These are the best days for rising country star Jake McVey, who performs on Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids.
An Iowa farm boy from the Mediapolis area, he’s now knee-deep in Nashville, writing, recording and touring. After several years of playing 300 gigs a year five years ago, he’s scaling that back a bit, to a still-ambitious schedule of 200 shows per year.
“I love to entertain — that’s my drug,” McVey, 31, says by phone from his home in Nashville. “I love people. I’m fortunate to play in front of very big crowds. There’s nothing else I’d rather do. I enjoy the songwriting and the whole process. That’s my passion.”
He’s opened for a who’s who of country elite — Merle Haggard, Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Martina McBride, Jason Aldean, Sugarland and Dierks Bentley.
“I’ve been fortunate to open and spend some time on the road with some of these acts, and get to hear what they say. I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot from them,” he says. “I’m trying to give it a heck of a go in Nashville, too.”
“Fortunate” is a word he uses a lot — and what motivates him to constantly give back. In “pay it forward” mode, he regularly stops by children’s hospitals and care centers in cities and towns where he’s performing.
He’s about to take that concept a giant leap forward, by staging a concert Saturday night (11/24) in the resplendent Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids — for just $10 (plus handling fees, which bumps it up to $18.06).
He wants to give audiences an affordable Paramount experience.
“I started looking at tickets for Harry Connick Jr. and other acts, and the dollar price on those was pretty high,” he says. “I thought, my main goal is since I’m one of the only artists from Iowa who’s had country music success, is that I wanted to come in and give the Paramount its due respect. It’s got more history than me, so let’s go in, set up something and make it something that everybody can come in and enjoy — and not for $50 or $60.”
He set the tickets low, low, low.
“I did that for a reason — so everybody can come check it out and enjoy the experience together,” he says. “I normally do tickets all across the board, $22, $28, and still sell out 700-capacity venues all the time. My thought was to make it cheap and accessible and a heck of a lot of fun.
“It’s a historic place-angle we’re promoting. Come support your Iowa boy and we’ll give you a heck of a deal in the ticket.”
He’s not in it for the money, figuring it will cost $5,000 to $7,000 to stage the show.
“Trust me, there’s fees in renting the Paramount,” he says. “It’s not a freebie.”
Even though he’s played for crowds of 22,000 outdoors, the 1,700- seat Paramount will be one of his biggest indoor gigs. He hasn’t been inside the theater, but loves what he’s seen online.
“It’s gorgeous,” he says.
He knows all about the hardships and sweat equity of flood recovery. Even though his family’s farm near Dodgeville in southeast Iowa wasn’t touched by the Floods of 2008, the nearby towns of Oakville and Gulfport were nearly obliterated by massive flooding from the Iowa and Mississippi rivers.
One of his early jobs involved fire cleanup and restoration, working alongside his dad.
“I got to learn first-hand what floods can do,” McVey says. “It’s not fun when somebody has to go through that.”
Nashville, his new home base for the past four years, also flooded two years ago, but has pretty much recovered.
“It flooded the heck out of everything,” he says, “but they had it flipped around pretty quick. Still, it takes time — it’s quite amazing to see how long that (recovery) takes.”
He’s bringing a five-piece band for the Cedar Rapids gig and will play a mix of his radio and video hits like “Carry On.” He has two albums under his belt — his debut “Unknown Highway” from 2006 and “Anything is Possible” from 2009 — and a new single, “Best Days of Our Lives.”
He frequently crisscrosses his home state, playing bars, fairs and venues like Ottumwa’s Bridge View Center. But even if you’ve heard him before, at Iowa City’s Sand in the City, the Chrome Horse in Cedar Rapids, the Iowa State Fair, the Riverside Casino or dozens of other places in the Corridor and beyond, he promises to bring something new to the Paramount.
“People who have seen my show haven’t seen my new show,” he says.
He’s enjoying his “amazing” ride. “It’s been a fun ride and a tough ride,” he says, but his Iowa work ethic has kept him ahead of the game in a fickle industry. He jumped in feet-first, selling everything he owned, buying a tour bus and walking away from lucrative ventures building guitars and working as an estimator for the Servpro fire, water and disaster cleanup company.
“I’ve learned to enjoy the high times when the high times are there,” he says. “I’ve learned to live in the moment. It’s such a fast-paced world you’re living in, especially if you’ve got a song that’s going up the charts. … I’ve gotta slow down a little bit, take it all in and keep truckin’ forward to always keep ahead of the next person.”