For Chance McKinney, country music is simply about storytelling.
“Everything we do tells a story,” said McKinney, who is headlining Saturday at Little Creek Casino’s first Brew Festival. “People want to associate with what you’re singing about. The music can have rock in it or whatever, but it has the story. That’s why people turn to country.”
And McKinney, who won CMT.com’s “Music City Madness” competition for unsigned artists last year, is quite a storyteller.
Take the way he got the name Chance. (He was born Chad McKinney.)
“My grandpa Merle nicknamed me Chance,” said the singer, who splits his time among Bothell; Sandy, Utah; and Hendersonville, Tenn. “I was always too big and clumsy. The way he told it, there was always a Chance I wasn’t going to make it where I was going, because I’d usually fall or break something before I got there.
“It’s not the romantic story folks hope for,” he added, “but it was given to me by a man I pattern my work ethic after.”
About that work ethic: Besides his singing career, McKinney taught math at Mukilteo High School until February, when he took a leave of absence after winning “Music City Madness.” He and Crosswire — bass player Ray Neyens, guitarist Paul Schille and drummer Brian Bujacich — have been traveling almost nonstop since, so there are no more blackboards in his immediate future.
“We’ve been out on the road 40 shows in the last 80 days,” he said last week. “We’re booked with national artists through November. My agent at William Morris called the other day and said there are about 100 pending dates for next year.”
Among the shows coming up are gigs opening for .38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” McKinney said. “We’re not there yet.”
The band last played the Little Creek in April, opening for Dwight Yoakam. That was two days before the band flew to Nashville to film a studio session for CMT. “So I have very fond memories of the Little Creek Casino,” he said. “Doesn’t this stuff happen to every high-school teacher you know?”
The casino’s Brew Festival is being launched as an annual event, said media and communications manager Jeryl Swanson. This year, it includes tastings from 14 Northwest breweries.
“We thought a brew festival would be a fun way to end the summer,” Swanson said. “We noticed that wine tastings seemed to be popping up everywhere, and although we now have our own wine label coming out, we thought a Brew Festival would be a great alternative.”
McKinney’s musical ideology, which he calls “industrialized country,” sounds like a good fit for the beer-drinking crowd.
“It’s working man’s country,” he said. “We’ve mixed in Motown, we’ve mixed in rock, and we’ve mixed in metal.
“The metal is for truck drivers; the Motown is for people who grew up listening to the Temptations; the rock is for the ’80s hair-band people.”
McKinney, who grew up in Montana, has bits of all of those in his background.
Especially Motown. When he moved to Seattle, McKinney got a gig with the Motown revue Timeless Soul.
“It was four black guys and a white guy,” he said. “I was the redneck singing bass. We’d walk into all black clubs, and people would stare at me, understandably so, till we dropped the first Temptations tune and I could cover Melvin Franklin’s part.
“Then they were like, ‘That guy can stay.’ ”
He toured as far as Australia with the group, but eventually left to return to his roots. “I started to write music and play guitar, and what I was doing really wasn’t Motown,” he said. “What I would write would come out very country.”