With the holidays just around the corner, Hannah Bethel remembers her very first public performance. It was Amy Grant's classic "Tennessee Christmas."
"That was my very first solo when I was in fourth grade," she recalled to Billboard. "I had cowboy boots on, and I was really nervous. It was a big moment for me. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I've always loved entertaining people."
That moment was definitely the start of something as Bethel has been making an impact on audiences ever since that moment. Ironically, though she sang about a Christmas season in the Volunteer State, Bethel's grew up far away from the Tennessee hills – Chassell, Michigan.
"It's in the upper peninsula," she says of her birthplace. "It's in the very northern part of Michigan. It's next to Canada. There are a couple thousand people there, but it's pretty secluded, and the scenery is so beautiful," she says.
Bethel, who has just released a new single, "Medicine," from her latest release "The Freedom EP," says she has always been drawn to country music. "It feels like home," she admits. "I've experimented with a lot of other kinds of music, and love listening to rock, blues, and pop, but country always made me feel that I was coming into something that fits me just right. It's always been where my heart was at."
Now, her heart belongs to Nashville. She moved to Music City to study at the famed Belmont University.
"That was an incredible experience," she relates. "I always knew I wanted to come to Nashville, then I found Belmont and their commercial music program. So, I studied there for two years, and learned a ton about music. I made some great contacts, and really developed as a writer and an artist. Towards the end of my second year, I became very involved in the songwriting community, and playing in Nashville, and I decided to make the transition to being a full time musician."
"The Freedom EP," which is Bethel's third studio project, represents a creative departure for the singer. "It's the first project I have worked with another producer on," she says, speaking of her collaboration with Andy Sheridan. "Prior to this, I have produced all my other projects myself." Writing wise, Bethel's words are all over the disc, as she either wrote or co-wrote every track on the set.
The project has received airplay here in the United States, as well as Belgium and New Zealand, and her videos have received play from CMT.com, GAC.com, and The Country Network. Critics have also been raving about the female vocalist, including one that is a little bit tough to impress – Robert K. Oermann.
"I was so humbled by that," she says with a smile. "We were nervous to submit to him for a critique. But it came back very positive, and he was very encouraging. I was very humbled."
As a songwriter, Bethel admits she is always on the lookout for inspiration, as she knows it can come from anywhere at any time. She stated that she tried to pick the best songs she had written for the project. "Most songwriters agree that there is no one way that you go into it. Things can hit you at any time. I was writing for almost two years before I selected the songs for this EP. I just tried to pick the songs that most fit who I am as a person and who I am as an artist. I wanted something that was very much country, but also a little bit different from what's going on right now."
Bethel's talents as a writer were noticed recently by acclaimed tunesmith Skip Ewing, who invited her to a songwriter's workshop in Wyoming that he is involved with.
"That was a really huge deal, and so incredible. I got to spend a week on this horse ranch, working with some of the best writers in the business – with Skip being one of them. Deanna Bryant, Kent Blazy, and Clay Mills were the four mentors. We got to ride horses with them, and learn from their experiences, and work with them one on one on our songs. It definitely had a profound impact on me as a writer. I had a lot of a-ha moments as far as learning the Nashville way of writing and song structure." She said it was a very intimate experience. "There were eight of us that were invited. It was pretty cool to get that one on one time with so many great writers."