Myers Park High School graduates Josh Turner and Carson McKee were goofing around in December 2013 when they created a bluegrass rendition of a Backstreet Boys song and posted it on YouTube.
By some small twist of fate, Kevin Richardson – one-fifth of the seminal ’90s boy band – stumbled across the video. And he didn’t like what he saw.
He loved it.
So much so, in fact, that Richardson and group-mate Brian Littrell surprised Turner and McKee by inviting the college students to perform with them Friday night at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame’s 2015 induction ceremony. Richardson and Littrell, cousins and natives of Lexington, Ky., are among eight musicians being inducted during a ceremony in Lexington Center’s Bluegrass Ballroom.
“This was completely out of the blue,” said McKee, 21, a senior at UNC Chapel Hill. “The 1999 Backstreet Boys album ‘Millennium’ was the first CD that was mine, that wasn’t in my parents’ library. They were a huge part of my pop music/cultural upbringing. So it’s so surreal that our worlds are colliding in this way, now, in 2015.”
McKee and Turner, 22, met as eighth-graders at Alexander Graham Middle School in Charlotte, and have been playing music together for almost as long.
Ever since, Turner has been posting homemade performances of covers and original songs on his YouTube page. One of him and McKee doing a “blues shuffle” version of the Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane” has been viewed more than 360,000 times. Turner’s rendition of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” got him invited to perform it on ABC’s “Good Morning America” last June.
The Backstreet Boys’ opportunity, meanwhile, came up just a couple of weeks ago.
Turner, who is now living in Indianapolis and will graduate from Butler University next month, said he was alarmed when the Backstreet Boys suddenly started following him on Twitter. A few days later, the group’s manager called and extended the invitation to him and McKee.
“Apparently, they just thought to themselves, ‘Kentucky is The Bluegrass State, we should pay tribute to bluegrass, so let’s call up those bluegrass guys who did a cover of our song and ask them to play with us,’” McKee said.
Since then, the friends – separated by more than 600 miles – have been reacquainting themselves with the version of “Larger Than Life” they haven’t touched in 16 months. They also will be performing Backstreet’s “I Want It That Way,” so they’ve been nailing down a way to “bluegrass-ify” that hit song as well.
Richardson, 43, and Littrell, 40, will be attending the ceremony during a break from the group’s “In a World Like This” tour – which picks up in China April 16. (Yes, they’re still touring. There will probably always be an appetite for the five guys voted the Best Boy Band of All Time by Rolling Stone readers in 2012.)
But at this point, neither McKee nor Turner is copping to being nervous about sharing the stage with the former teen idols.
“I’m not the kind of the person who gets star-struck,” Turner said. “But it will be interesting because I’m not entirely sure what their expectation is, and I’m not sure what type of musicians they’re used to dealing with. ... Carson and I, we’ve been playing together for so long that we’ll probably gel pretty easily, but I’ve never worked with people who are this big of a deal, so I’m not really sure what the dynamic is going to be like. I’m eager to find out.”
Turner’s biggest concern is probably whether or not he’ll be able to add Friday night’s performance to his robust online-video resume.
“I’m inclined to say that yes, it will be recorded,” Turner said. “I don’t think it’ll be probably generally available, unfortunately, but that’s just a guess and it may wind up being. I don’t know. At the very least, I’m going to make sure my parents have their iPhones out – as a contingency measure.”