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Hannah Bethel – “Taking risks. It’s all I ever do.”

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Photo courtesy of Hannah Bethel

It was a steamer on Music Row yesterday when I sat down with Hannah Bethel to talk about her new single and the video for “Rhinestone Rodeo”, but the air and the conversation were cool inside.  I felt an instant connection with Bethel even though it was our first time meeting. She comes at you with a vibe that says she’s altogether real, and as long as you’re willing to accept her for who she is, she’s going to accept you into her world.  It turned out, my first impression was accurate.

Hannah Bethel is strikingly pretty.  She’s tall, with long brown hair and brown eyes.  She wasn’t overly made up when we met. I was sitting directly next to her and she’s just one of those naturally beautiful women that also happens to be gifted with a good voice.  Some girls have all the luck! She also happens to be funny and as you’ll find out, refreshingly honest.  

Bethel spent her youngest years in Oakfield, Wisconsin, just outside of Fond du Lac.  Her family lived in a white, ranch-style house with 14 acres of woods behind it. She recalls coming home from school every day and heading out to those woods with her dog to play, and “I was always singing.”  That was a typical day for much of the time that she lived in Wisconsin, that is, when she wasn’t involved in tap and ballet lessons or musical theater, things she was passionate about as a child, so it was a bit of a letdown when she had to leave them behind.

 

Image courtesy of TownMapsUSA.com

When Bethel was 12-years old, her family moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for her father’s job.  It wasn’t completely traumatic for Bethel, as they had spent summers there and she was already familiar with the area, but because of its location, there really wasn’t any opportunity for her to continue with dance or theater.  That was disappointing, but things have a way of working out, however, because it was shortly after the move that Bethel began learning guitar. It was a friend with a “gorgeous, white acoustic guitar” that first inspired her to want to learn.  From there, Bethel began to self-teach and later started taking lessons. It wasn’t long before she was playing shows on her own. Fairs, festivals, talent shows and bars provided stages for her to show off her skills. She said she enjoyed playing fairs and festivals but disliked bars because she was a teenager and the bars were loud and nobody was really listening, so they were kind of scary.  She said she was also unhappy with her situation back then because there wasn’t really anyone to collaborate with. All the kids her age were mainly into playing heavy metal. She was looking for someone who was more into James Taylor or Tom Petty.  

It was what Bethel’s Dad was playing in his garage that formed much of her own musical tastes.  James Taylor’s Greatest Hits and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever are just two of the albums that she says give her a nostalgic feeling when she hears them now.  Her Mom was a fan of Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride and a good deal of female 90’s country.  

 

Video courtesy of tompetty and YouTube

By the time she was 17, Bethel had actually managed to record her first album.  With the help of her Mom, and a whole lot of learning as they went, they found a rap duo via MySpace, who needed a female to sing on their one of their songs.  Bethel ended up doing that, which led her to meet their producer, Chuck. Chuck ended up working with her on her first record. “I had no idea what I was doing.  I had never been in a studio before. I had no idea how to record to a metronome. I think Chuck was a little annoyed because I didn’t know what I was doing, but it was a learning experience.”

A year later, it was time to take the big leap and move to Nashville.  For the first two years, Bethel attended Belmont University and studied music.  At the same time, she was playing writers’ nights and open mic shows. Staying until the bitter end of those open mic nights to play her three songs because people were telling her she needed to do that “to get my foot in the door”, even if it meant playing to one or two people.

“I’d be up until 1:30 in the morning playing Blue Bar and the Rusty Nail, and those were the days before GPS, so I’d go do open mics out in Hermitage or wherever with my printed out MapQuest directions and then I’d have to get up to go to school”, Bethel says with a laugh.  She was burning the candle at both ends, but certainly nobody can ever accuse her of going at her career the easy way. She paid her dues in hard time.

“A lot of my forward progress has been because I was completely naive about how things were done.  I just jumped in and started doing it. If I had known what I was doing, I would have had fear and I would have been like, ‘No, don’t do that!’ “ There was probably no greater example of how true that statement is than how Bethel managed to get her first record made in Nashville.

During her second year at Belmont, she met someone who knew Lee Groitzsch, Recording Engineer at Ricky Skaggs’s recording studio, Skaggs Family Records.  Learning that Groitzsch was originally from her area of Michigan, and wanting to record some of her own music, Bethel gave him a call. “I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  He said to me, ‘Do you have any idea what this costs and what all of this entails?’ I told him no. I think he realized how naive I was and he felt sorry for me.” Without giving away all of the details, let’s just say, she got a good rate on her studio time and her recordings, all because she wasn’t afraid to ask, which knowing what she knows now, she never would have.

