Luke Pilgrim never thought of music as a hobby or a side gig.
He was 11 years old the first time he strummed a guitar. A year later, he was playing in front of audiences in his hometown of Cleveland.
“We always sort of treated (music) like it was bigger than it was,” Pilgrim said with a chuckle.
For more than a decade he played local shows, performed at festivals and toured the country with his former band “Last November.” The band formed while they were all still in high school and toured the country, playing shows, after graduation.
Now, Pilgrim, 25, is starting to see some serious payback for all his years of hard work.
His first solo album, “Sweet Tea,” is being sold on iTunes, with singles from the album being played on radio stations around the county.
His newest single, “Back Road Lullaby,” is quickly gaining attention and is being played on more than 80 country radio stations nationwide.
More than that, the music video for the single, which he shot, directed and edited, is being played on cruise lines, in retail stores and at Disney and Universal theme parks.
In October, the video also reached the No. 1, most viewed spot on Y’all Wire, a country music Internet video network that showcases “the hottest unsigned, indie and major-label artists.”
The video is now at the No. 3 spot. Another of his songs, “A Christmas Card,” is rising through the ranks this week from No. 15 to No. 5.
Pilgrim said his recent success is something he’s always worked toward and hoped for.
“That’s very exciting and we feel really blessed,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing to put your blood, sweat and tears into something and find that it’s appreciated in other parts of the world besides just your region or your immediate fan base.”
But Pilgrim isn’t just taking it easy now that his music career is starting to take off.
He’s busy working, writing and recording new songs for his next solo album, and he also is enrolled in college as a full-time student.
“It’s pretty crazy, honestly, but I love having a vigorous schedule,” Pilgrim said.
He is a film major at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, his “first choice” school.
He said film seemed like the next obvious step in the evolution of his career as a musician. He’s been shooting, directing and editing the music videos for both his band and for his solo projects for years.
Pilgrim is getting a fair amount of praise for his talents as a musician and film editor by music professionals.
“An extremely multitalented young man, Luke Pilgrim, is a rare breed, able to write, produce, perform, act and direct his way onto country music radio and television,” said Taylor Everette, a disc jockey on Real County for WSNT-FM.
Other reviews suggest Pilgrim’s recent success will open doors and propel the small-town Georgia musician to stardom.
“Luke Pilgrim is breaking through on talent alone,” said Steve Mitchell, host of NASCAR syndicated “Thunder Road.”
The “Back Home Lullaby” video was shot in White County off in a field off of Post Road and in an old barn across from the Stovall House in Sautee Nachoochee.
He said it’s great to show off his hometown to the world.
“I’ve had people call me and say they saw the video on a cruise ship on their way to Paris or something and stuff like that,” Pilgrim said. “It’s a really cool thing to see something that was shot in White County is being played all over the world.”
Most of his music videos, including the video for “Sweet Tea,” are filmed in North Georgia because that’s where he finds the inspiration for his songs.
“I think when you create art you’re definitely inspired by your surroundings. I write my own songs and it all comes from somewhere inside of me and my experiences and life in North Georgia,” Pilgrim said.
He said he feels very blessed to be back home and enjoying his family and friends for the holidays and is looking forward to whatever the future holds for him.
“I’m really excited about everything that’s going on so far with my music career and all the filming opportunities I’ve had because of that ... I don’t know where it will take me but hopefully it’ll be really good,” Pilgrim said.