Brantley Gilbert Knew About Lindsay Ell’s Talent, But Touring Together Taught Him About Her Heart
Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell are top-tier teammates. The "What Happens in a Small Town" singers have learned a lot from each other since teaming up for the duet, but they also both share an honest work ethic, a quality Gilbert saw in Ell when it came time to choose someone to add to the No. 1 single from his 2019 album Fire & Brimstone.
"Lindsay’s name, every time it’s been brought up to me, it’s been synonymous with hard work and somebody’s that grinding," Gilbert told The Boot and other outlets at a recent press event. "I saw her at the Opry one night and heard her play and was just floored. When Scott [Borchetta] brought her name up, it was like, well, that’s it.
"She went in the studio and just murdered it," Gilbert adds. "That kind of put the nail in the coffin. There were no questions whatsoever after that."
Gilbert also brought Ell along as the opening act on his headlining Not Like Us Tour, which ran through the fall of 2019. Gilbert says he remembers what it's like to be an opener and wanted to return the favor that bigger artists paid him by offering a platform to a young, hardworking artist he admires. Ell's guitar skills helped solidify the decision, too.
"I remember grinding ... I had folks along the way who took a chance with me and let me come out with them," Gilbert recounts. "This girl can play guitar like nobody’s business. I can’t. The way she plays makes me wanna put mine in the case and never get it out again. That was another thing that drew us to her.
"She’s a unique artist. She’s incredibly talented and she’s a grinder," he adds of Ell. "She killed it."
While Gilbert helped Ell by adding her to "What Happens in a Small Town" and inviting her out tour, she helped him during an incident that affected him and his entire crew during the Not Like Us Tour. On Aug. 1, Gilbert's longtime monitor engineer, Alan Ditch, went into cardiac arrest and died hours before the final show of the trek in Pittsburgh, Pa. The show was canceled, and Gilbert told everyone to head home -- but Ell and her band and team decided to stay around for moral support.
"Touring with people, you get a little bit of an opportunity to learn about who they are to their core, not just about their music," Gilbert says. "When I canceled the show, I told everybody, 'We appreciate you; sorry there’s not a show tonight.' I just expected for our group, our family, to handle it the best way we knew how.
"What I didn’t expect was for Lindsay’s band and crew, and for [fellow opening act] Michael Ray’s band and crew to stay literally until the last bus was loaded that night," he continues. "When we circled up and had a prayer they stood in the circle with us. When we reminisced about Al, they were right there with us, and even shared the stories and memories they made with him out on the road. It just spoke volumes to me.
"We’re all busy folks, and I knew how busy she’d been. I knew she’d been in Europe, here, there and everywhere, and probably would have liked to get back at a decent hour with the show being cancelled. For them to hang around and show support like that … I’ll never forget it," Gilbert adds. "It just, to me, said a lot to me about who she is, that the people around her heeded that call and stayed right there with her. It was something I’ll never forget."
Ell's decision to stay was a no-brainer considering the family atmosphere Gilbert cultivates so well on tour. He creates a sense of community among everyone involved, which she saw in action last summer.
"I will say that being on the Not Like Us Tour this year, it’s been amazing to watch how much this man cares about every single person on his crew, every single person in his band," Ell says. "He really runs it like a family out there."
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