Story By: David Pena
Photography By: Shelia Scott
Local country crooner Chandler Fritts would rather stick to his roots than follow the current musical crowd.
Musician Chandler Fritts has always been something of an anomaly. The recent Georgia Southern graduate says he doesn’t really listen to the radio much, preferring instead to listen to more “traditional” country music like Merle Haggard and George Jones. And with his easy, self-deprecating manner, he is quick to downplay his own abilities, opting to let his music speak for itself. Ah, if that attitude could only be bottled and sold to today’s artists. And although Fritts is not a huge fan of any of today’s country crooners, he feels that all artists should have the same basic goal in mind: to convey a genuine emotion to the listener. “Music has always been about ‘feel’ to me. A musician should try to convey to the audience exactly how they feel, while at the same time trying to evoke the same feelings in them,” says Fritts. “All the songs I play are true to who I am; that’s why I picked them to begin with. The first time I heard (each song), they had an immediate impact on me. That’s what I’m about, and that’s what I want my audience to experience with me.”
Aside from attending GSU in Statesboro, the twenty-three-year-old musician has always called Rincon his home and remembers getting bitten by the musical bug quite early in life. “As long as I can remember, I’ve always been musically inclined,” Fritts recalls. “I started out playing percussion in my middle school band and just went on to a full drum set from there. I practiced every chance I could at home.” Being more of an athlete, however, Fritts soon abandoned the drums for the grid iron. “After about the eighth grade, I really didn’t have too much time to play (drums) since I started playing a lot of sports in high school. Once he graduated, however, Fritts had something of a musical epiphany. “After I finished high school, I pretty much decided out of nowhere that I wanted to learn to play the guitar,” he says with a laugh. So he bought his first guitar before leaving Rincon to attend the University of North Georgia in Athens.
Despite the new and exciting change of scenery, the move to Athens actually helped Fritts as a musician. “There wasn’t much to do there, so I ended up playing a lot of guitar on my own. I’ve never needed any kind of music lessons because once I figured out the chords, I picked the guitar up pretty quickly. In fact, I started playing complete songs about three or four months after starting to play, and it just progressed from there.”
After playing guitar for only about six months, Fritts started to also develop his voice, so it was only a matter of time before he could play and sing songs well enough to perform for others. When he started developing his repertoire, Fritts didn’t have to look far to find musical selections that reflected both his taste and style; all he really had to do was break out the family record collection. “My parents and my grandparents really influenced me in terms of the music I listen to, especially my Papa. I know it’s kind of strange, but I really don’t listen to the radio. That’s because I grew up loving traditional country music with folks like Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings,” he explains. “But at my gigs I’ll throw in the occasional Alan Jackson song for good measure.”
After changing his major from agriculture to business, Fritts decided to attend Georgia Southern University, which was also closer to home. It was actually upon moving back that he started taking his music a bit more seriously. “At first I did a few open mics before opening for local groups around Statesboro. I really just wanted to get my name out there. But beginning in my sophomore year (2013), I started playing professionally at venues like Retrievers Sports Bar, where I played my first real gig.” Despite having the butterflies that night, the young singer quickly knew he had found a calling once his first song was underway. “I got up there in front of my friends, which made it a bit easier. However, once I started playing the first song, I just felt a giant release of all my nerves. That’s when I knew that I was meant to do this. Soon I moved on to places like the Millhouse and RumRunner’s, where the audience response was amazing.”
About a year into his musical career, Fritts got involved with William Bridwell of Airbound Entertainment. That’s when he says his number of bookings increased dramatically. “I was playing three or four shows a week. After a while, it was a bit much, and I actually had to turn down gigs.” Although the number of gigs might have decreased, Fritts found himself playing to bigger audiences in more upscale venues. This culminated with an opening slot for national recording artist Corey Smith at South City Tavern in Statesboro. Around that time Fritts joined forces with guitarist Riley Lowery, who’d just returned from Nashville where he had been working steadily as a lead guitarist. “He’s such a fantastic musician and has become a really good friend. I was really lucky to get him,” Fritts says.
The pair played as a duo for few months until they picked up a drummer, then finally hired a bassist to round out their sound. The band played its first show during the opening week of school in 2016 to rave reviews. And although Fritts says he prefers performing with a band, there’s a new kind of pressure that accompanies making music with others. “It’s kind of unsettling because there’s so many moving parts within a band. Plus the band is named after me, so I want it to go well. I feel I’m responsible for anything that goes wrong, but it doesn’t help that I’m probably the weakest musician in the band by far,” he says with a laugh. Despite all the “moving parts,” he loves the reaction from the audience that only a band can evoke. “The crowds are usually more into the music, and you actually don’t work quite as hard being part of a band as opposed to being a soloist. You do a lot less singing and with all the camaraderie, it’s definitely way more fun playing with the guys.”
Lately, however, it’s not been all about picking and grinning for Fritts. The recent college grad will soon be working for Colonial Fuel and Lubricant Services in their management training program. “Even during my last semester of school, I had to pull back on the reins a bit. I didn’t really play nearly as many shows as I had in previous years. At this point, I’ll probably stick to weekend gigs and staying closer to home doing shows primarily in Statesboro and Savannah. I just do it for fun now,” he says. But although he now considers himself to be a part-time musician, Fritts is quick to point out that his passion for music has not subsided; he just prefers to be a realist about his music. “The biggest thing I’ve realized sadly is that the kind of music that I play doesn’t make the radio anymore, and I’m not really willing to change in order to be commercially successful. I’d rather stick to my roots and play music I love for people than become part of the (music industry) machine.”
With that said, Fritts is quick to point out that even though his musical schedule is a bit more limited at the moment, he’s not ruling anything out. He has the familial and financial support to take it to the next level. “My family has been super supportive of my music. They helped me get all my guitars, so they’ve been fundamental in everything. I couldn’t have done it without them.” In fact, when Fritts was thinking about going to Nashville, he said his folks were surprisingly positive about the move. “They said if it was something that I wanted to do, and my hang up was money, then they would do what they had to do to make that happen.”
Whether he’s playing a show at the Millhouse in Statesboro or the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Fritts is grounded in the fact that his purpose will remain true. “As an artist, I’m trying to evoke some really strong emotions from the audience. I love the fact that people can go to a concert and just forget about anything that’s negative in their lives, even if it’s just a couple of hours. They can feel good about life or themselves for that brief amount of time. The best songs are either going to make you smile, make you laugh, or make you cry. If you’re not doing that (as an artist), then you’re not really experiencing what music is all about.”