Singer/songwriter Drake White is returning to his Alabama roots next weekend when he plays at Sand Mountain Amphitheater for the Bourbon, Brews and BBQ Festival on Saturday, June 24. He will be joined by Blackberry Smoke and Read Southall Band.
The Alabama native has been on the country scene for over a decade, but after suffering a stroke during a concert three years ago that nearly took his life – in which doctors thought he might never sing or walk again – White feels as though he is “just getting started” in his music career. And he credits that familiar Alabama grit with helping him through his road to recovery.
“It’s just a different thing when you have something like that happen,” he said. “It’s just a really cool spiritual thing, a cool thing that happened musically, and physically just getting through that with me and my family. It really does show that Alabama… we’re tough and we’re raised with that resilience and tenacity. I don’t know if I would have made it if I didn’t have that powerful upbringing of people around me; people that were tough.”
White, 38, grew up in Hokes Bluff, singing in the church choir with his dad and grandfather as a young boy. He began playing the guitar in his early teen years. In college, he performed in local bars and establishments, eventually earning a building science degree from Auburn University.
“That was the bug that bit me,” he said. “I thought, ‘Man, I need to move to Nashville, I can do this, this is fun.’ I had always entertained folks around campfires and stuff like that; it was just something in me and in my soul that I wanted to do. So it all really started at Auburn.”
Instead, White took a “real job” after graduation, wearing a suit and tie to work every day, which he claimed was not the life for him. So, when the economy took a nosedive around 2008-2009, his termination from the construction company he worked for turned out to be a blessing. He took his severance money and spent six months in New Zealand, where his creative juices flowed freely. White said he knew then he was “born to be a singer-songwriter.”
He arrived back in Nashville, full of passion, and dove into music full time. With a unique sound that blends country, rock ‘n’ roll, funk, blues and reggae, White had multiple recording and publishing offers on the table early on. He began touring professionally in 2011 – with the Willie Nelson Throwdown Tour – and broke onto the commercial scene with his debut single, “Simple Life,” in 2013, followed by the 2015 singles, “It Feels Good” and “Livin’ the Dream.” His 2016 debut album, “Spark,” burst onto the Top Country Albums chart at number four. In 2018, White released his “Pieces” EP.
He’s been around the block and back again in his music career, touring with and opening for the likes of Willie Nelson, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blackberry Smoke, but it is only now that White feels like he’s just getting started.
“I’ve been touring since 2011 and it goes by really fast,” he said. “My route to stardom has been a scenic one. I’ve got a lot of miles and experience under me now and it feels like I’m just settling into, creatively, what I always knew I was, which is that Appalachian soul funk guy; Muscle Shoals meets Nashville.”
Most of that can be attributed to the major health scare White experienced not long ago. While playing onstage in the summer of 2019, the musician suffered a brain hemorrhage shortly after he was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM). The hemorrhage ultimately affected mobility on much of his left side and he has since had to learn how to walk again. After six brain surgeries and countless hours of therapy, he still has issues with his left foot and suffers some numbness in his left hand, which, of course, affects his guitar playing. He knows it could have been much worse, though, and draws strength from his faith in God, tireless support from his family, and the many prayers he has received from fans as he continues to recover.
“All I can say is that angels are real, Jesus is real, and I’ve seen it,” he said. “I prayed for healing a lot. And what God showed me is, ‘You’re praying for healing, but I’ve already healed you. I told you I would heal you.’ But he didn’t perform a miracle where I’m walking fine and can play guitar like Jimi Hendrix. And the reason he didn’t perform that is because maybe some 14-year-old kid needs to see me limp onstage and try to play that guitar and go, ‘Look, I’m having trouble breaking through this chromatic thing on guitar or my fingers are hurting, but this guy learned how to walk again at 36 and he’s still doing it, so I need to push forward.’ So, that’s why God is healing me. I’ve already been healed because I’m alive, but maybe somebody needs to see me limp on stage or hear the story of what I call my ‘bear attack,’ and that’s what a true testimony is and being joyful in that.”
White released his second studio album in March, drawing inspiration from his recent trauma to write and record the deeply personal tracks on “The Optimystic.” He will be singing his new music in Albertville Friday night. Even after all he’s been through, Drake White still puts on one heck of a hand-clapping, foot-stomping show.
“It’s a big show, it’s a better show than before. Because of the life we’ve lived through and the energy we have now,” he said. “It’s going to be a different show probably than people have ever seen. It’s still a high-energy show, especially with Blackberry Smoke, because, man that’s one of the best rock bands in the world, hands down. This ticket, people in Alabama… I would say, come to this show, you won’t regret it. The new amphitheater is going to be awesome; the live show is where the spirit lives and where we want to be on stage. The story of redemption will be told as far as learning how to walk, getting back on my feet. Having my mom, my dad, my aunts and uncles and everybody in the crowd; it’s going to be spiritual and there’s going to be some magic that happens.”
The Bourbon, Brews and BBQ Festival will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 24, at Sand Mountain Amphitheater. Tickets can be purchased at www.sandmountainamphitheater.com.