5 things to know about Brantley Gilbert

It’s like a holiday gift for country fans: Brantley Gilbert, performing at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte in December, during what’s typically considered the off-season for his peers.

But Gilbert, 29, rarely takes the conventional route.

Two of the most recent acts he opened for – Toby Keith and Tim McGraw – won’t be on the road again until June. Both of those country superstars go pretty much everywhere with a cowboy hat on their head; you’ll never see Gilbert wearing anything on his dome but a baseball cap.

And although he’s part of a culture that glamorizes drinking, the Country Music Association’s best new artist of 2012 hasn’t had a drink in three years.

Here are five things we learned about Gilbert during a phone interview with the singer earlier this fall:

1. Yeah, lots of the biggest country shows are outside, at amphitheaters, in the summertime. But he likes being indoors. “It’s definitely easier to control the weather. And sometimes, during the day, you don’t get the full effect of a light show, and everything that you spent so much time and money on.”

2. He doesn’t need a wardrobe consultant’s help to get dressed for his shows. “I wear the same thing I wear around the house. The chains and rings, they’re not expensive. Most of my rings are not expensive at all; they’re just things that remind me of people that gave ’em to me. And they all have their own stories, their own meanings. ... All I can do is me. If that doesn’t work for somebody, then my bad.”

3. He’s been sober since Dec. 18, 2011 ... but he is still a big fan of alcohol. “In the process of quitting, there was a little bit of worry about still being able to do my job the way I did then. But I have just as much fun if not more now than I did then. I definitely still know how to have a good time and get rowdy. The only thing that makes me feel awkward is when people that do drink don’t drink around me. ... There’s some people that can do it like that (drink responsibly), and there’s some people that can’t. I’m one of the people that can’t.”

4. The writer of country-rock hit “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” and country-rap smash “Dirt Road Anthem” doesn’t overthink it when he’s writing. “I don’t sit down to write a number one hit. I’m not that good at my job – I don’t know how to do that. I just sit down and write the best song for the best moment, and however it comes out, it is what it is. I try to just encompass the entire feeling and emotion behind the song the best way possible, and if that’s 100,000 screaming guitars right in your face, then that’s what’s going down.”

5. When it comes to crowds, size doesn’t matter. “As far as countrywide exposure, we’ve only been headlining for a little while, but before that we started at little-bitty biker bars. ... No matter what stage we’re on, in front of 10 people or 10,000, we try to put on the same show at the same intensity. I really go on stage every night like it’s the first pitch of the World Series – every night. Just rolling with the punches.”