Taking Flight

The path to success in the music industry can be long. But some musicians find it impossible to pass up the chance to do whatever it takes to persevere. There’s no choice but to take the leap of faith.

In the face of unrelenting obstacles, country musicians remember the promises they made, both to themselves and to their loved ones, to keep pushing.

There’s no shortcut to musical success. With every song they sing and every story they tell, country musicians gain altitude, coming closer to reaching new heights.

We sat with six rising country music stars—George Birge, Ella Langley, Austin Snell, Laci Kaye Booth, Zandi Holup, and Bryce Leatherwood—to find the meaning behind their music. Their styles might be different, but they all embrace authentic storytelling. And they’re all eager to take flight.

How would you describe your style?

George Birge: My style is honest…I have breakup songs, love songs, and story songs. All of them are from current or past experiences.

Ella Langley: My style’s always going to evolve, but right now, it's country with a little rock, a little soul, and some pop elements.

Austin Snell: It’s the storytelling of country music with the rock and roll sound. I love telling stories, and I think that country music does that best. But I also love the energy of rock music.

Laci Kaye Booth: Storytelling and heartache with a sonically dreamy sound. And for my newest project, there's a lot of lonesome weaved all within it.

Zandi Holup: I'm a songwriter before anything else. And my songwriting is influenced by folk, country, alternative, bluegrass. 
I think it's just genre-fluid storytelling.

Bryce Leatherwood: Country as pure country, straight down the line. You're going to hear steel, fiddle, and a great guitar solo 
in there.

Where do you draw inspiration for your music?

Birge: I have to get away and live life and be with friends, make memories, and get out of my comfort zone. When I get off the beaten path, that's usually where I find the best ideas.

Langley: I'm inspired by other music and shows. There's nothing like going to a show and just being completely encapsulated in what's happening on stage, knowing that everyone in there feels the same way.

Snell: From an early age, my dad loved rock and roll music, and my mom was a huge country fan, so it was kind of like a mixture of those two things—a weird little concoction of rock and country music.

Booth: I draw inspiration from everything, from stories to movies to fantasies, and especially real life. And one of my favorite things to do is write a song from the eyes of one of my loved ones.

Holup: I'm honestly inspired by everything in the world—everyday life occurrences, nature, trees, the sky…I believe that if you search for the emotion in something, you’ll find a song in it.

Leatherwood: What keeps me doing this is seeing how happy it makes people—making family happy, making friends proud and excited to tune into the next song. And all the fans who come out to the shows, getting to see them dance, laugh, cry, everything. It's the greatest joy on Earth.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

Birge: I just had my first ever number one song on country radio…It’s surreal because that's what inspired me to make music in the first place.

Langley: Probably the song I just put out with Kameron Marlowe called Strangers. I've never had a crowd sing as loud as they did at our show the day the song was released—not even songs that have been out for a year.

Snell: I think the biggest accomplishment is not changing who I am and continuing to stick to what I'm passionate about.

Booth: I'm proud of packing up everything and getting out of Texas and moving to Nashville…I have a gut feeling and hope that it'll work out.

Holup: The songs I've written. Songwriting is my biggest passion, and it's what I believe that I was put on Earth to do.

Leatherwood: I'm most proud of staying true to who I am, telling the story of my life through song, and getting the opportunity to make my family proud.

How do you stay connected with your roots?

Birge: Continuing to lean on the people that were there for you when it wasn't all bright shiny lights and success and fame—the people that were there with you when you were considering giving up or when times were really hard. Because they know you for the right reasons.

Langley: I go home and just hang out with my family, and my dad puts me to work outside and humbles me.

Booth: I was raised in a barn from the time I was like 4 years old to 15, and my parents are back in a smaller one. I go back there and stay as long as I can, and it's just so peaceful out there. It really grounds me.

Holup: I'm a very spiritual person. I love to go out into nature and take in the world around me. I love to meditate and just breathe…Whatever's inspiring me in that moment, I let it out on the paper.

Leatherwood: It all reverts back to spending time with family and calling your family, calling your friends, and going back 
home and unwinding. Spending time outside for me, that's my peace.

What do you hope to see more of in country music?

Birge: People paving their own lanes. I think more and more people are realizing that there is not a clear cut country music genre. And as long as you're yourself and you're honest, that's the easiest way for people to connect and relate to you.

Langley: Females selling out shows and females on the radio. I'd love to see more than just one at a time.

Snell: As much as I hate recording videos and posting them on TikTok, I think social media as a whole has made things a lot easier for artists to post and do their own thing. So, I think it's going in a good direction for sure.

Booth: Authenticity. I hope I see more artists giving the middle finger to the big man and doing exactly what they feel in their heart and soul.

Holup: More open-mindedness and free thinking when it comes to sound, lyricism, and artistic portrayal. I’m excited to see more artists that are excited about telling their stories.

Leatherwood: More guitar solos, more belting, more singing, more warmth. It's pretty cold right now. People say you're pure country or this, that, and the other. Country's country. And I think as long as you're telling a story, it's country. I want everybody to accept that country comes in all different flavors.

What do you hope to present to the world?

Birge: I think country fans are better than any other fans at identifying what's authentic, so when I'm playing music, I just want people to know that I feel it when I sing it. And as long as it comes across as genuine, that's what I want to convey.

Langley: Confidence, but also a realness of, ‘Man, I'm just trying to be a human being.’ Just doing my best, trying to pursue a dream I've always had.

Snell: I try to present myself in the realest way possible. In the music industry, it's easy to let people get in your ear and tell you how you should do things. But I want people to say, ‘He is who he is—it's not a show or a character that he's playing. He is the real person that everybody sees.’

Booth: It's really important for me to create a world where people feel seen. There's a really good quote that says, ‘Good art, true art, comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.’ And I think that rings true in a lot of my music. It can be sad, but the people who need it need it.

Holup: Vulnerability. As a songwriter, I strive to tell brutally honest stories—good, bad, and ugly—that allow people to feel when they listen to the music. I hope to give a voice to the unheard; that the vulnerability in the song will give others the strength and freedom to feel and connect to their emotions.

Leatherwood: I just hope to present a godly man. I always try to incorporate the Lord in my music.

Reaching New Heights

These musicians prove that the sky’s not the limit—it's just the beginning. Using every experience as fuel for the journey, they’re committed to carrying on the traditions of the past and charting new courses toward a bright future.