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New Music to Know: How Cole Swindell Went From Luke Bryan’s Merch Guy to Opening Act

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By Annie Reuter

When Cole Swindell took a job as Luke Bryan‘s merch guy, he never imagined it would land him a slot as his opener. But he definitely dreamed about it.

Swindell first met Bryan as a college student at Georgia Southern University, the same school the Crash My Party singer attended a few years earlier. “When I was in college he had already moved to Nashville,” Swindell told Radio.com. “He came into town to do a show [and] me and my buddies were sitting on the front porch of the fraternity house waiting on his show that night. He came up needing to change his strings and played something he had written and I was like, ‘Man, that’s what I have to do.'”

The two kept in touch and when Swindell moved to Nashville nearly six years ago, Bryan happened to need a merch guy. Swindell needed a job, but while on the road he focused on songwriting and began writing with the “Drink A Beer” singer and Florida Georgia Line, who were Bryan’s opening act at the time.

“Just getting to write songs out on the road like that, that’s what got me started,” Swindell said. “Everybody has their own path and mine started through songwriting.”

Swindell has written several songs for Bryan, including “Beer in the Headlights,” “Love in a College Town” and “Shore Thing,” as well as Thomas Rhett‘s “Get Me Some of That,” Scotty McCreery‘s “Water Tower Town” and FGL’s “This Is How We Roll” with Bryan, who also appears on the song. During that time Swindell also wrote his debut single “Chillin’ It.” 

“I just wanted to do something fun,” he said. “After I wrote it, I knew it was special. It ended up getting me a record deal, so it’s a pretty special song.”

The laidback track is an adequate introduction to Swindell’s self-titled debut (out Feb. 18), but it doesn’t display all that he can do as a songwriter. “The album is full of different kinds of songs,” he explained. “I’m not all about ‘Chillin’ It’. That’s not real life. There’s [songs about] heartbreak, where you come from, how you grew up.”

In fact, one of his favorite songs–not just on the album, but that he’s ever written–is the album’s closer, “The Back Roads And the Back Row,” a song that he says tells the story of his life.

“I grew up playing sports before I started singing,” he recalled. “Friday nights we were on that football field, Saturday we might be riding some back roads, chasing girls. But Sunday morning we had our butts in church.”

Swindell now has his own merch guy and can’t wait to give back some of the help he’s gotten. So, what are the chances he will pay it forward and transform his merch guy into his opening act?

“I don’t know, I might need to ask him. He hasn’t said he’s a musician,” Swindell said. “I may have to look into that because he might be leaving in a few years for songwriting or a record deal.”

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