For some people, becoming a musician and releasing an album is a dream that will never come true, but one Bluefield University student is finding his dream is becoming a reality.
Benjamin Mays, a junior majoring in history, knew from a young age he wanted to be a musician.
“I always sang, I was in plays as a kid in elementary school. In 6th grade I joined band and started playing the trumpet, in 8th grade I started playing the violin, and in 9th grade, I picked up a guitar and banjo,” said Mays, who can play seven instruments.
His first studio album, “Looking for a Fire,” will be released Friday, March 1, on every online music platform, including Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube.
“There’s a music festival every year at Smith Mountain Lake alongside the festival where people do live music over Labor Day weekend,” said Mays. “Leading up to that there’s a five-week songwriting/performance competition where you come and sing songs you’ve written.”
Lyrics on the Lake (LOTL) Songwriting Festival started in 2012 as a fundraising event and has become the largest songwriter’s festival on the east coast. Since 2012, LOTL has hosted over 200 songwriters, raised $100,000, and hosted an average of 6,000 attendees per year.
“I won everything,” said Mays. “WDBJ7 did a news story about it, and that got me some exposure. Some guy approached me and was like, ‘Listen, I really like what you’re doing so do you have anything that we could present to record labels so we can get a foot in the door?’ I told him I didn’t have anything professional, and he offered to pay for it, so he has paid for pretty much anything.”
This “some guy” was James Alexander, a man who is connected to a talent scout in Nashville, Tennessee who takes recommendations for new artists.
“This is a big deal that someone was willing to put down over a thousand dollars for me to be able to do this, for someone to believe in you like that. You just need that one person to pay attention to you,” Mays said appreciatively.
Through the contest with LOTL, Mays has the opportunity to go to Nashville, Tennessee for a week to meet with record labels and influential people in the Nashville music community, though he chose to attend in summer 2020 after he has graduated from Bluefield University.
Before the dream of an album started becoming a reality, Mays attended Virginia Western Community University. Mays’ father is an alumnus of Bluefield University, although he never considered attending here until he spoke with former admissions counselor Timothy Hegerich. He looked further into Bluefield and found himself starting here last fall, along with his fiancée Laura Patsel.
Mays says admissions counselor Will Workman has taught him a lot and has been quite influential since he started attending Bluefield University. “We jammed together one day, and that lit more of a fire underneath me. He’s a really talented musician and made me realize how good it is to share the love of music.”
Featured musicians on Mays’ album are Ryan Hunt on the piano, Peyton Gentry on the drums, and Dylan Walsh on the bass. For more information about the album “Looking for a Fire,” email Benjamin Mays at [email protected].