eli young

Members of the Eli Young Band were roommates during college, and the project began as nothing more than a way to have a good time. Seventeen years later, the band’s work has sat atop the charts.

It can take years for important threads of life to reveal their consequential patterns.

What at first appears to be insignificant happenstance can take on immense importance when seen from a distant perspective. Take for instance the Eli Young Band, which will be performing Friday at the Jefferson Theater.

If Mike Eli and James Young hadn’t become roommates while attending the University of North Texas, the likelihood of the band being born becomes remote. And it’s only when drummer Chris Thompson and bassist Jon Jones, who were also students at the school, start jamming with Eli and Young that the world gets another award-winning band.

“I was actually thinking about that yesterday,” Thompson said. “Our career has been a wild series of wonderful coincidences, and I know all four of us are incredibly thankful for all of them.

“I remember when we first started, it was all about having fun. We were all in college, pursuing degrees in different fields, and the band was a way to get on stage and have a good time. Then we started writing songs and probably within a year, we had a little fan base. We actually saw that there was something that was clicking.

“We talked about what we wanted to do, and I think we always wanted to be a big band, tour all over, have songs on the radio and all that kind of stuff. So, from then on, that was the goal.”

To reach that objective, the band had to build a bridge from the shore of obscurity to the promise land of widespread musical recognition. Thompson said that symbolic span was built with three songs: “When It Rains,” “Always A Love Song” and “Crazy Girl.”

“We were a regional band, and then we put out our first record, [‘Level’]” Thompson said. “We didn’t have a record deal, so there was no label machine behind it. It just kind of organically started getting radio play around the country on mom-and-pop stations, and people were sharing it on social media.

“That allowed us to travel farther out of our bubble down in Texas and the South. Eventually, that led to us getting a record deal, and putting out a national single that went to the Top 10. That was ‘Always A Love Song.’

“Then ‘Crazy Girl’ became our first No. 1 hit. That was the one that introduced us to everybody as a legit mainstream act.”

In 2011, “Crazy Girl” won the Academy of Country Music Awards’ Song of the Year. It also helped the band win MusicRow Awards’ Breakthrough Artist of the Year laurels.

Crossing the figurative roiling river that separates anonymity from fame wasn’t done in a day — or years for that matter. The Eli Young Band formed in 2000, and then spent a decade playing one-night gigs before things started to pop.

“If you look back at how we started, we don’t have the traditional story of most successful bands,” Thompson said. “We were college roommates who were hanging out and happened to play music.

“Music was a side thing, even though we were passionate about it. You hear stories about guys who are put together by record labels or they’re studio musicians together or they all got degrees in music and then sloughed it out in clubs for years.

“But for us, it has been an organic thing that happened out of friendship. And it’s crazy. It’s a pretty unique thing that we’ve been so successful for so long.”

All the members of the Eli Young Band write the songs they perform. But they don’t hesitate to record songs written by artists outside the band when a particular song resonates with them.

An example of this is the soulful tune “Saltwater Gospel.” It was written by the band’s producer, Ross Copperman, along with Nicolle Galyon and Ashley Gorley. And the just-released song “Skin & Bones” was written by Eli, Lori McKenna and Phil Barton.

“We’re always drawn to themes and titles in particular,” Thompson said. “‘Saltwater Gospel’ is sort of a beach song, but it’s also a spiritual song.

“We’ve never released music before in that vein, but at this point in our careers, we thought it was appropriate. It’s something we can all relate to.

“You know, going out and standing by the ocean and realizing how small your problems are and how big the world is. That’s the theme of that song. One of the nice things about having a certain level of success is that there’s a lot of publishers who send us really good songs written by great songwriters.”

Another perk of being a successful band is having a loyal fan base that can be depended on to fill venues like the Jefferson Theater. And past visits have made members of the Eli Young Band fans of Charlottesville.

“Charlottesville is one of the towns that we make a point of getting off the bus, so we can go hang out for a bit,” said Thompson. “It’s a pretty place to be.

“As far as the show goes, last month we started revamping our set, and so the audience will see a show they haven’t seen before.

“And we’ll be playing some brand new stuff that hasn’t been released yet. We’ve taken a little time off, so we’re excited about getting back on the road.”

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David A. Maurer is a features writer for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7244 or dmaurer@dailyprogress.com.

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