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Brantley Gilbert

Country music star Brantley Gilbert performs Friday at the State Fair of West Virginia.

The first day back at work after a long break is always the hardest.

Even certified hit-makers like Brantley Gilbert, who performs Friday at the State Fair of West Virginia, acknowledge that after nearly a year and a half off from being on a stage, there might be a couple of kinks to work out.

Gilbert said by the third show back, he and his band were humming right along. But that first show was a weird one.

“It was crazy,” he said. “We flew out to Alaska and did a one-off at a military base in Fairbanks.”

After a year off the road, Gilbert and his band were flying all day to get to a place where the sun doesn’t set.

Gilbert said the trip was a little disorienting. And then there was the opening act.

“Ludacris opened for us,” the country singer laughed. “That was amazing.”

The rapper’s appearance wasn’t a total surprise. Gilbert said he knows who opens for him on tour, but it had been a while and somehow that detail had escaped him.

“This was a completely different show,” he said. “You had these two guys running back and forth and they had a DJ doing tracks.”

Gilbert said it was very entertaining, but also very strange.

“Usually, when you come back on the road, you get a full band opening and you can take some of that energy they build up,” he said.

Instead, what Gilbert got was an abrupt shifting of gears.

“It was a wild one,” he said.

The show at the state fair will likely go smoother. The ticket-buying crowd at the fairgrounds will be there to see him and Nashville country band SixForty1 will open.

In addition to being back on the road, Gilbert is back on the charts with “The Worst Country Song of All Time,” a tongue-in-cheek tune celebrating country music culture and mocking the alternative.

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Gilbert and some friends wrote the song during a songwriting retreat in Texas. He said it started out almost as a kind of a parody.

“You know, when you kind of make up goofy lyrics to another song that’s already out there?” he said.

They were joking around, but everybody who happened by thought it was funny. It kept getting funnier.

“I never thought the label would let me get away with releasing it,” Gilbert said.

But they did, and “The Worst Country Song of All Time” has been a good song to have out there after a hard year and a half for almost everybody.

Gilbert said he didn’t do well during the lockdown and the long break from the road. He said he did a lot of shooting, built some things with some friends and got involved in the furniture business.

“If I learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that I’m born and bred to be a road dog,” he said.

He also got some writing and recording done. New music is on the way.

“It was a very different process,” he said. “Being in a live room, you can’t replace that and when we look back at this record, it’s going to be easy to see that it was a different process.’

Nevertheless, that may not be such a bad thing.

Because everyone was off the road, he said it was a lot easier to get whoever he wanted to record different tracks on a particular song.

“You could send things out to a guy and he’d just kill it,” Gilbert said.

He looked forward to sharing the results, but didn’t say when a new record would be out.

In the meantime, Gilbert said he’s glad to be back on the road and performing in front of a live crowd again.

It’s where he’s always wanted to be.

Bill Lynch covers entertainment. He can be reached at 304-348-5195 or Follow @lostHwys on Twitter and @billiscap on Instagram.

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