Hunter Hayes Says ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp Is 'Why We Love Country Music'

Ross Copperman and Hunter Hayes
Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Academy of Country Music

Ross Copperman and Hunter Hayes attend the ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp Studio Day With Hunter Hayes And Ross Copperman on June 22, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Just like any artist who's been in the industry awhile, Hunter Hayes has moments where he becomes a little jaded. However, Monday morning was not one of them. The Grammy-winning performer visited Nashville’s Ocean Way Studios to make an appearance at the 2015 ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp.

A partnership with Nashville’s Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, the camp allows children with Williams Syndrome to learn more about music and the art of making a record. This year, campers enjoyed a Bluebird Café experience with Scotty McCreery, a Wildhorse Saloon meet-and-greet with JT Hodges, as well as karaoke with The Swon Brothers. With the help of Ross Copperman and Heather Morgan, the campers wrote a song titled “Wherever You Go,” which they recorded Monday morning. Hayes stopped by to see how the session was going and admitted to Billboard that the experience reminded him of all that is good in music.

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“That’s what music is about,” he said following the session. “That’s why we love country music. It’s about telling your story. It puts it back into the spirit that it should be. We make music because we love to make music, and they do too. That spreads, and it’s very inspiring. It changes the spirit of your day, month, week or year. Having that experience, I feel very fortunate.”

After the session, Hayes took time to answer questions and pose for pictures with the campers. “It was just incredible,” he said. “That’s real music passion right there. Everyone was telling me how awesome this camp was going to be, and it far exceeded my expectations. It was special.”

Hayes’ ACM Lifting Lives experience is not over, however. Tonight, on the Grand Ole Opry, the campers will join him during his set to perform the song, which he says he greatly identified with. “The lyrics of that song are messages that I love to sing about. As soon as I heard about it, it resonated with me. The fact that they wrote it and everything else about it makes this such a spectacular moment.”

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Camper Seth Link told Billboard that he looks forward to this week all year long. “This is my 11th year. It’s been great. We’ve worked hard on the song, and everyone has been amazing together. It’s been one big happy family. Every year the song is different, so it’s always interesting to record a different song than in the past. It’s a cool experience.”

Link said he enjoys learning about each step of the creative process. “You go into a record store, and you listen to them on the radio, but nobody really knows just how the process works unless they’ve seen it being done. This camp brings to life how everything works together. You start with the songwriting process, then you practice, and then you track and get to the recording studio, perform it, then perform it the next night. It’s incredible for all the campers.”

ACM Lifting Lives’ Hannah Martin says that the event is a yearly highlight for the charity arm of the organization. “I love it. It’s one of our staff’s favorite times of the year. This is my third camp, and so many of the campers I’ve gotten to know, like Seth. I love getting to see them each year, hear their ideas and see them grow. From year to year, I don’t know how they come up with the ideas, but they are so good. They are such a blessing to all of us.”

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The week would not be possible were it not for the participation of the artists, says Martin. “We’ve had such an outpouring of love from the artist community. They really make this all possible. I get to do the fun part, in working with the artists who come in and hang out with the campers, while Vanderbilt is doing all of the research, so they can go out and help out others with Williams Syndrome.”

And Hayes admitted that he just might have found some jamming partners, with two of the campers slyly telling him they played upright bass and mandolin, respectively. "I was struck to hear them talk about playing upright bass. That’s one of my favorite instruments. And one of them plays the mandolin, which is really cool. Each of them is musically talented, in so many ways. You can see the passion and love they have for it, which is awesome. This is a great event…for all of us.”

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