Fresh off CMA ‘Song of the Year’ award, Lee Brice brings his hits to the Expo’s Industry Appreciation Party Feb. 26.

The timing couldn’t be better for country star Lee Brice to arrive in Indianapolis for the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo Industry Appreciation Party. Fresh off his Song of the Year award for “I Drive Your Truck” at the 2013 Country Music Association Awards in November, Brice is quickly becoming one of the brightest and most sought-after performers around.

“Winning the CMA award was definitely toward the top,” says Brice, when describing where the prestigious honor ranks among his career highlights. “It is simply amazing!”

While this will be Brice’s first trip to the Expo, it’s entirely possible that, had things gone a bit differently a decade ago, he would be a regular attendee. Brice attended Clemson University on a football scholarship and majored in engineering, fully intending to become a civil engineer. In fact, while Brice grew up in a musical family and has always had a passion for performing, he wasn’t focused on music right away. It wasn’t until a forearm injury forced him to step away from his role as the long snapper on the Clemson football team that he decided to take a serious look at a music career.

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Becoming a Nashville hit-maker

Brice latched on as a songwriter with Curb Music Publishing, cowriting some 150 songs his first year. Some of his writing credits include “Still” for Tim McGraw, “Not Every Man Lives” for Jason Aldean, “Crazy Days” and “What it Takes” for Adam Gregory, “More Than A Memory” for Garth Brooks, and “Crazy Girl,” which became one of 2013’s biggest hits for the Eli Young Band. Brice holds eight of the 13 writing credits on his newest album, “Hard 2 Love,” and considers writing a big part of who he is as an artist.

“It’s awesome! That is one thing that never gets old,” says Brice of the feeling he gets hearing another popular artist perform one of his songs on the radio. “It is always cool to hear people take what you wrote and give life to it in their own way.”

Driving your truck

While Brice writes much of his own music, it was a song he can’t take the writing credit for, “I Drive Your Truck,” that took the big CMA honor. Cowritten by Connie Harrington, Jessi Alexander and Jimmy Yeary, the song could have been recorded by a number of major Nashville acts, but Brice was forward-thinking enough to know a powerful song when he heard it. Or rather, when he felt it.

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“The first time I heard the song, it absolutely slayed me. It brought me to tears,” says Brice. “It became personal to me the very first time that I heard it, and I had a feeling that people were really going to be moved by it. The writers took a broad subject on a specific event and made it accessible for anybody to listen to and connect with through lyrics, and everybody does.”

The tune was inspired by a National Public Radio report on the sacrifice of Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, who died in Afghanistan while trying to save a fellow soldier. Jared’s father, Paul, keeps the memory of his son alive by regularly driving Jared’s Dodge Ram pickup. Brice’s label threw a party to celebrate the song reaching No. 1 on the country charts last May, and Paul Monti was there to meet Brice and the writers whose work has made his son an inspiration to millions.

“It was a very moving experience to meet Paul. There is such a personal story attached to the song that you cannot forget Paul, and Jared’s service to our country,” says Brice. “It is such a positive song about being able to connect with that someone you’ve lost in your life. Already knowing the story, being able to meet the family was just even more powerful and added more inspiration for the song.”

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A family man at heart

While Brice continues his passion for his music, he is even more passionate for his family – wife Sara, and two young sons. A tireless writer and performer, Brice took the entire month of December off to spend with his growing family.

“My family is everything to me,” says Brice. “They inspire me to be my best, and I’m fortunate enough to get to do what I love and have a supportive wife and family behind me. I want to do well and continue doing well for them.”

In his downtime, Brice enjoys hunting and watching football. “The usual guy stuff,” he says. “I can also always be found writing, listening to and recording music. It’s my passion and I enjoy it even in my spare time.”

A show with energy and emotion

When Brice takes the stage Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the JW Marriott Grand Ballroom in Indianapolis, Expo attendees can expect a mix of his upbeat hits such as the catchy “Parking Lot Party,” “Four On The Floor,” “Hard To Love,” and “Carolina Boys,” along with heartfelt, emotional tunes like “Love Like Crazy,” “Beautiful Every Time,” “See About A Girl,” “A Woman Like You,” and, of course, “I Drive Your Truck.”

“My thing is, I just have a ball doing what I do. I grew up watching a lot of shows. I saw Garth Brooks one time, and I just loved that he could come out and rock you in your face, and then all of a sudden just break down to a guitar and sing to you … kind of like a roller coaster dynamic,” says Brice. “That’s what I like to do … what I try to do anyway.”

Inside the Industry Appreciation Party

For more than 30 years, COLE Publishing has thrown an Industry Appreciation Party at the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo to recognize the hard work and dedication of those in the liquid sanitation industry. This year’s party, slated to begin at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the JW Marriott Hotel Grand Ballroom, promises to be another high-energy celebration. We recently sat down with COLE Publishing Founder Bob Kendall to discuss the history of the party, and find out what’s in store this year.

Q: Why do you throw a party every year?

Kendall: The whole idea is to recognize the attendees for the hard work they do throughout the year. Often what they do goes unrecognized. They are the focal point of the industry, and deserve to be celebrated.

Q: You’ve had some big-name entertainers perform in the past. Who stood out to you?

Kendall: Just a few include the Oak Ridge Boys, Big & Rich, Montgomery Gentry, Neal McCoy, Dierks Bentley, Lonestar, Trace Adkins, Rodney Atkins. Craig Morgan did a great job last year. I love Sawyer Brown, and we’ve had them back several times. Jeff Foxworthy was a lot of fun, too.

Q: How do you choose which artist you’d like to perform?

Kendall: We always look for country talent that’s on the rise. We’ve had the privilege of working with one of Nashville’s premier booking agents, Autumn Farrell of Prime Source Entertainment Group, for several years, and she’s always gotten us great names.

Q: Another highlight of the Party is, of course, the 25 cent tap beers. How did that come about?

Kendall: That’s all part of the party. We’ve always offered choice refreshments to our attendees as a way to recognize and appreciate what they do.

Q: This year’s performer, Lee Brice, fresh off his big CMA Song of the Year win, is one of the most sought-after performers in country music right now. How did you
land him?

Kendall: Having Lee at the 2014 show is certainly great timing. We actually booked him months before his CMA award, and I have to admit I was pretty excited to see him take home that huge honor in November. That will certainly add to the excitement of the evening.

Q: You’ve switched the night of the party to Wednesday this year, after holding it on Tuesday evening for several years. Why is that?

Kendall: Wednesday is always the most well-attended day of the Expo, and we wanted to accommodate as many Expo attendees as we could. The evening is a terrific way for attendees to network with both their peers and exhibitors in a more laid-back setting, preferably over a frosty cold one.

Q: Why should attendees plan to attend the Industry Appreciation Party?

Kendall: First off, it’s free with full registration. All they have to do is show their badge at the door. Second, the JW Marriot Grand Ballroom is a great setting. These are performers who are typically used to performing in front of sold-out arenas and stadiums, and our attendees can get right up next to them. It’s a very intimate setting. That’s what makes it the must-attend event for our industry.

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