Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell celebrate “What Happens in a Small Town” – First No. 1 for Lindsay Ell – By Preshias Harris for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell
celebrate “What Happens in a Small Town”

First No. 1 for Lindsay Ell

By Preshias Harris for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell got
together with co-writers and members of Nashville’s music community to
celebrate their Number One hit, “What Happens in a Small Town” on 08 January.

Number One parties are frequently held in
one of Nashville’s many bars and honky tonks, but not this one. The celebration
was held at Music City Indoor Karting, a go-kart track. There was a good reason
for choosing this location.  “I like to
go fast. I like to go real fast!” said Gilbert with a grin. “December 18th was
eight years without having a drink for me. I can still go to bars and it’s not
a problem but it’s not quite as fun for me as it is for most.  But this place, everyone can still drink and
have a good time and I can run people into the wall!”

At the media meeting before the award
presentation, Brantley, Lindsay and co-writers Josh Dunne, Rhett Akins and
Brock Berryhill, talked about how the song, “What Happens in a Small Town,”
came about. Brantley said he had recorded and delivered to the label (Valory
Music Co / Big Machine Label Group) what he thought was everything needed for
the new album, Fire’t Up.

“Like so many times in the past, Scott
Borchetta, our record label president, listened and he was on fire about it,”
Brantley recalled.  “He came back to me
and said, ‘You know what? We have singles but I don’t feel like we have THE
single yet.’  Of course, I was a little
frustrated.  But with Rhett and Brock, I
knew we’d been productive together in the past and they were two guys that I
trusted to call and say, ‘Hey, we need to go and write a Number One song this
weekend!’  But these two guys are amazing,”
Brantley said. “They dropped what they were doing and came out on the road with

They boarded Brantley’s tour bus in
Nashville and drove to New York, reviewing ideas they had for the new
song.  There was a lot of pressure
because Scott Borchetta had told them that as soon as they returned on Sunday,
the studio was booked, Brantley would go in and record whatever song they’d
written and it would be released as a single. 

“Brock had a song that he and Josh had
started and the minute we heard it, I felt like it was strong,” said Brantley.  “It had muscle, it had soul. It had a vibe to
it. We had discussed a duet, at some point in my career, but we had never done
that. We’d done songs with people but I’d never done a guy-girl duet. And this
song just felt like it had that vibe. So we wrote it in that direction. I
wanted to call Scott before we finished it, like, ‘We got it! We finished it!’
We wrote a few good songs that weekend, but this song was definitely the one
that raised its hand.”

The song they wrote was “What Happens in a
Small Town.” When it was decided that it should be a duet, Borchetta suggested
Lindsay Ell for the female part. “I saw her at the Opry one night and heard her
play and I was just floored,” said Brantley. “So when Scott brought her name up
it was just, that’s it!  She went in the
studio and, I mean, she just murdered it! 
She and [producer] Dann Huff made quick work of it. There were just no
questions after that. That was going to be the one.”

Lindsay talked about hearing the demo of
the song after she’s been asked to be part of it. “I just heard Brantley’s
version,” she said, “So it was just a guy’s [voice]. And they were like, ‘the
girl puts in the second verse.’ And I remember, it took me thirty seconds
listening to this song and I was like, ‘Well, that’s a hit.’ I remember calling
my manager like, ‘Okay! We need to do this!’ My favorite collaborations are
between artists that you wouldn’t normally put together because it’s something
truly unique for that moment. Brantley and I are different artists but we both
have this rock side to what we do so there was a cool way that our worlds came
together and it just worked.”

“What Happens in a Small Town” took 48
weeks to climb to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. Lindsay
recalled the moment she heard that the song had become her very first No. 1

“We were playing a show,” said Lindsay. “I
remember we were in Virginia somewhere. It was Saturday night and I remember
walking to the Green Room and my whole band was like, ‘Number one! Number
one!’  And I broke down crying.  I’m so grateful, Brantley, to you, to you
all, for writing the song, to Scott for calling up and asking us to be a part
of it.  I’ve been in Nashville now for
ten years and it’s a town where you’ve just got to keep showing up and doing your
thing.  I have dreamed of celebrating
this day since I was a little girl. Life never unfolds the way you think it is,
the way you dream it to, but sometimes it’s so much better. This past year,
I’ve gotten to celebrate so many cool things in my life. We got to go on tour
together and the fact that we’re all together here today is pretty damn cool.”

