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Hunter Hayes handles the pressure

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Hunter Hayes

SHOW I: 8:30 p.m. Friday at the W.Va. Interstate Fair & Expo in Mineral Wells. Tickets $9.  Visit www.wvinterstatefair.org.

SHOW II: 8 p.m. Saturday at the Putnam County Fair in Eleanor. Tickets $8. Visit www.putnamcountyfairwv.com.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Country sensation Hunter Hayes is acutely aware that the bar is set very high for him. He would know; he's the one who set it -- even if he wasn't aware of what he was doing at the time.

The 20-year-old, who plays the West Virginia Interstate Fair & Expo in Mineral Wells Friday and the Putnam County Fair Saturday, first came into the public consciousness at the age of 4 when Hank Williams, Jr. brought him on stage to perform together.

A year or so later, Hayes landed a small role in Robert Duvall's film, "The Apostle." Duvall gave Hayes, who already played the accordion and drums, his first guitar.

A series of television appearances followed. Before he was out of the second grade, Hayes had appeared on Nickelodeon, as well as the talk shows of Maury Povich and Rosie O'Donnell. By the time he was 16, the Louisiana native had moved to Nashville with his parents and was signed to Universal Records as a songwriter.

The youthful performer has come a long way, if not in a short time, at least at a young age.

Hayes laughed about it all then added, "Yeah, no pressure."

He doesn't mean it, of course. As a young man with a lot of talent and major music resources backing him, a lot is expected of him, but that's OK.

"I definitely know the pressure is there," he said. "But for me, tomorrow night's show has to be way better than last week's show. That's just for me to be happy with myself when I walk back on the bus."

Improving, however, is hard. Part of performing on tour is sticking to a schedule and following a routine, which he's a fan of. Hayes said he's kind of committed to his nightly set list.

"But things change every night. I'll try a different guitar on a different amp, try different vocal melodies and every once in a while, I squeak in a couple of surprises into the show."

The show has to evolve, he believed, and he has to evolve musically. Otherwise, there doesn't seem to be much point.

Even with almost 16 years in show business, Hayes thinks he's still learning, particularly from the people around him. He's the youngest member of his own band.

"I was a little nervous about that," he acknowledged. "I was a little nervous about serving as kind of the musical director for a band full of Berklee music school grads. Everyone in my band has studied music at a music college of some sort."

But he said he didn't surround himself with musicians with advanced degrees on purpose.

"I was just happy to get guys who love to play music."

Still, he values their perspective, which is clearly very different than his.

"I love it when we sit in the back of the bus and just go over our ideas," Hayes said. "I love collaboration."

Outside of music, Hayes said he doesn't have a lot of interests.

"I'm a total music nerd," he said, but noted that he can cook a little. "I'm a high energy, not especially patient kind of guy, and cooking is the exact opposite of that."

He also loves cars. One of his biggest thrills lately was when TV network Great American Country filmed a segment that put him behind the wheel of an Indy car.

"It was unbelievable," he said. "I'd never been in a vehicle with that much power."

He loves cars, but he probably won't have much opportunity to drive. Through the summer, he's playing dates around the country in support of his self-titled major label debut, and come September, he joins country superstar Carrie Underwood on tour through December.

Pressure? What pressure?

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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