County star to give back with Temple fundraisers
DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
Eric Paslay will be performing twice in his hometown of Temple during 2023, and he is already planning his dual homecomings.
“I make the trip to Temple a couple times a year to see extended family, but I haven’t played there in at least four years,” Paslay said today from the back porch of his Tennessee ranch house. He took a short break from carving pumpkins with Piper, his 4-year-old daughter, to call Our Town Temple to discuss the upcoming shows.
“My immediate family now lives in Tennessee, but I have a ton of uncles, aunts, cousins and friends who are in Temple, and I try to make it down as often as possible,” he said.
In 2023, however, his visits will include a March 11 stop at the Cultural Activities Center and a concert at MLK Fairgrounds on April 1.
The CAC show — High Class Blue Jean Night — will be part of a fundraiser presented by The Contemporaries, an organization that supports the educational, cultural and civic affairs of the community, and provides volunteer and financial support to the Center. The Downtown performance will be part of a six-band fundraising concert for Texas Lions Camp.
“Both the CAC and the Texas Lions Camp have played big roles in my life,” Eric said. “They helped me develop into who I am today, and I am thrilled to be able to help them with fundraisers.”
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Paslay, a top country singer and songwriter, graduated from Temple High School in 2001 and was involved in the school’s theatre department.
Natasha Tolleson, former head of the Temple High theatre department, fondly remembers Eric’s days at THS.
“Eric was very active in the theatre program,” she said Monday. “He was so creative and hard working. He would bring his guitar to rehearsals and cast parties, and he would play. All the kids would gather around him and listen or sing along.”
“Eric was a friend to everyone — a humble and nice guy,” Tolleson said. “In A Christmas Carol he was the Ghost of Christmas Present and in The Wiz he was the Scarecrow. Those two roles are so fitting of Eric’s generosity and friendship.”
Although Eric wasn’t in the band at Temple High, he was in a band during his school years.
“I started playing the guitar when I was about 15, and I played in a jam band called Native Tourists. We just got together and played. We all played different styles, but we liked each other and we liked each other’s music, so it worked out.”
“I was into country with a bit of Dave Matthews influence mixed in,” he said. “We were pretty good.”
Following graduation, Eric headed to Tennessee to be “around music.”
“I went to Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, south of Nashville,” he said. “I studied music business, that way if a singing career didn’t work out I would have something to fall back on but still be in the music industry.”
The singing and songwriting definitely have worked out.
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As a young student in Temple ISD, Eric attended Meredith Magnet School, and from third to fifth grade, he was involved with the production of several school musicals.
“I wouldn’t be a successful entertainer if it wasn’t for that school and its teachers,” he said. “A lot of people — including myself — are natural introverts. We have to learn to be extroverts. I loved to sing, but being pushed out on stage made a huge impact and developed my confidence. I use that experience every night when I step onto a stage.”
“The Cultural Activities Center was the Mecca of stages when I was growing up,” Eric said. “It was the biggest stage in town. My confidence grew every time I stepped foot on that CAC stage, and fortunately I was in several productions there.”
“I got to steal an apple from Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer, and I played Nana the Dog in Peter Pan,” he said with a chuckle. “As Nana, it was my job to shake my butt so the audience would laugh and not pay attention to kids getting hooked to wires so they could fly. In fifth grade, I played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.”
Eric said these roles helped shape his life.
“They provided great memories and were major events in my life,” he said. “They encouraged me to be an entertainer and gave me the confidence to step on stage. I still get nervous, but I have the confidence I need to succeed.”
Years later, backstage at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville before his first performance at The Grand Ole Opry, a chance encounter with veteran entertainer Ricky Skaggs solidified that confidence.
“I was backstage standing next to Ricky, and he looked at me and asked: ‘You nervous, kid? You need to be. But if you love what you do and always do your best, you will be successful.’”
“Ricky was right, and my heart will always be nervous on the CAC stage.”
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The April 1 concert at the Festival Grounds will feature Paslay, The Voice finalist Holly Tucker and four other bands, plus a big Corn Hole tournament, said Lisle Meeker, a member of the Temple Breakfast Lions Club, the organization spearheading the festival.
The concert will raise money for Texas Lions Camp, a program near and dear to Paslay’s heart. In fact, the fundraiser was his idea.
As a child, Eric was a patient of Dr. Stephen Ponder, a Temple physician and a member of the Breakfast Lions Club.
“Eric was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes around age 10,” Ponder said. “I was his diabetes doctor at Scott & White. I also was the medical director at Texas Lions Camp, and I encouraged him to attend.”
Not only did Paslay go to camp, he was named Best Camper during one of the five sessions he attended.
“Eric wrote a song for a talent show we had there,” Ponder said. “He later told me it was at Texas Lions Camp where he realized he could be a songwriter.”
Paslay remembers that song well.
“The song was about a Winnie the Pooh piñata that was badly beaten up at camp,” Eric said. “I named the piñata Lucky and wrote a ridiculous camp song about him.”
“Camp was a lot of fun, but I learned so much that I still use today,” he said.
“The Texas Lions Camp has multiple sessions every summer — sessions for burn victims, sessions for cancer sufferers, sessions for diabetic kids. I attended the diabetic sessions, and learned that I wasn’t alone in my fight with the disease. I met amazing doctors, nurses and dietitians, and I still take care of myself because of the information I received at camp.”
“Because of Texas Lions Camp, I had planned to be a doctor,” he said. “But I later found out I was a pretty good song writer. That’s a big switch, but my parents were always supportive.”
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Paslay continues to write songs for himself and other performers.
“I’m going to work on a song today,” he said. “But not until Piper and I finish this pumpkin. That’s my priority today.”
“I’m always writing,” he said. “I’ll write a song and see where it lands. Earlier this summer, I did a 25-show swing through the UK. That was a lot of fun. My wife, Natalie, and I bought a 102-year-old farmhouse north of Nashville and we’re fixing it up — renovating the house and the farm. I’m doing a lot of the work myself. Dad alway taught me to save money and spend time.”
Musically, Eric has a few more shows scheduled before he heads to Temple.
“I cannot wait to go home and play, hangout and tell folks ‘thank you’ for giving me such an awesome place to grow up,” he said. “But first I’m stopping at Green’s Sausage House for poppy seed kolaches.”