In the past year, Chelsea Cavanaugh has become a familiar face to Capital Region country music audiences.
Even prior to her appearance at WGNA-FM’s annual Countryfest last summer, she had landed a few high-profile gigs, including a pre-party at the now-closed Dublin Underground in Albany for Keith Urban’s Times Union Center concert in 2011. But her Countryfest performance last year in front of the Times Union Center is what really jump-started Cavanaugh’s rise to local fame. Most recently, the 17-year-old singer-songwriter performed at the inaugural Taste of Country Festival in June, opening for Trace Adkins.
On Saturday, Countryfest returns to its fairground roots, taking place at the Schaghticoke Fairgrounds, and Cavanaugh is set to kick off the festivities at 11:45 a.m. The festival runs until 8 p.m. Performers include Darius Rucker and Sheryl Crow.
“Last year was awesome; it was really cool because it was the first time I did it,” Cavanaugh said from her home in Latham. “I think this year will be better though. The fans seem more happy about it being a fair event instead of outside in a city.”
WITH: Darius Rucker, Sheryl Crow, Easton Corbin, Joe Diffie, Mark Wills, Greg Bates and Joel Crouse and Chelsea Cavanaugh
WHEN: 11:45 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Schaghticoke Fairgrounds, 69 Stillwater Bridge Road, Schaghticoke
HOW MUCH: Sold out
MORE INFO: www.wgna.com
Cavanaugh has plenty to be excited about for this year’s festival. The show will mark the one-year anniversary of Cavanaugh’s backing band — last year’s Countryfest was her first gig with the group, which features fiddler Tucker Calendar, bassist Chad Mendrysa, lead guitarist Andy Foster, drummer David Bourgeois and acoustic guitarist/harmony vocalist Chris Scharling.
The band came about prior to a three-year contract Cavanaugh signed at the beginning of this year with artist development company Bridge Road Entertainment.
“[They] auditioned people to be in my band, which is cool,” Cavanaugh said. “It was a lot to get used to, from being onstage alone to having five other people behind you, having to play exactly in time with them, stuff like that.”
The band features prominently on Cavanaugh’s debut album, “Simply,” which officially comes out today through Bridge Road Entertainment. Cavanaugh wrote all 11 songs that appear on the album, which was recorded over the past year at White Lake Music & Post in Colonie.
At least one of those songs, “Best of Me,” reaches back to when Cavanaugh began playing live at age 13. But Cavanaugh had been writing lyrics and vocal melodies long before that, influenced by Taylor Swift, Faith Hill and even Crow.
“When I first started, I was 9. I really enjoyed telling stories, writing poems and stuff, and I used to always love to sing also,” Cavanaugh said. “I was singing one time, and I realized I didn’t have anything to sing, so I just started writing my own songs.”
She finally got a guitar at age 12 and began putting chords and structure to her vocal melodies and lyrics.
“I begged my parents for one for a long time, but they thought I wouldn’t do anything with it; they thought I would just play it for a week and put it down,” Cavanaugh said. “But I begged and they finally got me one when I was 12. I signed up for lessons, and right from when I started I wouldn’t put it down for hours and hours.”
Her first gig, at Otis and Oliver’s Restaurant in Latham, came about eight months later. From there, Cavanaugh began playing at open mics, coffeehouses and at her church, slowly working her way up to bigger gigs.
“I was pretty nervous to start performing in front of people,” Cavanaugh said. “My dad got me the little show, and once I did it I thought it was really fun. I thought it was an experience I really enjoyed, and it made me realize I wanted to perform; I loved the feeling of it.”
“Simply” traces Cavanaugh’s development as a songwriter from age 13 to 16. The album’s songs, like all of Cavanaugh’s material, are deeply personal, and range from full-band performances to the stripped-down “2:08 A.M.,” which is just Cavanaugh’s guitar and voice.
“It kind of describes a deep, vulnerable moment, and it was hard to record,” Cavanaugh said. “I was — it’s more about being upset with someone, kind of feeling broken by them. And when you’re up late at night, so you’re in this vulnerable state of mind, thinking about everything that’s happened and whatnot — I wrote about the moment, that kind of a vulnerable moment, thinking about everything that happened to me and trying to get past it.”