Charlie Worsham played the Opry for the first time before he was even in high school. After witnessing Mike Snider play there, Worsham picked up a banjo and started to learn how to play it. After sending the bluegrass artist a video of himself playing, Snider invited Worsham to join him on stage the next time he was in town.
"I was really terrible at karate and tee-ball and all the other activities," laughs the country singer/songwriter behind the radio hit "Could It Be." "But for some reason, piano lessons seemed to point in the right direction."
After making the switch from piano to banjo, the Mississippi native took quickly to bluegrass music and went on to perform at festivals and venues all over the region. While his performance chops were honed both on stage and in school at Boston's Berklee College of Music, Worsham, who opens for Brad Paisley at the PNC Music Pavilion on Sept. 19, is quick to point out the ways his hometown and upbringing have shaped his take on the music industry, too.
"The thing that I try to carry on is the importance of a small community — the importance of treating people with the same hospitality, manners," he says. "I grew up in a place where if you didn't say 'yes, ma'am' or 'yes, sir,' you'd be in trouble. Communities are so important in the South ... I guess with the music, too."
That sense of community is something you see time and time again talking to Worsham, who worked as a session musician with artists like Eric Church and Dierks Bentley to make ends meet before his own career as a performer took off. He's effusive in his praise for musicians (in particular, Church) who are firm and decisive in making their own sound or statement. It can be tough to make a stand as a new artist, especially in a time when "bro-country" dominates the airwaves, and Worsham strives to be unaffected by the idea of charts and radio play when he sits down to write.
"I think a lot of the stuff that people complain about that's on the radio is not because of a phenomenon, like Florida Georgia Line," says Worsham. "Those guys are doing what they're doing. It's the 20 people who try to copy it because they see that it worked — I don't want to be one of those people. I don't want to know what's happening right now: I want to get on there with what's really in my heart to write."
Despite the effort to separate himself creatively from the trends in radio today, Worsham doesn't talk down about other country artists — rather, he praises the way that tinkering with the idea of genre has revitalized and expanded the format's audience.
"Country music is a big tent right now: there's a lot that gets thrown into the idea of what country music is today," Worsham says. "Am I a fan of it all? Not really, no. But am I a fan of the country music audience growing the way that it is? Absolutely."
His debut album, Rubberband, boasts some crossover appeal itself (guest vocals from indie darling Madi Diaz on album track "Someone Like Me" are a highlight), but Worsham's excitement is contagious as he name checks his heroes, from growing up with Vince Gill and Marty Stuart to respecting what Alan Jackson and George Strait have done for country.
"I would do very well at country music Jeopardy," he laughs. "And I would hope that anybody else who gets played on the radio a lot, even if their music sounds nothing like it, would too."