Aug. 15--Earlier this year, Country Music Television named Holly Williams one of its Next Women of Country, a showcase of "the rising generation of signed and unsigned female superstars."
With a musical pedigree that includes her father and grandfather -- Hank Williams Jr. and Sr. -- the network's nomination might seem as obvious as calling ice cream cold, but Williams says she's traveled across virgin ground to reach industry recognition rather than following in her family's deep bootprints.
Avoiding the enormous shadow cast by two generations of inductees into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame wasn't something she pursued actively, she says. Rather, she followed her musical whims and stuck to writing personal -- sometimes intensely so -- material drawn from her life and experiences.
"I didn't grow up in the music business, like people think," she explains. "I probably could have put on a cowboy hat when I was 19 and sang other people's songs and gotten a record deal for singing straight country music, but that wasn't my passion or my heart."
Friday, Aug. 16, Williams will make her Scenic City performance debut in Miller Plaza as this week's Nightfall headliner.
Despite her familial legacy, she didn't actually enter the musical fray until she was well into her teens. After years of submitting her lyrics to poetry contests, she had a kind of epiphany one evening when she picked up a guitar and put her words to music.
To some, a Williams discovering a knack for songcraft might seem shockingly unshocking -- after all, her half-brother Hank III and half-sister Hillary both sing -- but Holly says it was a revelation.
"I remember ... running down to my mom and saying, 'Oh my gosh, I wrote a song. This is what I'm going to do,'" she says. "It was just overnight."
In the years since she discovered her calling, Williams has pushed herself to find a place in the musical world without trading on her family name. With the release of her third album, "The Highway," she seems to have found it.
The album hit the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart when it was released Feb. 5. Paste Magazine reviewer Holly Gleason describes the album, Williams' first in four years, as being full of "... soundscapes that [leave] plenty of room for the ragged edges of her voice -- aching and rough where the emotions set in -- to stand out."
For her part, Williams says she's touched by the red-rimmed eyes she has confronted after almost every show when she pours her heart into the album's tear-jerker ballads like "Gone Away From Me" and "Waiting on June."
Riding this recent high, Williams says she finally feels like she's standing on her own two feet. That she's also rising above the crowd is just an added bonus.
"Honestly, this album feels like the first one that is taking note with people," she says. "People are starting to go, 'Oh, she's in this for real. It's not to play off the Hank Jr.'s daughter thing.'"
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
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