Baker’s love for mu­sic nearly cost him the love of his life

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - MUSIC - STAFF WRITER Con­tact Su­san Pierce at spierce@times­freep­ress. com or 423-757-6284. BY SU­SAN PIERCE

Erick Baker isn’t one of those singer-song­writ­ers who be­gan singing and play­ing in church as a child. In fact, he didn’t pick up a gui­tar un­til af­ter he had grad­u­ated col­lege in 2001.

“I wanted to play the mu­sic that I’d been lis­ten­ing to and, once I started, it grabbed onto me. From that point it was a hobby, it wasn’t like at that mo­ment I was go­ing to be a singer- song­writer,” he ex­plains.

At that time, he was at loose ends — no ca­reer plan, mom and dad weren’t pres­sur­ing him to get a job — so he went back to col­lege for a mas­ter’s de­gree in mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions and con­tin­ued prac­tic­ing. It would be two years be­fore he played his first gig, and four more un­til he felt con­fi­dent enough to make a record. (“At the least, I’d have a thou­sand copies of the CD to give away to fam­ily.”)

He was play­ing a gig in Knoxville when a pro­moter walked up and of­fered him an open­ing spot for John Leg­end.

“I thought he was kid­ding, but he was se­ri­ous. I was shocked, ter­ri­fied and ex­cited. Up un­til then, I was do­ing small bar crowds. I played six songs in 30 min­utes — and it com­petely changed my life. That was my val­i­dat­ing mo­ment be­cause those 1,500 peo­ple didn’t get up and leave,” he jokes as he re­calls that turn­ing point.

Baker says from there it was a “slow climb,” but as his fame grew he opened for Brandi Carlile, Gavin DeGraw, Heart, Grace Pot­ter and more. He was trav­el­ing the world, singing his own ma­te­rial.

In hind­sight, he con­cedes that ev­ery step for­ward was a step away from his fam­ily. But he was l iv­ing t he dream — un­til he walked in his house one night and found wife Mandy had left him. She’d left her wed­ding ring on the ta­ble with a note that said, “I will not be sorry for the choice you made.”

Baker knew he had to walk away from mu­sic while he got his pri­or­i­ties straight.

“It never was t hat I wouldn’t play mu­sic again. I just didn’t know in what ca­pac­ity it would be,” Baker says.

As the cou­ple talked things through and looked to their fu­ture, they re­al­ized mu­sic was his call­ing. So they com­pro­mised.

His wife would leave her j ob as a neona­tal in­ten­sive care nurse and they would make mu­sic the fam­ily busi­ness. He would play on week­ends when his daugh­ter was out of school so they could travel as a fam­ily.

Baker is play­ing two shows in Song­birds Gui­tar Mu­seum this week­end — Fri­day-Satur­day, June 1-2. It’s a rare oc­cur­rence for Song­birds to dou­ble-book an act, which is ev­i­dence of Baker’s pop­u­lar­ity.

“We play a t on of house con­certs, and I still play the­aters and clubs. They make up 95 per­cent of the shows,” he says of the fam­ily busi­ness.

“Last year we went from Knoxville to Nova Sco­tia in an SUV. This year, we’re fly­ing to San Fran­cisco and play­ing the Napa Val­ley-San Fran­cisco-Ta­hoe area. I’ve rented a 25- foot RV and we’re go­ing to the Grand Canyon and see the coun­try to­gether. My daugh­ter is 8 and she’s al­ready seen more places than I had as a 20-year-old,” he laughs.

Hav­ing his wife on board with this plan was im­por­tant to Baker be­cause “she’s my muse. My song­writ­ing is very per­sonal.

“I write about my ex­pe­ri­ences and a lot of it is the love I have for my wife. Be­cause of that, I’ve played a lot of wed­dings, sung a lot of first dances,” he says.

“His l ast show was so full of love. It sounds crazy but it’s true,” says Mike Dougher, Song­birds tal­ent buyer. “We even had a guy pro­pose on­stage in the mid­dle of it.”

Baker says the core of his Song­birds shows will re­main the same, but he’ll be play­ing sev­eral new songs that haven’t been re­leased yet.

“No two shows are ex­actly the same be­cause I might take re­quests — or there might be a pro­posal.”

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Erick Baker’s De­cem­ber show in Song­birds was a sell-out, so this week­end he’s booked for two shows — one Fri­day, one Satur­day — a rare oc­cur­rence at Song­birds. “I’m su­per ex­cited to grow to the point that’s a con­sid­er­a­tion,” says the singer. “It’s such...

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