Growing up in Arkansas, actor/musician Grant Alan Watkins has always been surrounded by country music. Through the year, that music, and its many stories, have brought him cherished memories and musical inspiration. Now, Watkins returns to FST to bring the music of artists like Garth Brooks, George Strait, and Brad Paisley – among others – to life onstage in FST’s hit Cabaret, Friends in Low Places.
We sat down with Grant to talk about the show’s rehearsal process, how he manages to play six different instruments in the course of a 90-minute show, and his favorite moments from the run of Friends in Low Places so far.
Friends in Low Places features music of contemporary country artists who pushed the boundaries of the genre but never lost sight of country’s roots: authentic storytelling. What is your personal connection to this music? Are there any songs that have special meaning for you?
I distinctly remember singing George Strait’s “Do You Love Me?” for a girl I liked in 4th grade. Also, Brad Paisley’s version of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” is one of my favorite songs ever. It’s a haunting tale of hard life in Kentucky coal country with a beautiful melody that perfectly encapsulates the somber side of bluegrass music.
And “I’m Gonna Miss Her” always reminds me of riding down old Arkansas highways in the truck with my dad, listening to Brad Paisley’s album, Part II. We would always sing along and have such a wonderful time. Those times with him were fundamental to introducing me to country music, and then, in doing this show, I’ve gained even more love for the songs and the stories they tell.
This is your second time at FST, but your first time performing in an FST Cabaret. What was the rehearsal process like? Did you make any discoveries about the show’s music and/or yourself along the way?
The rehearsal process was tough, but thoroughly rewarding. Who knew creating a show from scratch could be difficult?! We wanted to be faithful to the original recordings while also making the songs our own to highlight each of our strengths as performers. We also made sure that the stories inside the songs come through to the audience. While rehearsing for and performing in Friends in Low Places, I have certainly gotten a lot better and more familiar with the electric guitar, which I play throughout the show.
FST’s Friends in Low Places has been running at FST since November 2021 and has been seen by thousands of people. Have there been any unscripted surprises or memorable moments with the audience that you’d like to share?
Occasionally, the whole audience will sing along to the chorus of “Country Roads,” and when that happens, I love being able to step back from the microphone and let their voices fill the room. It’s a beautiful moment of connection between them and the five of us on stage, and it’s a testament to the timelessness of the song and how much it means to so many people.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
As my cast mates will attest (and maybe to their chagrin), I always have my electric guitar with me before we go onstage, playing through songs and guitar riffs from the show. It helps get my fingers and mind warmed up for the performance. Once we get onto the stage and tune up before the show, I always make sure to play a few banjo riffs to make sure I remember those, too!
In Friends in Low Places, you not only sing, but you also play six musical instruments – drums, electric guitar, banjo, electric bass, mandolin, and acoustic guitar. What’s it like to switch from musical instrument to musical instrument multiple times in the span of 90 minutes?
In a word, exhilarating! It keeps me on my toes for sure, and I love being able to figure out how the instrument I’m playing contributes to the particular song and band dynamic as a whole.