Of course, that reduced studio rate came with a price.  A very green artist going into a studio with a highly-experienced engineer.  Groitzsch was upfront about everything. He didn’t hold back when it came to her songs, her pitch and the form of her songs, a lot of which was hard to hear for the 20-year old Bethel, but she can look back at it and say that once again, it was a great learning experience.

With a real Nashville record under her belt, Hannah Bethel was ready to hit the road, and she did, but that tour got cut short when she contracted Lyme Disease.  Fighting the disease from all angles was intense. Bethel quit her day job, took a break from music and focused on holistic treatments. She changed her diet and relied on plant medicines.  “It was a fast education in how to take care of myself to save my life.” 

Things really began to roll for Bethel in 2018 when her single, “Train” ( was released.  The video for “Train” was featured as a CMT Artist Discovery across their broadcast, online, streaming and social media platforms and she was invited by SVP Music & Talent/CMT, Leslie Fram into the CMT Mentorship Program.  The video also went into “Power Rotation” on The Country Network for seven months after its release.  

Video courtesy of Hannah Bethel and YouTube

I asked Bethel how she ended up on Leslie Fram and CMT’s radar, which is such a great honor.  One of the first people to pitch Bethel to CMT was her manager, Clif Doyal, and it goes without saying, that Doyal is one of Nashville’s best when it comes to believing in his clients.  I’ve known him for a while myself, and I know if he felt Bethel was right for CMT, he went in with everything he had, not because he had a good line, but because he knew his client deserved to be there.  Bethel said it was also through the help of an amazing group of friends, many of them artists themselves that she had even more help.  They flooded Fram with messages about Bethel’s music and her work ethic and apparently, Fram took notice.  Bethel joked that Fram probably got tired of hearing about her and finally thought she should give her a listen just to put an end to all of the messages.  Even if that was the case, it worked! The squeaky wheel got the grease and Bethel did mention that good friends, Candi Carpenter and Kalie Shorr were instrumental in getting the whole CMT project moving.  

If anyone believes that Nashville is all cutthroat and artists clawing at each other to rise to the top, let’s put that to rest right here.  That may be true to some extent in some situations, but I’ve witnessed enough of the complete opposite scenario to tell you artists that are in the same boat are always happy to see their friends catch a break.  There’s always the thought that if they find success thanks to friends helping them out, they can then turn around and help them later. Bethel is extremely grateful for all the help she received from her friends and from Leslie Fram.  “Leslie is such a special person.”

Photo courtesy of CMT Press

In addition, Bethel is also a new member of the Song Suffragettes, a group of female artists that play a songwriter showcase every Monday night at The Listening Room at 6:00 PM.  If you’re in town, do check them out. They put on a great show every time.  Tickets to those shows are available at listeningroomcafe.com

While we’re talking about putting on a great show, Hannah Bethel does do quite a few solo shows, but she loves playing with her band.  She gives high praise to the people that back her up on the road. They are Luke Marshall (guitar, backing vocals), Haley Coniglio (backing vocals) and Kelsey Cook (drums, backing vocals).  Coniglio has been with her for two years, Cook for three years and Marshall joined the band about a year ago. Bethel raved about these musicians. “They are my rock. They are such an incredible part of creating our live sound and what I can’t do all by myself.”  

Photo courtesy of Hannah Bethel

Bethel and the band are currently touring and they were recently in Alaska.  Bethel has been working the Alaska circuit herself for the last five or six years, but it was the first time any of her band members had ever been there.  They played The Opener Music Festival in Valdez, Alaska and flew into Anchorage. It was a six-hour drive into Valdez and according to Bethel, “About every three minutes, you would hear, ‘Wow, wow, wow’ it’s such a gorgeous drive, and it’s light until, like, 12:30 AM.”  I wondered if the band loved her for bringing them up there. “Oh, they loved me” she said. She also couldn’t stress enough how much she loved playing for the people in Alaska. “They love all music up there and they’re super excited any time anyone from the lower 48 comes up there to play music.  There’s such an energy from people who live in Alaska. People who grew up there and have stayed because they love it there or people who have saved up their whole lives to move there. Just an energy of people who love it because they’ve mindfully chosen to be there.” The band is going back to Alaska in just a couple of weeks and they’re very excited to feel that energy again.

The biggest news of all for Hannah Bethel is her new single and the video for it.  “Rhinestone Rodeo”, co-written with Nicole Witt and Tiffany Goss, is the song that Bethel says describes her own life better than any other country song could.  In a nutshell, it’s a tale of trying to make it in this crazy world of the music business. Bethel said she came up with the title and the idea a couple of years ago and pitched it to other co-writers around town quite often, but nobody wanted to write it.  They thought it put Nashville in a negative light. So, on the shelf it sat for a while.

