Aaron Pritchett has all the necessary tools and skills â€“ widebrim cowboy hat, small-town roots, songs about girls â€“ to be a convincing country musician.
The only box on his country music checklist that remains unticked is his place of residence.
He doesnâ€™t live in either Nashville or Austin. And that is absolutely by design.
Pritchett spends half his time on Gabriola Island â€“ hardly a country-music community. But given the amount of time he spends on the road each year, the part-time Langley resident is happy to have the solitude and beauty of the Gulf Island at his disposal, and says he is unconcerned about its distance from larger centres.
The way country music is trending these days, fans arenâ€™t worried about where youâ€™re from as long as they know where youâ€™re at, Pritchett said.
â€œThe funny thing is, itâ€™s becoming kind of cool to be a hillbilly,â€ Pritchett joked. â€œA lot of people understand that country music is real and itâ€™s about having fun. Itâ€™s not pretentious. Itâ€™s about hanging out, having a bonfire with the tailgates down and though it has become a clichÃ©, itâ€™s so true.â€
The 44-year-old singer, whose Outlaws and Outsiders tour gets underway, is nearing his 20th year as a performer, the majority of that time spent based out of Vancouver.
Prior to that, he was holed up in B.C. locales such as Kitimat, where he grew up, and later Pitt Meadows, which exposed him to many of the party-friendly elements popular in todayâ€™s country music.
Pritchett often thinks of his summers at Hirsch Creek Park in Kitimat, which were like one long country-music video.
â€œWeâ€™d have a fire and a couple of beers until three or four oâ€™clock in the morning, and do it all over again the next night,â€ he said with a laugh. â€œAnd weâ€™d be listening mostly to country music.â€
He was a classic-rock fan growing up, as were the majority of his friends.
Country was never far from the stereo, however, which came in handy when he scored a job working at Roosterâ€™s Country Cabaret in Pitt Meadows as an adult. His career took off from there, but he has never forgotten his B.C. roots.
â€œWhen I first started, I wasnâ€™t sure where I felt most comfortable playing. The Vancouver area I knew the best, but now that weâ€™ve been travelling as much as we have over the last little while, I know all these cities now. Whitecourt, Alberta â€“ who would have thought I would know anything about it, but Iâ€™ve played that city probably three or four times now.â€
Victoria is also a city Pritchett knows well, having played here numerous times. There wasnâ€™t always a fan base for country music in Victoria, but Pritchett will tell any country music performers who listen that they will find a sympathetic home in the Garden City.
Vancouver Island has kept pace with the country music trend that is playing out across North America, which is good news for the country community.
The path initially carved out by the now-defunct Merritt Mountain Music Festival is being maintained by Duncanâ€™s annual Sunfest Music Festival, one of the biggest country festivals in the country.
Pritchett has seen similar arcs elsewhere in Canada. Heâ€™s overjoyed these are now happening regularly in areas far removed from his B.C. roots.
â€œCountry covers almost every corner,â€ Pritchett said. â€œIf you go somewhere like St. Johnâ€™s, Newfoundland, thereâ€™s a huge number of country fans. Itâ€™s not small by any means. When you think you are going to get a couple of hundred out to a show on the East Coast, you get thousands.â€