It’s not a small request, by any means. But Kurt Thomas thought it anyway.
If he could once — just once — perform his original music in front of a few thousand people, out on a grand stage, that would make the past 12 years of toiling in the music industry worth it, he said.
And believe it or not, he got his wish.
Thomas, who was born in Gainesville and raised in Dahlonega, won the Kenny Chesney Next Big Star competition for Chesney’s Atlanta show on July 13. The prize? An opening slot at a Turner Field concert in Atlanta. Also on the bill that day were country singers Gary Allan and LeAnn Rimes, former Van Halen guitarist Sammy Hagar and country stars Brooks & Dunn and Chesney.
And while Thomas said he took to the stage at about 3:30 p.m., he still played for about 10,000 people. And that’s all he could ask for, he said.
"That was the biggest crowd I’ll ever play for. It was amazing," said Thomas, who now lives in Atlanta. "I’m a stay-at-home father now and I take care of my boys during the day, and I play music three or four nights a week. I’m very content with where I am now, and I was like, ‘Man, if I could just, like one time, just get on a big stage like that and play with those guys, play my own songs that I wrote.’
"I’ve been trying for 12 years, you know, and I’d feel like it was all worth it. And, I don’t know, somebody heard the prayer and I got to do it."
The contest was sponsored locally by the radio station 94.9-FM The Bull. Thomas said his wife came home one day and told him they were off to record him singing one of the songs he wrote. They sent in the tape, and a couple days later Thomas found out he was in the top 10.
"And then that’s when they said, get everyone you know to go online and vote for you," he said. "And then all my friends from Dahlonega, they all voted for me and I made the top four."
Making the top four meant Thomas then had to compete, battle-of-the-bands-style, at the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta. About 400 people showed up to the show that night, according to the Hard Rock Cafe’s Web site, and everyone was surprised when Chesney made an appearance on stage — playing Thomas’ guitar.
"It was right before I went to compete, and they told me, whenever you’re done, leave your guitar out there because Kenny’s going to play it. And I said, ‘Kenny who?’" Thomas said. "And then he ended up coming out and he played on my guitar and he played a couple of songs."
This was the night before Chesney’s Atlanta concert. Thomas said he "didn’t sleep a wink" that night and the next day was whisked off to lunch with the musicians he would share the stage with later that day.
But just because Thomas had years of performing under his belt didn’t mean the competition at the Hard Rock Cafe was easy.
Thomas was the only one of the four finalists to perform without a band — it was just him and his guitar.
"It was really cool because I was the only one who went onstage alone; everybody else brought a band," he said. "I just went up there, just me and my guitar. And they said it was my songwriting that ended up earning me the lead win. But I was scared to death, because I was like, ‘I’m gonna get clobbered because I’m the only one without a band."