Country rocker Kurt Freeman performs “outlaw” music

by Charles Cassady

Call it a case of local (cow)boy makes good. Independence native Kurt Freeman, riding high in the musical saddle, came to town like a tumbling tumbleweed and helped herd and corral the summer season of Thursday community concerts with a country-flavored July 1 show at Elmwood Park.

“I grew up in Independence with my parents, Dennis and Joyce, and my two older brothers, Pat and Brian,” said Freeman. “I went to Independence Primary School and Independence Middle School, then went to Padua Franciscan High School.”

Following college in Dayton, Freeman, now a Strongsville resident, has put his business degree to work with IT companies/sales – while slinging his guitar on the side with his own country-and-western ensemble.

“Music has always been a hobby and something I’ve done on the side.” Freeman said. “Country music has always been my favorite genre of music. The storytelling and `real-ness’ of the lyrics always drew me to country music. Some of my favorite artists growing up include Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney. A few of my other favorites include Jason Aldean, Luke Combs, Eric Church, and Morgan Wallen.”

Freeman occasionally performs solo but he is usually backed up by an ensemble that includes Paul Frantisak, a lead guitarist from Hinckley, Strongsville neighbor Phil Haibach as rhythm guitarist, Brunswick’s Joe LaGuardia on bass and Independence’s own Josh LaGuardia on drums.

As viewers of Ken Burns’ recent PBS series on country music should know, the branch of country-and-western called “outlaw country” gained prominence via performers such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Hank Williams Jr. One of Freeman’s newest releases (and first official music video) is entitled “Outlaw.”

“I enjoy most styles of country music, but as far as the music that I write and play, I feel like I’m more on the rock/outlaw-country side of things,” Freeman said. “I believe in authenticity, so I always do my best to stick to what I know and use my own experiences for inspiration.”

He writes or co-writes his own originals, and Freeman’s sets can often be a blend of classic covers and songs unique to his repertoire. “We try to do our best to stay upbeat-high-energy with our song choices,” he said. “It’s all about making sure people are having a good time. It’s usually a party by the end of each show.”

At his recent engagement at the Thirsty Cowboy in Medina, Freeman and his posse triggered spontaneous line-dancing among the patrons, a response he said was unexpected. Freeman said his favorite booking so far was the 2019 Cuyahoga County Fair. “We played at the grandstand stage and opened up for Lainey Wilson and Ashley McBryde. We’re hoping to top that show with this year’s WGAR Country Jam, where we’ll open up for Lindsay Ell, Locash, Chris Janson and Billy Currington.”

That is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 21, at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Middleburg Heights. In addition to C&W-royalty exposure for Freeman and his wild bunch, it represents the return of the famed WGAR Country Jam after the 2020 edition was canceled because of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Freeman said that pursuing music on a full-time basis is a long-term goal, like the oasis at the end of the trail. “At this point it is up in the air,” he said. “I do have a few connections in Nashville and visit a few times a year, but we’ll see.”

In the meantime, scout the territory up ahead for news on Freeman and his bandmates on social media, ∞