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Cole Swindell, Kelleigh Bannen living out their ‘Cinderella’ stories

BY TRICIA DESPRES | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

The story of Cole Swindell is a countrified Cinderella story in the making.

As the tale goes, the blond boy from Georgia was playing the clubs and majoring in marketing when he started working the merchandise table of an up-and-coming country artist and friend by the name of Luke Bryan. Between selling concert T-shirts and beer koozies, the aspiring singer-songwriter would stand back, watch the crowd and take note of what songs they would react to and where they planned to go after the show.

And then Swindell would write a song.

“I wrote my song ‘Brought to You by Beer’ just from watching people have a good time at bars like Joe’s [in Chicago],” says the 31-year-old Swindell, who returns to Joe’s Bar for two headlining shows Dec. 10-11. “I specifically remember selling merchandise for Luke [Bryan] when he had back-to-back shows at Joe’s. I was behind that table, but all I wanted was to be on that stage.”

COLE SWINDELL

With Kelleigh Bannen

When: Dec. 10-11

Where: Joe’s Bar, 940 W. Weed

Tickets: $24

Info: www.joesbar.com

Those songs that Swindell typed into his flip-phone back in the day got him a publishing deal in Nashville and eventually a record deal that would spawn his self-titled debut album in 2014 and chart-topping hits such as “Chillin’ It” and “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight.” Currently, he is headlining his “Down Home Tour,” he’s nominated for two of the newly created American Country Countdown Awards (ACCAs) for “Song of the Year” and “Breakthrough Artist of the Year,” and he will hit the road with Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney in 2015.

Yet, Swindell’s overwhelming success straight out of the gate is in stark contrast to the true “Cinderellas” of country music, as the genre’s up-and-coming flock of female artists still find themselves having a tough time finding a home on the country radio dial.

“We just face so much more stigma out there compared to the dudes,” explains Kelleigh Bannen, who serves as opener on the Swindell tour and will join both Bryan and Swindell during a four-night, beachfront “Luke Bryan Crash My Playa” destination concert event in January.

“As a female country artist at the moment, you just don’t know what radio is going to embrace. It’s a very confusing puzzle, so we just plan to continue to focus on getting the best music to our fans in any way possible.”

Kelleigh Bannen | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Kelleigh Bannen 

One of the most deserving yet often overlooked female country artists today, Bannen is definitely gaining some traction by hitting the stage with singles such as “Famous” and “Smoke When I Drink,” alongside fellow newcomer Swindell.

“I have definitely been able to bond with Cole and his story, since we have similar and long timelines,” says Bannen, who will also play a headlining show at Chicago’s Bub City on Dec. 12. “Cole worked behind the scenes for a long time. The fact is that a lot of us work a long time in this business before anyone knows we are there.”

“Kelleigh is one of the new girls in country music and I think it’s really important to have a female out with us right now,” adds Swindell, who recently released a new five-song EP “Down Home Sessions” exclusively on iTunes. “I’m definitely pulling for her.”

Just like someone once pulled for him.

“I was so thankful that Luke took me out [on the road] with him and I want to do the same for people whose music I love,” says Swindell. “I honestly don’t know how I am going to top 2014, but I am sure the heck going to try.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.