Tonight: Joe Bachman brings country to the Rex

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Joe Bachman probably could have spent his life rocking the clubs around his native Philadelphia, singing other artists' hits for packed houses. For years, he was the ringmaster for people looking for a fun night out.

But there was a country music singer-songwriter inside him that was just dying to get out.

"I played the Philadelphia cover scene for about 10 years before making the leap into original music," he said. "But it's kind of a difficult thing being a country singer in the Philadelphia market. It's not a huge market. They will pack a stadium if your name is Kenny Chesney or Taylor Swift. But the smaller venues, they just don't go see live country music in the Philly area.

"So I made my way out to Nashville and was lucky enough to meet the Hazel boys three years ago in Chicago. We hit it off really well. It's a really good fit."

That good fit -- and a test of country music in the Pittsburgh market -- will be on stage tonight at The Rex Theater on the South Side as Mr. Bachman opens for "the Hazel boys," otherwise known as Florida-based Sister Hazel.

"I've only played in Pittsburgh one other time, so I'm really kind of curious to see how we're received," Mr. Bachman said. "I know that for Heinz Field, Chesney kills it out here. But I don't know what the smaller market is for the country scene. Erie is great and Ohio. So we'll see."

Today, Mr. Bachman lives in Nashville, the center of the country music universe. The move from Philadelphia, he said, was easy -- but also hard.

"For me, it was the smoothest thing in the world because it was something I was just so committed to doing," he said. "I promised myself that if I ever got up on stage and singing 'Brown-eyed Girl' for thousands of people started to feel old, then it would be time for me to move on to something else. And that's exactly where I got in 2008, 2009. I didn't have the same passion and I wanted to do my own thing.

"As long as you understand the major change in money -- because that is drastic. As long as you're prepared for that, it's easy. For me, it was the happiest decision I've ever made. To be able to create and sing your own things, it's a really good feeling."

The hard part was breaking up the six-piece band he'd had all those years in Philadelphia.

"That was the single hardest thing I've had to do.," he said. "I was lucky because I was able to invite all of them. I kind of built the last two years of my cover thing with the idea that I was moving to Nashville and I was going to pursue my own thing. They understood that was my game plan, and I told them I hoped they would all come along for the ride. Some couldn't. Three of the guys came with me.

"But we're still all friends and when I play the Philly-Jersey area, I still invite them to come out and play with me."

Tonight, he will be joined on stage by acoustic guitarist Oz and keyboardist B Dubbs. Playing as a trio, Mr. Bachman said, is easier when you're traveling in a supporting role for another act.

Not that the audience will get anything less than Mr. Bachman's best. And most of it will be his own stuff.

"I'm a performer," he said. "I'm way more of a live guy than I am a studio guy. There's still a magic in cover songs. I still play a cover song or two. But now I get to pick and choose. Now I play the ones I love. But it feels 10 times more awesome when it's your song."

Those songs of Mr. Bachman and Sister Hazel will be performed at The Rex, 1602 E. Carson St., starting at 8:30 p.m. Cover is $20.

Dan Majors:

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