News Column

North country featured in country music video

May 23, 2014

By Marta Hepler Drahos, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

May 23--TRAVERSE CITY -- Country musician Matt Austin steered a borrowed 1965 Ford pickup down a deserted Port Oneida road, a cowboy hat resting on the dashboard.

Filmmaker Sam Logan Khaleghi and cinematographer Carl Ballou captured the action from the truck bed behind, aided by car-mounted video cameras.

The footage was for a scene in Austin's upcoming music video, "Redneck Date Night." The video -- expected to be released the first week in June -- was shot earlier this week in and around Traverse City and Leelanau County.

"To me it's more than a video," said Khaleghi, a Michigan native whose SLK Films production company operates between Los Angeles, Nashville and Detroit. "It's a short film featuring this area. It was a chance to do scenes in a place we call home."

The project is the result of a chance meeting last summer at a Shelby Township bar.

Khaleghi was there to promote his military-theme film, "Approaching Midnight," which played in select theaters last fall. Austin, a Royal Oak resident who recently opened for country music stars Montgomery Gentry, Jerrod Niemann, Josh Gracin and Chris Cagle, was there to perform.

"He brought me on stage to give out videos," said Khaleghi, 30, a University of Michigan and Northwestern University graduate who was nominated for a Chicago/Midwest Emmy award for his role as a producer on the 2010 short film, "Prison Boat." "That led to conversations about our favorite films, foods and places in Michigan."

It turns out both men vacationed in northern Michigan while growing up near Detroit.

"When I was a kid my mom and dad had a pop-up camper, so we would come up here and go camping," said Austin, also 30, as the pair climbed the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes for another video scene. "Those were literally the best years of my life. It's good for your soul. Here at the top of the Sand Dunes looking at Lake Michigan, this is insane."

They recruited fellow Michigander, Ballou, whose camera work has appeared in hit music videos for Eminem, 50 Cent and Skrillex.

The country-style music video will follow Austin as he hangs out with "friends" -- local military and other extras -- coming home from Afghanistan and sneaks out with his "girlfriend" -- real-life wife, Lisa -- on an all-night date.

The full-time musician and sometimes nurse jumped into country music about a year and a half ago after years of singing and playing guitar in pop, rock and blues bands like Detroit's The MaB. Now he performs everywhere from Michigan country music festivals like Faster Horses at Michigan International Speedway to Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar & Grill" venues around the country.

"We're a hybrid, which is why I think things are happening so fast. We're kind of like a blues-y, Southern rock blended with country," said Austin, a graduate of Livonia'sMadonna University.

Besides the Dunes and the Port Oneida Historic Rural District, both in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, music video scenes will feature downtown Traverse City, historic Fishtown in Leland, H&H Stables in Empire and private beaches in Glen Arbor.

"There's a lot of amazing people and communities here and it plays well," said Khaleghi, who also shot on location here for his film, subbing the sands of the Sleeping Bear Dunes for the sands of Iraq. The movie about soldiers returning from war won "Best Narrative Feature" at the 2014 Detroit Dreaming Film Festival.

"Michigan plays anywhere and everywhere and the people of Michigan are more likely to help make your artistic vision come alive. You would not have this in Los Angeles," he said.

"We're having a great time and we're really going to be excited when the video comes out. There are a lot of country music fans here. It will catch them off guard when they spot things from here."

"Redneck Date Night" -- both the video and the single -- will launch the first week in June on, and YouTube.


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Source: Record-Eagle, The (Traverse City, MI)

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