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I'm not givin' up on my dream
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This Thursday night, Port Wentworth – a city that has been trumpeting its impending rebirth – will be visited by one of country music’s more respected stars.

Andy Griggs is well-known in the world of C & W for his husky vocal turns on romantic ballads like “Tonight I Wanna Be Your Man,” and rocking, uptempo dance numbers like “I’ll Go Crazy.” But according to Griggs, there’s more to him than meets the eye.

“I think people have heard it when I sing and play live,” the Louisiana native said recently, but he quickly added that he felt something was lacking on his actual recorded output. It’s hard to describe, he said, but if anything, it’s the sound that can only come from enjoying diverse musical tastes.

“It’s nothing for me to listen to KISS and then put on Bill Monroe,” says the towheaded frontman. “There’s a lot of room in between those two.”

Another up-and-coming singer and songwriter (who also plays guitar) is Jason Courtenay, and anyone familiar with his musical exploits to date would have to agree that he too is the product of diverse musical tastes. As one half of the extremely popular acoustic cover duo The Courtenay Brothers (with his real-life sibling Chuck), Jason has logged countless hours playing renditions of popular hits by everyone from James Taylor and Van Morrison to Garth Brooks and Tom Petty – and he’s done this in a wide variety of situations.

Whether at high-profile public gigs in the City Market Courtyard, or private, invitation-only receptions and fundraisers at some of the area’s swankiest facilities, he and Chuck have plied their trade in everything from tuxes to T-shirts, and it has served them well.

They’ve both become proficient on the guitar, and adept at vocal harmonizing. But according to Jason, the inherent constrictions of that duo format have – in some ways – prevented him from flexing certain creative muscles.

To that end, he recently formed The Hazzard County band with a handful of area pickers, and now juggles the two groups (and the occasional solo gig).

This variety is offering him the creative freedom he says he needs to bring out the best in his own songwriting. That’s a talent he’s just now starting to focus on, and he says this new combo is the best way for him to improve upon that talent.

“It’s given me my independance in a way,” he offers. “I feel like I can break away a bit and do more of an original thing. The duo’s all about giving people exactly what they want, and I’m glad to do it. But more and more, I like to be able to step up in the light a bit and not worry so much about what people think.”

“We’re doing three of my own songs now in our sets, and (bassist) Tim Burke has some good songs of his own as well that we just haven’t gotten around to working up yet. We’ll put more effort into the original stuff in the next few months.”

Jason’s original material and his new backing group will be on display Thursday night when they open for Griggs, along with another fledgling regional country artist, Bryan Clees. This will be the second showcase gig of the Summer for Hazzard County (they recently nabbed a sweet spot supporting stars Jo Dee Messina and Mark Chesnutt at Red Gate Farms).

Courtenay says these opening slots are a key to getting his band’s name out in this area – and to showing people a side of the singer they may not expect.

“We do a lot more country stuff – both old and new – than in The Courtenay Brothers. We don’t do soft rock and pop. It’s about good and fast country rock.”

That’s what the crowd at The Island Grill will get Thursday night. “We’ll just throw out the best eight to ten songs we’ve got,” says the frontman. “Originals and covers. New stuff and classic.”

Jason says he’s thrilled at the chance to share the stage with Griggs.

“I’ve loved every record he’s ever put out. He’s got a really rough and cool voice that doesn’t sound like anybody else. He does his own thing.”

That spirit of individuality is something Courtenay says he’s hoping to tap into more and more as time goes by.

“There’s no doubt that one way or another I’m not givin’ up on my dream... I want to hone in on my abilities. Whether or not I get a number one hit – or even a record deal – I’ll still be playin’ bars on the weekends. But I aspire to do more. It’s just gonna take hard work and being in the right place at the right time.”

The Hazzard County Band plays The Island Grill Thursday night at 8 pm with Bryan Clees and Andy Griggs.