So you want to be a country-rock star?
The way Michael Christopher sees it, all it takes is one song.
Christopher — blue-eyed, square-jawed, bestubbled — of Penn Township, is backstage at the Crawford County Fair, about two hours north of Pittsburgh. His eponymous band opens for Chris Higbee in 30 minutes. But for now, Christopher is discussing what it will take, from both himself and the music-industry elites, for him to become a national act.
"It sounds cliché, but at the end of the day, it really comes down to the song," he says. "You have to find that song that's gonna catch. And then once you feel that you have that, or somebody feels that you have a specific song, that song needs to be out there — you have to find the right group, or right person, who has the right in, to help you get that song out there."
Michael Christopher Palguta — he dropped his last name for his stage name — has been playing guitar-heavy country-rock in and around Western Pennsylvania, and further up and down the East Coast, for the past seven years. He estimates that the band plays about 100 shows a year, and calls summertime the group's "bread and butter."
"Strawberry festivals, pumpkin fairs, county fairs," he says, counting on his fingers all the different types of events he's played. "We also do private events, open for national acts. We will play at casinos, you name it. A couple weeks ago we opened for Big Smo, who's a country rapper. We're all over the map."
He wasn't always a country enthusiast: During high school, in Blairsville, Indiana County, Christopher preferred bands like Metallica, AC/DC and Journey. In fact, "I never listened to country at all," he sheepishly admits. It was his then-girlfriend (now his wife) who made the introduction.
"She took me to a line-dancing place," Christopher recalls. "And I was there, and I'm like, 'Wow, this is actually really cool music.' I just loved it. I loved the fact that the songs actually told stories."
That was 10 years ago. It would take a couple more years until his first gig, at Bella Luna, an Italian restaurant off Route 22 in Murrysville. Since then, Christopher has released a handful of EPs and recorded an album of original songs, 2012's You and the Open Road, in Nashville, co-produced by Kent Wells, best known for his work with Dolly Parton.
Besides recording and touring year-round, and approaching fatherhood for the first time — his wife is due in September — Christopher says he is waiting to hear back from, as he puts it, "an independent music group in Nashville." The band would not necessarily be signed to this particular label directly, but would associate with its development side, which helps to push artists and their songs onto major labels and radio.