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The Paisley Patterns

Brad Paisley Is at the Top of the Country Music World, writing songs and smoking cigars
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Brad Paisley, March/April 2012

(continued from page 5)

His band members tend to enjoy the cigars while sipping a fine whiskey, or a glass of wine. But the nondrinking Paisley has his own favorite beverage when savoring a cigar.

“If you have a Yoo-hoo with a cigar, it’s like a s’more,” Paisley enthuses. “Anything chocolate is fantastic. A hit of chocolate takes the bite away. A chocolate milkshake with a cigar? That’s just decadent. Grape juice is good, too. Anything thick and sweet is pretty cool. I think I’d like port, if I did that.”

As he spoke, Paisley was gearing up for his 2012 tour, which kicked off in mid-January with back-to-back shows in the deep-freeze belt: Grand Rapids, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and St. Paul, Minnesota.

“The first time I saw the schedule, I remember thinking, who is the idiot in the organization that had this idea?” Paisley says. “But it’s brilliant, really. I’ve played Minnesota in the summer and the winter. Nobody in Minnesota is all that excited about wasting one minute indoors in the summer  because their summers are, like, five minutes long. But if you play St. Paul in the winter, they’re ecstatic to see you. There’s this amazing excitement level, because you gave them something else to think about other than avoiding frostbite.”

Forbes magazine ranked Paisley third among country music’s highest-paid stars in September 2011 (and No. 48 among all celebrities), estimating that he grossed $40 million between May 2010 and May 2011—which, they estimate, was double from the year before. (Paisley’s management wouldn’t comment on the figures.) That includes tour revenues, CD sales (“This Is Country Music” went gold in a month), publishing rights for his music and income from endorsement deals with Chevy and Sea Ray, among others.

But growing up in a family with two working parents, Paisley understood the value of money earned. He may have the resources of an entertainment mogul, but he says, “I don’t let the fact that I’ve made a lot of money go to my head—I wasn’t born that way.

“It’s hard to get out of the mindset of what it was like before I had anything. I still think that way. It’s funny, because it’s true whether I’m pricing a guitar pedal on eBay—and thinking that, well, I’d pay $200 but $275 seems a little pricey—or when I’m trying to decide whether to pull the trigger on five lasers instead of four for the live show, which cost thousands a day. “I really try to remember that it’s all finite. No matter how much you’ve got, there’s not an endless supply of good fortune.”

He recalls contests he and writing partner Kelly Lovelace would have in college, where they’d go grocery shopping at the local Kroger market to see who could spend the least on a week’s supply of food: “I could get a week’s worth for $15 to $17,” Paisley says with a laugh. “Kraft macaroni and cheese was 59 cents; a package of Ramen noodles was 99 cents. Milk, cereal, eggs—what else did I need?”

His one indulgence is the private jet he charters when he’s on the road, an expense that’s built into the budget for the tour. Even then, he doesn’t use it daily: He’ll fly to the first stop of a four-day concert weekend on the day of the show, ride the bus between stops, then fly home right after the last one: “It lets me spend more time with my family. Most entertainers at my level do that.”

Paisley sold more than a million concert tickets last year, placing him among the top touring acts in popular music. And he does it by appealing primarily to his base of country-music fans. While he may be a monster guitar player and one of the biggest acts on the country scene, Paisley has yet to cross over to the rest of the music audience the way that, say, teen sensation Taylor Swift has.

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