Aug. 14, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State's 2012 season may officially kick off Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. but its country rock band Florida Georgia Line that will provide the official starting point for college football weekends in Tallahassee the night before.
The group will be the first of seven musical acts to perform this season at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Friday Night Block Party presented by Kia Autosports and State Farm, a weekly tradition the evening before every FSU home game.
Florida Georgia Line has become an "it band" in the world of country music and recently performed on the genre's greatest stage at the Grand Ole Opry. The duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley has seen their single "Cruise" experience a meteoric rise up the charts and they are expected to make a major tour announcement sometime this month.
FGL's increased popularity has led to an increasingly hectic schedule, taking them from bookings at venues from coast to coast.
But the Aug. 31 show at Kleman Plaza won't just be another gig in another town for Kelley. This free-to-the-public performance not only brings him back to his home state but it brings him back to FSU where he played two seasons for Mike Martin's baseball team.
"I have been a Seminole ever since I could walk and talk," said Kelley, a native of Ormond Beach, Fla. "We had season tickets for football games, we'd always go to baseball games and my sister graduated from there. Ever since I can remember I have been a diehard FSU fan and I bleed garnet and gold. To be able to go there and be on scholarship and play on the team was a dream come true and it was two of the best years of my life."
After pitching for the 'Noles during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Kelley elected to seek more playing time at a smaller school. An avid music lover, he wound up at his father's alma mater, Belmont, in the country-music mecca of Nashville, Tenn.
Kelley played his guitar sparingly while in Tallahassee, performing with the First Baptist Church and on his own whenever his class and baseball scheduled allowed that escape. It wasn't until he got to Belmont that he began to hone his craft and his lifelong dream of being a baseball player gave way to a new ambition of writing and performing music for a living.
"I was always the weirdo looking at the liner notes in CDs trying to understand how the melodies and lyrics came together and worked to compliment each other," Kelley said. "I just tried to learn as much as I could and soak everything up that was going on in Nashville."
Transferring to Belmont did more than just allow Kelley's musical focus to take shape; it also resulted in a career-changing connection.
Hubbard was a student at Belmont at the time and had seen Kelley in passing on more than one occasion. "The baseball players had their own lunch table and all that, you know?" Hubbard said with a laugh. "They were too cool for school. I was too cool for school, too, I just didn't play any sports."
The two were later introduced by Hubbard's roommate, who had a writing class with Kelley and thought they would hit it off because of their mutual interest in music and song writing.
"I saw Tyler play and there was this kind of musical connection," Kelley said. "It just seemed like there was no other choice than to play music together. Then we started writing and hanging out and singing together. It was a very organic, slow process that just happened naturally."
That process eventually led to a name. "We wanted something that represented where we both are from and how we meet in the middle of it," Kelley said, "and Florida Georgia Line was born."
And so too was a budding career -- a winding musical journey that will bring the duo to Tallahassee and then off to another eagerly-awaiting crowd in another city.
Kelley hasn't had much time to reflect on how much has changed in his life since he put on a Florida State baseball uniform, let alone come back and catch a game or two. GFL opened for Corey Smith at the Coliseum earlier this year but Kelley only had time to drive a friend's car through campus.
"I don't get down there enough," he said. "I hate that because two of my favorite things are going to football games and hitting up Guthrie's. I am definitely looking forward to playing down there again. Tallahassee is a great place; it's one of a kind.
"It just brings back so many great memories."