West Grad Brett Westgrove - Opening Act at Hodag Country Fest

West Grad Brett Wiesman (Westgrove) - Opening Act at Hodag Country Fest
Posted on 07/02/2019
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Megan Stringer
Wausau Daily Herald
Published 6:46 a.m. CT July 2, 2019

When Brett Westgrove packed up to go home to Rib Mountain for Christmas one winter, his mom asked him to bring his guitar.

It had been ages since he played, and Mary Wiesman thought it would be a relaxing holiday activity for the family.

Westgrove, then known as Brett Wiesman, didn't imagine that taking his guitar back home would spark something — that it would lead him to give up an engineering career in Colorado, move halfway across the country and try to make a new life in country music.

Now he's living and performing regularly in Nashville, and his first album, "Somewhere Town," will debut on Wednesday. It's available on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.

Westgrove, 35, will return to his roots in north central Wisconsin to play the opening act of Hodag Country Festival in Rhinelander on July 11.

Westgrove didn't always picture himself as a country singer. He got his bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. Then he discovered working a 9-to-5 job at a lab in Colorado, sitting in front of a computer screen all day, wasn't right for him.

Before his mom asked him to bring his guitar home for the holidays in 2015, it had been buried under his bed for three years. When he returned to Colorado after Christmas, he couldn't stop thinking about it. Westgrove began uploading videos to YouTube, covering country songs.

He enjoyed it more than he remembered and eventually started playing shows around Denver. The response was positive, with people stopping in from Nashville to tell him he had to somehow get himself to the country music capital of the U.S.

Brett Westgrove didn't always want to be a country music singer, but now he couldn't imagine doing anything else.

Brett Westgrove didn't always want to be a country music singer, but now he couldn't imagine doing anything else. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Brett Westgrove)

Westgrove's day job was stable, safe. But he didn't like that music was on the back burner.

"I believe that when you have a plan B, you'll never give your all to your plan A," he said.

He needed to prove to himself that he was willing to give up anything to make it in the cut-throat industry that is country music in Nashville.

So he picked up and moved to Tennessee in early 2017.

He didn't know anybody when he arrived. Westgrove lived in his car for the first few months, sleeping in the cold weather and showering at the gym. There were times when he wondered what he had gotten himself into.

Today, Westgrove believes moving to Nashville and trying to make it in music is the most appropriate decision he's made in his life to date. It doesn't feel like work when he goes out to play a show.

Brett Westgrove says he performs anywhere from two to seven times a week in Nashville. Originally from Rib Mountain, he took a risk moving to the country music capital. Now he's opening up Hodag Country Fest in Rhinelander.

Brett Westgrove says he performs anywhere from two to seven times a week in Nashville. Originally from Rib Mountain, he took a risk moving to the country music capital. Now he's opening up Hodag Country Fest in Rhinelander. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Brett Westgrove)

It all started in central Wisconsin

While he wasn't born a country singer, Westgrove was always interested in music from a young age. As a kid he would take a boombox out into his Rib Mountain driveway and play Michael Jackson songs, singing and dancing along, said his mother.

She jokes that he came out of the womb as a performer.

At Rib Mountain Elementary School he participated in theater and dance with his peers, at John Muir Middle School he played saxophone in the band and at Wausau West he was in various choir groups, joining the master singers group his junior and senior years. Westgrove graduated from Wausau West in 2002.

At age 17 his musical interests turned commercial for the first time.

His parents had been building a new house and there was some extra room. With Westgrove's influence, it became a home recording studio.

He outfitted the room with all the proper gear and monitors. Soon after, he had paying clients come in to record. Whether it was their own music, motivational speeches or just cutting up audio work for another performance, they shared in Westgrove's studio.

As Westgrove grew older and more interested in country music, it reminded him of the lifestyle he grew up with in central Wisconsin. His new song, "Somewhere Town," was written about a place just like Wausau.

The Wausau-based WDEZ was the first radio station to debut the single, he said.

Returning to Wisconsin from Nashville to play his music is like coming full circle for Westgrove, he said. He will also play a show at Shotskis in Eagle River on July 13.

Performing with big country names like Lady Antebellum and The Marshall Tucker Band at Hodag Fest will be the highlight of his career so far, Westgrove said. He will play alongside the people he's been listening to and looking up to the last few years as he works to get his own music out there.

"To come back and debut my music and play this big show that was such a big part of the country scene growing up here," Westgrove said, "is an incredible way to celebrate who I am and where I am going."

Westgrove will perform at the Stevens Point Riverfront Rendezvous on Saturday afternoon and in Marathon Park on Saturday evening for the Wausau Fourth of July celebration. More information on his upcoming shows can be found on his website.