Heading down a completely different path usually ends up being the most rewarding. It takes perseverance, courage and some vision to know what you’re looking for and move past the pressures of conformity while managing not to get too lost along the way. But once your path broadens and becomes clearer, you start to see the actual reasons for your success and you know it was the right way to go. Cloning in the entertainment world has never been easier and the over abundance of DJs, rappers and assembly line pop divas all heaped in the human junkyard tells me that not seeking out your own direction stops you dead on the shelf like stale, three-day-old bread.
That’s why I wanted to shed some light New Jersey’s own Corey Wagar, a refreshing 16-year-old Colts Neck resident that’s been belting out smoky mountain country music in the traditional vein of Dolly Parton, Shania Twain and Miranda Lambert and raising some awesome buzz for herself along the way.
Off stage Corey Wagar might just look like a quiet high school kid with a yellow lab named Tico, someone who has a pet goat and chickens named Marsala, Parmesan, and Francaise and happens to list her favorite school subject as lunch, but onstage and in studio she’s a powerhouse vocalist, a concentrated songwriter and a performer armed with a gift for revving up her fans like a Baptist minister at Sunday morning church. Yep, for a young girl whose socks never quite seem to match, she’s got a heavy handful of the right stuff going for her these hectic days.
If you go to Wagar’s MySpace page it shows impressive high numbers of hits on her music, especially on the song “Lead On” that I believe has over 95,085 hits as of this writing and “Livin’ In A Love Song” which has 76,726 big hits. Now most would be satisfied with that as a career starter, but Wagar isn’t like most which shows in the fact that she has somehow managed to connect with Jason Davis, CEO of Fahrenheit Entertainment Group whose firm is legendary in the careers of Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, Pink, R Kelly, Miley Cyrus, N Sync, Linkin Park, and Britney Spears, just to name a ridiculously short few.
She has also been to Nashville several times to work with the legendary producer Ken Wells (Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Brooks And Dunn) and managed to get a song written by the man as part of the package along the way. To me that’s just storybook sick, but Corey has done all of this on her own to date, impressing Wells to the point of him phoning her management to give them the “she’s got it” signal. Would most performers several times her age be jealous? Probably. Does she work her ass off for it? Definitely.
This Stone Pony show was no exception to that dedication. Musical director, co-writer and guitarist Gordon Brown (Mr. Reality) told me, “Corey is a natural talent who works everything from the phones to the fans and this show was par for that course as her team really went all-out to make the Stone Pony show a true happening.” Brown helped out the live show by bringing in some of the area’s best for Wagar’s band, including pedal steel monster Mark Mueller (Shania Twain) and guitarist Ron Haney (Alicia Keyes, The Churchills), drum man Tom Cottone, as well as Shoreworld compatriot Rob Tanico (Sam Hill, Highway 9) on bass, and another Brown protégé, the extraordinary Natalie Stovall, on fiddle. Rising vocalists Jerzy Jung and Sheri Gilmore held down the backing chores admirably.
The Stone Pony crowd was about as young as I had ever seen it and was the sign to me that Wagar had trucked in her own people to the famed house that Bruce built. Not to say that the Pony harbors old fogeys, just that on this occasion the average attendee was definitely around high school age and they left you with no doubts that they were there to see her. There were hundreds of them bellied right up to the stage with some even holding signs that said stuff like “We love you Corey” or had song names scrawled in colorful patterns across big cardboard banners like something out of a high school football game. It totally reminded me of the late ‘80s when pop singer Tiffany culled her own dedicated crowd from schools, playing malls at first with small, homegrown audiences, but by the end to large crowds as her fame grew bigger. And that’s what’s happening here. Wagar has a “can’t lose” vibe and that, along with her well-oiled pit crew, gets the people in the club.
After an intro by 98.5’s “Country Thunder” Lexi Carter, Corey hit the Pony stage running, going through her set with a working man’s (woman’s) precision on original songs like the contemporary Taylor Swift feel of “Livin’ In A Love Song,” the tune purported to be “the one” to launch her career, “Me And My Girls,” “Mess Of Things,” “Flowers,” “Just Another Stupid Idea,” “Here And Now,” and “Seventeen.” Coming out to sit on a stool for a ballad or working the stage head to head with fiddle shredder Natalie Stovall, Wagar was well-schooled in presence and technique, exuding the confidence and style of a seasoned performer way beyond her limited years. She even threw in a few clever covers like “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen, “All I Want For Christmas” by Mariah Carey (she loves Christmas music and is said to listen to it year round), and last but not least her end of night encore “Gunpowder” and “Lead” by Miranda Lambert. Tonight’s show was fun laid-back music from a rising Jersey talent and from the band onstage to the soundman in the back the people were digging it.
When you ask Corey why she concentrates on country music while others her age seek a more common pop direction she says, “I fell in love with country music because every song tells a human story, shares our feelings and moods and sets a tone. I love the harmony and how country conveys laid-back bare emotion as well as evoking powerful and exciting scenarios in all our lives. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to have the ability to touch people’s hearts and to make them love music as much as I do.”
I’m just glad New Jersey is still churning out homegrown kids that are this focused and talented and interested in something other than Playstation and 50 Cent. Whatever path Corey Wagar ends up taking from here, you can be sure that she’ll keep attracting new trekkers along her way. Plus the girl likes Jacks Barbecue in Nashville, how can ya not like her? For further info on what Corey Wagar is up to next go see for yourself over at myspace.com/cwagar.