It's Friday night on Nashville's Music Row, and Anthony Orio takes the stage to do his usual set at the world-famous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.
His brand of high-voltage rock-infused country has the crowd quickly on their feet, singing along with his original songs, words they know by heart. For Orio, it's an ordinary night. But for Davidson resident Brett Cohen, who happens to be part of the crowd on this particular evening, it's an experience he'll never forget - one that will send him down a road of promoting Anthony and his band, the Goodfellers, from a grassroots level.
Originally from New Jersey, Cohen professes he knew little about country music when he happened upon Nashville's scene during a business trip a few years back. But it didn't take him long to become a convert. "I was blown away by Music Row- I had never heard live music like that before," he said. "The way I like to describe it is like watching an NFL game compared to one in high school."
On a return trip, he and some buddies checked out Tootsie's and saw Anthony Orio and the Goodfellers. "Of all the bands I'd heard, they were the best," Cohen said.
So good, he went back the next night to hear them again. Afterwards, he struck up a conversation with the guys, asked about their touring schedule, and decided to try to drum up some gigs for them, just for fun.
Over the next few years, Cohen brought them to the area for shows at Midtown Sundries, Kylie's, Whiskey River and River Run Country Club- not an easy feat when bar owners tend to stick with local bands who have local followings. All the while, he was paying attention to how the post-American Idol record industry was changing.
"More and more, labels were looking to sign people where the risk has already been taken out," Cohen said. So he decided to step up his own commitment and try to build an even bigger following through a grassroots approach, one fan at a time.
Cohen, with the help of his wife, Susan, began marketing the band using social networking, posting on YouTube, and providing wristbands and coozies at shows. "So that the next day, you'd remember who you'd seen the night before and go online to check them out," he said.
As the band's popularity grew, so did the Cohens' commitment. They started traveling the country, popping up at shows in Connecticut, Florida and points in between. They are now "putting together all the puzzle pieces," with a concerted marketing plan, helping to hire publicists, producers, and radio promotion teams, as the band works on a music video and new music. "We are really excited about the ultimate prospect of getting Anthony and the band widescale exposure on both radio and TV," Cohen said.
A long road ahead for a couple with no music industry experience? Maybe.
But according to Cohen, it's an adventure they are both looking forward to. "We saw the talent of Anthony Orio and fully believed that with the right backing, we can help take him from Nashville to a household name. This is incredible, quality live music, and we want to spread the word."