Hunter Billingsley has music in his blood. A 22-year-old native to the Texas Hill Country, Hunter comes by his love of music and natural proclivities for it honestly. His great aunt was a Broadway singer. His cousin, Donald Braswell, finished 4th place on America’s Got Talent and toured throughout Europe. His grandfather was an accomplished concert pianist.
“The first thing I ever really wanted to be was a musician. Maybe I wanted to be an astronaut before that, but you know how that goes. I was about 6 years old, and we were living in Austin for a while. I don’t know exactly when, but the music bug got in my ear. I saw some live recordings of Stevie Ray Vaughan and it really grabbed me.”
His dad, James, has always been a driving force of encouragement behind Hunter’s desire to pursue music. James gave Hunter his first guitar for his 6th birthday, though it wasn’t until around the age of 14 that more dedication to music developed and guitar lessons began.
Between lessons and spending time at the public library in Comfort looking up YouTube videos on playing guitar, Hunter’s skill began to unfurl. He recalls during that summer of being 14, spending a lot time sitting on the porch playing in front of his parent’s store, 7th Heaven Cafe. “Our store was right across the street from the library. I would watch videos of things I liked and began to work on them. Sitting there on the porch, I’d have my guitar and amplifier turned down low practicing the things I was learning.”
At 16 his need to play started to snowball. His first gig was in Comfort at the Branch On High, which is the tasting room for Bending Branch Winery. His dad being a well-connected storeowner in town helped get him in to play at their Thursday night potluck. Though it was unpaid, he came away with over $100 in tips—a treasure chest to a boy of 16 that was earned from doing something he loved doing more than anything.
That began a season of a weekly gig every Thursday for Hunter, and where he really cut his teeth and honed his abilities. Early on, he realized how much he enjoyed being in front of people with a guitar in his hands conveying his passion for music. Though quite mild-mannered (in the best way possible), Hunter finds he really comes alive in a unique way when he’s performing in front of an audience.
He exudes a refreshing sense of calm and maturity for a young man of 22. We talked about the “business” of music. His understanding of the fact that music takes real work to make a living; that it’s not all “glamorous” and “romantic” will contribute to his success, however that ends up looking for him. The expectations he holds for his future are grounded in reality and that he wants to be in this journey for the long haul.
The conversation turned to film and he shared about his current favorite, “The Graduate,” which is such a wonderfully unanticipated response from someone born 30 years after its 1967 release. He notes the authentic and quirky sense of storytelling, the general energy of the film, and brilliant soundtrack provided by the inimitable Simon and Garfunkel as sources of inspiration.
“The whole idea behind the movie is extremely relatable for me at this time. Dustin Hoffman’s character is 21, just out of college, and he has no idea what he’s doing. All of a sudden his life has come to this crossroads, and he doesn’t really know how to proceed. Those feelings definitely feed into my love for that movie, beyond what a great piece of art it is, I also totally get that head space.”
Distilling the unique energy of that film serves as a source of inspiration for Hunter as he approaches creating his own art.
Hunter is making the move to Nashville in hopes of forging new relationships and opportunities to showcase his talent within the industry. Whatever happens with his career going forward, it’s apparent that he will certainly have a hand in creating musical art that’s special.
There’s a sense his personal impact in the world of music will play out several different ways. Between hearing how he views and analyzes films and listens to music, while breaking down the elements of sound and songwriting, Hunter approaches art in a broadly-developed sense for someone so young.
His desire for authenticity and meaning often seem to be sadly fleeting in the prevailing spirit of today’s time. He gets that people respond to sincerity. The “hey, look at me,” brand of so much of social media is a turn off to him. The reality that Hunter wants to create art that says something of value and that makes people feel things that matter is apparent.
Though he already has several years of performing his music at numerous shows around the area under his belt, this is only the beginning of his journey. It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that good things are coming from Hunter Billingsley, and I hope for him, as well.
Hunter’s Instagram: billingsley_the_hunter
Photos by: Daniel Samaniego (Instagram: Daniel_samaniego._)