ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
Musicians have the opportunity to earn accolades from many different entities and recently, one of Liberal’s own has done just that.
Last week, the Kansas Music Hall of Fame announced Jerrod Niemann is this year’s recipient of the Bill Lee Award, named after Kansas Music Hall of Fame founder Bill Lee. The award recognizes potential inductees currently active and deemed worthy by the Kansas Music Hall of Fame board for early induction, especially those with a significant national/international profile. Standard rules for potential Kansas Music Hall of Fame inductees include having started their careers in the field of music at least 20 years ago. Niemann said getting word of the honor was very surprising.
“The day all of the awards were announced, Joe Denoyer actually contacted me first and let me know what was going on, and I thought it was really cool to get the news from someone back home,” Niemann said. “There are a lot of people who use the term surreal and how humbling certain events are, and it's true. I frequently think about growing up in Liberal and walking through the parks and going to school and everything else I did back then. Music's something I've wanted to do since I was little kid and there are a lot of times I start thinking about those moments. My parents owned a skating rink there in town and I was there a lot when I was little, and I always associated music with fun, and I think about all the miles I've traveled and everywhere I've been able to go. I've been fortunate to play in a lot of different places and I always take a piece of home with me. I'm proud to be from Liberal and from Kansas, and it's actually kind of tough to put into words how I feel about this award because there are so many great memories I'm fortunate to have from growing up in Liberal.”
The ceremony will take place later this year, and Niemann said he is excited to make his way back to Kansas.
“The ceremony is going to be April 15 up in Lawrence, so I'll have the chance to come back to Kansas – I won't be able to make it to my neighborhood exactly, but I always love when I'm able to make it back to Kansas,” Niemann said. “I also can't wait to meet my fellow honorees and Kansas musicians, they're all incredibly talented and are just as deserving to be there. It's actually pretty rare to come across someone from Kansas here in Nashville, so I always cherish those moments. With the ceremony, I'm excited to take everything in and be part of something bigger than myself. What's great about being a musician is if you're lucky enough, you get to play in a bunch of cool places, and whether it's a concert there in Liberal or a show I'm doing for the troops overseas, I always take a piece of home with me, and it's pretty neat how everything comes full circle back to where you begin. There are several sports hall of fame facilities and those places, but this is something really personal and helps me realize how deep my roots run.”
One of the things Niemann said he is looking forward to with the future of his career is continuing his work with performing for military personnel.
“I've been doing performances for the troops for about seven years now, it's something I've enjoyed doing. I did a couple holiday trips overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan and Germany, and I was actually in Poland this past Christmas and New Year's,” Niemann said. “I've also been to Spain and Kuwait and Romania and just a bunch of other places, basically anywhere that's nice enough to invite us. What was particularly cool with my trip to Poland, a lot of those personnel were from Fort Riley, so it was cool to be both half the globe away from home but also almost in the neighborhood at the same time. Growing up in Liberal, it is rather in the middle of nowhere and it's a small town, so what's really cool is with every small town we travel through, they all have something they're known for. Liberal's got the Yellow Brick Road and the Mid-America Air Musem and Pancake Day and all those festivities, so it's great to come across these small towns with their parades and smaller fairs and all of that, and that gives me some nostalgia. You never know where you'll end up, and music's a great gateway to a lot of great places and a lot of great people.”
Niemann added there are some projects he is currently working on he is excited about, and said there are some other things he is excited about for the future.
“I'm getting the Bill Lee Award, he's the one who started the Kansas Music Hall of Fame, and it's a great reminder for me because sometimes you get extra caught up in the business because you're working on projects,” Niemann said. “When you write a song and someone later tells you 'We played that song at my relative's funeral' or 'That song was our first dance at our wedding,' it brings you back to why you get into music, and having the opportunity to go to the ceremony reminds me there's a bigger picture and how I'm just one of many voices spreading music and melodies and helping shape memories for people. When you create music, I feel like you're downloading it from God as a gift for other people to hear, and it's the best feeling in the world when you finish a song. Ultimately, not ALL of them will be heard due to one circumstance or another, but the ones that are special enough to get recorded and put on an album, it's an amazing feeling. It's a wonderful reminder of what my career has been like and also how much music has brought to my life. I've been working on some new music with Garth Brooks' daughter, Allie Colleen, who's super talented, and I've also been working on some new music with my band and trying to put together a fun summer album that can be cranked up high in the car and after finishing the work week. At the moment, putting the album together is the focus and we're not really planning anything tour-related at the moment, but it is something we want to do. However, we will be doing a few shows here and there and we're talking with Armed Forces Entertainment about visiting Asia and some other parts of the world we haven't been able to visit yet.”
Overall, Niemann said, he is thankful for the opportunities he has had during his music career.
“I would love to thank the Kansas Music Hall of Fame for the Bill Lee Award, and I would like to thank everyone there in Liberal for their support, including all my friends and my parents,” Niemann said. “There are so many memories I have from growing up there that I've been able to draw on when writing my music, so if I hadn't had the childhood I did, who knows how my life would have ultimately panned out. I'm extremely grateful for all that support, and I couldn't have done it without everyone.”