When you talk with vocalist Emily Bates, she sprinkles the conversation with adjectives like “incredible,” “amazing” and “unbelievable.” That’s because these are incredible, amazing and unbelievable times.
She sings with The Shootouts, an Akron country band that will make its Grand Ole Opry debut Feb. 24 in Nashville, Tennessee, on the same day that it releases a star-studded album, “Stampede.”
“You know, it still doesn’t feel real in some ways, even though we’re doing a million things to plan and prepare for it,” Bates said. “I don’t know when reality is going to hit. I hope it’s not as we’re walking onstage.”
Photos:The Shootouts at Jilly’s Music Room
The Shootouts also feature lead singer and guitarist Ryan Humbert, lead guitarist Brian Poston and bassist Kevin McManus. Joining them onstage will be drummer Mark Butto and steel guitarist Mike Daly.
The members shed “lots and lots of tears” on the day they got the call from the Grand Ole Opry, Bates said.
“It’s an absolute dream come true,” she said. “All of us that are big country fans, that’s like the pinnacle, right? You get to play the Opry and stand where all of these legends have stood.”
The Shootouts play classic country
Bates describes the group’s sound as “classic country and honky-tonk” with influences such as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline. The band’s styles range from Western swing to the Bakersfield sound to traditional Nashville country.
“It’s the style of music that has been around for generations and that we’re trying to make our own and carry forward while still really honoring that traditional country music,” she said.
Humbert and Bates have performed together for nearly 20 years, beginning with the Ryan Humbert Band, a genre-spanning mix of Americana, pop, jazz, R&B and country. The Shootouts began as a just-for-fun side project that Bates initially was hesitant to join.
“I was like, ‘Have a good time, guys. I can’t do another project,’ ” she recalled.
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But Humbert coaxed her into singing with The Shootouts at his grandfather’s 85th birthday party. How could she turn down Grandpa?
“I learned a bunch of songs,” Bates said. “We did the first song and I looked at Ryan and I said, ‘I get it.’ We never had another conversation about it. I was just in. He knew I was in and that was all.”
Now the side project is the main project. Audiences have been really supportive of the band.
“We get folks all the time who hear us and say, ‘I don’t like country music, but I like what you guys are doing,’ ” Bates said with a laugh. “And we’re like: ‘Spoiler! This is country music.’ ”
The Shootouts released their debut album, “Quick Draw,” in 2019 and followed it up with “Bullseye” in 2021. The new album, “Stampede,” distributed by Soundly Music, was recorded over five days in 2021 at Son of Moondog studio in Kent.
“It was pretty quick,” Bates said. “We had to go in real prepared.”
Ray Benson produces ‘Stampede’ album
Country legend Ray Benson, leader of Asleep at the Wheel, produced the album with his son Sam Seifert.
“We were really lucky,” she said. “We had a lot of amazing people help us out on ‘Stampede.’ ”
Bates described the sessions as “an unbelievable opportunity.” The band relished having Benson, a 50-year veteran of the music business, weigh in on the project and share his experiences.
“Working with Ray is so great,” Bates said. “It’s funny because everybody says, ‘Don’t meet your heroes. They’ll ruin it.’ It couldn’t be more untrue in this scenario. Everybody in Asleep at the Wheel, they’re the most gracious, kind, fun, wonderful people.”
In turn, Benson praised The Shootouts as “an incredible collection of musicians.”
“Stampede encompasses all forms of American roots music, which is no small feat to do well,” he wrote. “You’ll be singing along in no time! If you don’t already know The Shootouts, you will now!”
The album also features guest appearances by Marty Stuart, Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Raul Malo from The Mavericks.
“Being able to work with all these people who we’ve all loved and idolized and been listening to their music for years was really, really incredible,” Bates said.
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Stuart is featured on the song “Better Things to Do” while Benson and Asleep at the Wheel are on “One Step Forward.”
Northeast Ohio music fans will definitely want to check out “I’ll Never Need Anything More,” a cover of the Michael Stanley Band song from the 1980 album “Heartland.” Malo provides harmony vocals on the chorus.
“I love that song,” Bates said. “That is my favorite song on the album.”
“Stampede” will be available to purchase via download, compact disc and limited edition vinyl at www.shootoutsmusic.com/. There’s also a new line of merchandise, including T-shirts, hoodies, hats and tote bags as well as the group’s first two albums.
The best way to support local musicians is to buy merchandise directly from them. That’s how they put gas in the tank when they hit the road.
In case you’re wondering: All of the members of The Shootouts have day jobs. Bates works in information technology for an insurance company.
The band played before a packed house Feb. 8 at Jilly’s Music Room in downtown Akron before launching a one-month tour.
Album release party in Massillon
An album release party is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 18 at the Lions Lincoln Theatre in Massillon with Cody Martin as the opening act.
“We will play the album and some old favorites and have a big ol’ party with all of our friends and family in Northeast Ohio,” Bates said.
But first comes the Grand Ole Opry.
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The concert will begin at 7 p.m. Feb. 24. The lineup also features Crystal Gayle, Adam Hood, Dion Pride and Ricky Skaggs.
The Shootouts can’t wait to get on that stage.
“It’s where people have played their music and made their careers,” Bates said. “It’s unbelievable to be able to think that we get to go experience that. It’s the wildest thing ever.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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