Her first time writing with Nicole Witt and Tiffany Goss, Bethel dragged her concept for “Rhinestone Rodeo” out again.  Surprise! They liked it. Bethel explained, “Tiffany spit out the first line and the song rolled out quick from there.”  We talked about how maybe it was a song just waiting for a female element, seeing as how it’s been women who have had a rough time of it in the last few years.  It seems the song has found its legs.

 

Video courtesy of Hannah Bethel and YouTube

It wasn’t a woman that first gave it its legs either.  It was actually Bill Cody, on-air host at WSM-650 AM radio, that gave the song a shot.  Bethel appeared on his show and played the song for the first time there. Cody, rather than be embarrassed and sorry he’d allowed it, gave it a warm reception and sparked conversation between Bethel and her manager, Clif Doyal, that maybe “Rhinestone Rodeo” should be her next single.  I guess we all know how that conversation ended. So far, with CMT championing the video, Billboard premiering the video online and an overall very good response to the song with fans, the decision to make it the single seems to be a solid one. I told Bethel it was a good thing she took a risk and played that song for Bill Cody.  Laughing at herself, which she does frequently, she replied, “Taking risks. It’s all I ever do.”

Bethel will be touring this summer and into the fall.  Look for her in places like Vail, Colorado, Alaska and the Midwest soon.  You can find her schedule on her website and on her social media sites which I have linked below.  Be sure to tell her Think Country sent you in your social media comments,

We had a little extra time for some fun questions.  We’ve all been there at least once. Has Hannah Bethel ever been starstruck?  It turned out that she sure has. Who got her? Country artist Patty Griffin. “I was walking my dog with my sister who had just moved to town, and this woman and a man were walking toward us.  My dog got all happy and started wagging his tail and pulling toward them. I said to my sister, ‘Oh my God, that looks just like Patty Griffin.’ Now my dog is super excited to see this woman and she says to me, ‘Can I pet your dog?’ and I’m like, ‘Are you Patty Griffin?’ and she says, ‘Yes’, and I’m all excited because I just did a video cover of one of her songs the week before.  So, yeah. Patty Griffin. When we walked away my sister was like, ‘Who are you?’ and I was like, ‘You don’t understand. That was Patty Griffin’, she’s one of my idols.” I told her that her video cover kind of pre-destined her for that. She said her dog helped her. True. Her dog does deserve most of the credit.

Photo courtesy of thankfolkforthat.com

If a music docudrama was made of her life, who would she want to play her?  She couldn’t think of the name of the actress, but she wanted it to be the one who played in the Divergent movies.  I had to Google it, but I found out that would be Shailene Woodley.  I have to say, I’ve never seen those movies, but yes, that’s a great choice.  There’s a decent resemblance for sure. I told her she reminded me of my own cousin Chrissy.  A lot. Not just the way she looked, but her voice, her mannerisms, kind of everything. I think they would be best friends.  Not even kidding. If Chrissy ever makes it to Nashville, or if Hannah Bethel ever makes it to Buffalo, these two are going to meet.  I’m going to make that happen. Hide the wine.

Photo courtesy of fanpop.com

Finally, when Hannah Bethel “Thinks Country”, what does she think?  “I think of an honest story. I think of someone just speaking their story of a screenshot of a piece of their life.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be super complex or anything. That’s the cool thing about the kind of country music that I grew up on that’s a little bit older.  It’s real. It hits a depth and it resonates so much.”

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

Hannah Bethel can be found:

Website:  https://www.hannahbethel.com

Instagram:  https://www.Instagram.com/hannahbethel/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/hannah.bethel.artist/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/hannahbethel

YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/user/hannahbethelmusic

 

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Patti McClintic
I’m Patti. Rock music is my first love. My daughter, who was a country fan as a teenager, dragged me in when I'd drive her to school and we would have radio wars in the car. I'd have on my rock station and she would switch it to the country station. Guess who always won? As they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so I did. patti@thinkcountrymusic.com First it was all modern country, but my parents were big Merle Haggard fans. I went along with them to a Merle Haggard/Phil Vassar show at the local fair and that was it. I was hooked on the Hag. Since that day, I've become a fan of bluegrass and I continue to explore all facets of the country genre. I guess you could say, I'm all in. When I'm not up to my neck in any kind of music, I enjoy genealogy, history, my granddaughters and my addiction, SongPop. I guess it could be worse, right? I'm a Buffalo, New York girl living in a Nashville, Tennessee world, and I'm livin' the dream with my husband, my dog and my two cats.
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