Brantley nodded in agreement.  “There are a lot of pretty faces in this
genre, but Lindsay is not just that,” he said. 
“She’s a singer and this girl can play a guitar like nobody’s business.
The way she plays makes me want to put my guitar in its case and never get it
out again!  That was another thing that
drew us to her. She’s a unique artist. Incredibly talented. It was awesome!”

Turning to Rhett Akins, I reminded him
we’ve known each other since around 1993. Nashville is often called a ‘ten year
town,’ because it can take ten years of being here before finding success. This
song was Brock Berryhill’s first No. 1 as a writer and Lindsay’s first No. 1 as
an artist after ten years. I asked Rhett about writing with writers who were
still on the rise or writing for emerging artists and what his approach was.

“I take every day seriously,” he
answered.  “Their entire life is
dependent upon what this song is going to do. I really do stress about it. I
walk around the house the night before like, ‘God, please give me an idea.’ I
really do take seriously everybody that I write with, especially newcomers,
because I can write with Luke [Bryan] or Blake [Shelton] or someone like that
and if the song didn’t work, they’re probably fine. They’ll come out with
another one. But when it’s a new artist, this might be it. Literally could be
their only shot. So I appreciate it when I get called and really do try to
write from the heart the best song that I can. It changes not only their career
but it changes their family, it changes their crew’s, their band members’
lives, from the bus drivers on down or up. 
Their lives are dependent upon the song.”

As Brantley said, “Out of the five people
we’ve got up here, we’ve got two first timers!”

“I’m super grateful for the whole thing,”
said Brock, one of the ‘first timers.’ He recalled two of his favorite
memories.  “I was sitting in the Wal-Mart
parking lot waiting for the bus and for Rhett to get there. I was like, ‘Man
I’m open to do a duet,’ and it didn’t really even click until I was walking to
the bus and I thought, ‘What was that thing I started writing with Josh?  ‘What Happens in a Small Town stays in a
small town.’ I remember it was really cool. And knowing now that this is where
that got us to.  The other cool thing was
getting to work with Dann Huff and working on the song. We got off the bus on
Sunday and Dann had me working with the band a little bit. Just watching the
song come to life the first time we heard it and thinking, ‘Dang! This is
frigging awesome!’ It was a great memory.”

“What Happens in a Small Town” is the first
single from Brantley Gilbert’s 2019 album Fire & Brimstone. “Fire’t
Up,” the second single from the album, is now rising in the charts.  Brantley is about to start out on his Fire’t
Up Tour
, with Chase Rice, Dylan Scott and Brandon Lay are on some dates.
For a list of tour dates and a link to listen to Fire’t Up, visit

BABY NEWS: Before the presentations, I was
catching up with Rhett Akins and his lovely wife Sonya.  I asked them what the ‘due date’ will be for
their baby. Rhett said their baby is due in March. Their new son will be named
Brady.  Then, with a smile, Rhett added
that his son, Thomas Rhett, and wife Lauren are also expecting a baby, due in
February. Rhett was explaining to me how the kinship worked out, and we laughed
as it sounded like figuring out a Kentucky Family Tree! As Rhett pointed out,
his son Thomas will be getting a new baby and a new sibling within a few
weeks of each other!


Official group photo:

to right): Josh Dunne, Lindsay Ell, Brantley Gilbert, Brock Berryhill,
Rhett Akins at the No. 1 party. Photo credit: Steve Lowry

Media room photo:

to right): Josh Dunne, Rhett Akins, Brantley Gilbert, Lindsay Ell and
Brock Berryhill answer questions in the media room before the No. 1
Award presentations.  Photo credit: Preshias Harris

# # #

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