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Bluegrass singer Bradley Walker of Athens won the male vocalist of the year award. “For a lot of people, this never comes around, so when you’ve got it, you better make the most of it,” he said.
In the spotlight again
Bradley Walker of Athens is surprised, humble, hopeful after winning male vocalist of year at bluegrass awards
By Danielle Komis Palmer
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Congratulations Bradley Walker!" read the signs on Bradley Walker's front porch in Athens. Three colorful helium balloons tied to the porch bump against each other in the breeze.
At Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant where Walker works, more bright banners award kudos to Walker for his recent accomplishment.
Walker was named male vocalist of the year Oct. 4 at the 18th annual International Bluegrass Music Awards in Nashville.
The Athens country music and bluegrass singer released his debut album "Highway of Dreams" last September. Grammy-winning producer Carl Jackson put together the album, which is a mix of country and bluegrass music.
The recent award surprised Walker because the high honor is rare for a newcomer like himself.
While Walker hopes the award will help his music career, he said he is still the same normal guy — just with a bigger spotlight shining on him now.
"I came home Sunday (from the awards) and had a yard full of people," he said. "It's been a heck of a year."
The awards show
And it was a heck of a night at the IBMA awards show two weeks ago.
Walker, who rarely gets nervous when he performs, felt butterflies when he sang at the Grand Ole Opry House for a star-studded audience that included Alison Krauss and Ricky
Skaggs. Though he had attended the awards before, he had never performed at them.
"That's the biggest night of the year," he said. "I was definitely nervous having to sing in front of all those folks."
Walker quickly got anxious again when his name was called for the male vocalist award.
"The first thought I had was 'Now I've got to go out here and talk,' " he said. He managed to stay calm and thank a list of people he had memorized.
Though Walker was nervous, the people in the audience were thrilled for him, said Jamie Johnson of The Grascals, the bluegrass group that won entertainer of the year at the awards for the second year in a row. The Grascals will be in Decatur on Thursday night for a concert at the Princess Theatre.
"All six Grascals voted for Bradley Walker (for male vocalist of the year)," Johnson said. "He is well deserving of that title. He is an incredible, just incredible singer and on top of that he's a great friend.
"He reminds us of us in that he puts in a lot of hard work and has gone through a lot of challenges — and he has more challenges than most. But that guy doesn't let it get him down. He always has a smile on."
Walker was born with muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that weakens the muscles, and has always been in a wheelchair. He drives a customized van and built his own house that's designed for maximum mobility and comfort.
Walker's male vocalist award now sits on a shelf in his living room, next to the torn red envelope that holds his name inside as the winner.
Walker is careful not to let his big moment pass him by.
"For a lot of people, this never comes around, so when you've got it, you better make the most of it," he said.
But at some point, you usually have to put your feet back on the ground.
"When the alarm clock went off today at 4:15 a.m., I thought, 'Well, this is back to the real world,' " Walker said last week on his first day back to work after winning the award.
"It's tough when you go somewhere and experience what I experienced. But I try to keep things in perspective. My day job is what allows me to do this," he said. "My music is not making my living yet."
Walker works four 10-hour shifts as a materials analyst at Browns Ferry.
While some people are surprised that Walker works a day job, fellow bluegrass artists who also struggle to make ends meet on music alone usually aren't surprised, he said.
"Anyone who knows bluegrass music knows that most people have some type of day job," he said.
Bluegrass is different from pop music or even country music, where artists often sell hundreds of thousands of albums, Walker said. In contrast, Walker sold a little more than 5,000 records this year.
However, Walker is hoping that in time, that will change.
While his last tour consisted of 10 performances at bluegrass festivals across the country that he squeezed in on weekends, Walker is hoping to increase that number this year for two reasons.
For one, he loves to perform at them. Secondly, the bulk of bluegrass albums are sold at festivals rather than in stores.
"In bluegrass music you have to hit the road as hard as you can," he said.
His recent award may help bring the notoriety he needs to book more bluegrass festivals this year.
"It just kind of makes us think we have a better shot now," he said. "I would love to be able to say music is how I make my living. It's such a love."
Walker is eager to start on a new album and is interested in attempting to write his own songs this time around. As he shines in the glow of an even bigger spotlight, Walker is humble yet hopeful.
"I never in a million years would've thought that I'd come this far this fast," he said. "I'm glad we're where we're at."
On the Net
For more information on Bradley Walker, visit www.bradleywalker.com.
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