To Casey Donahew, there’s a simple explanation for the steady appeal of country music produced outside of Nashville.
“I use the word ‘believability,’ ” the Fort Worth-based singer said. “People just think there’s something genuine about it. We’re just normal guys up there trying to make music and have fun.”
The fun part of the equation is key for Donahew, who returns to the Cotillion on Thursday for at least his fourth show in Wichita.
Donahew says he models his performances after artists with “great command on the stage” that he’s seen himself, from Garth Brooks to Pat Green. He wouldn’t dare do a show without fan favorites like “Stockyards,” “White Trash Story” and “Double-Wide Dream,” off his latest CD of the same name.
Donahew grew up in Burleson, Texas, near Fort Worth, and spent his early years on a farm. He played a guitar his grandfather had given him in high school but didn’t get serious about music until his college days at Texas A&M.
For Donahew, a fan of ’80s and ’90s country music (as well as rockers like Bon Jovi and Matchbox 20), the light really went on when he saw Brooks perform his high-energy shows. Donahew got an even closer look at a performer who’s an expert at connecting with a crowd when Texas songwriter Green (author of the song “Wave on Wave”) played a party at his fraternity.
After transferring to the University of Texas at Arlington, Donahew and his girlfriend (now wife) Melinda started traveling around the region to catch shows by Green, Randy Rogers, Cross Canadian Ragweed and other acts in the alt-country genre.
In 2002, he also started playing a regular acoustic gig at the Thirsty Armadillo, a bar in north Fort Worth’s Stockyards area. The autobiographical “Stockyards” is from that period.
Managed by Melinda, Donahew worked his way up the local club scene within a few years until he was able to score a gig at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, where he now draws as many as 4,000 fans for his shows.
He started touring in 2005 and has never really stopped. This year, Donahew and his five-piece band play will play about 150 shows.
“We tour pretty much year-round,” he said. “We’ve never had a year that didn’t grow from the last. It seems like we’re traveling further and further away from here.”
Without support from a major label, Donahew credits lively stage shows, social media and good old word-of-mouth for much of his success.
“A lot of it is about interaction,” he said. “You get people excited about what you do and they tell their friends, ‘You gotta come here this.’ ”
It’s a formula that seems to be working, here and elsewhere.
“For sure, (Wichita) is one of those places that have become a big show for us,” he said. “You can tell when people get up there and start singing to certain songs.”
As for any newcomers in the crowd, Donahew says they’ll see a little bit of everything.
“I’ve got a really good band,” he said. “Sometimes we rock it up, sometimes we country it up. We’ll do sad songs and happy songs. There’s something for everybody.”