couple is a study in duality. Tearing through a song like “Beat the Rain” – a song Kelli describes as a power anthem for a couple breaking out of a rut and getting to the next level – they both give it everything they’ve got, sharing sideways glances and stolen smiles that come from a place of genuine affection. Sweat drips from Chad’s face onto his guitar, while a few feet away, Kelli looks as if she just stepped out of the salon. Behind them, the boys churn through hooks and melodies that sound as good as anything on mainstream country radio, and all those in attendance – the lovers slow-dancing with their arms around one another’s waists, the fist-pumping good ol’ boys raising a beer in the front, the older couples who hear the band’s ties to tradition and smile, the girls who watch them together and pine for a relationship just like the one they have … every single person can see the potential this band has to go bigger places and do better things. Is The Fairview Union ready for Nashville … or any other city, for that matter? There’s not a doubt in the couple’s mind.
“Of course, we’d love for something to happen and go all the way, but there’s no way Chad could ever completely put his guitar down or I could stop singing,” Kelli says. “We talk about how, if we get older and we’re not doing regular shows anymore, we’ll still do acoustic shows just to be able to perform, because it’s so much a part of us. I can’t ever see us giving this up.”