Faces and Places: Matthew Huff: singing as he chases his dream
Many people live their whole lives having a passion for something in life, but never get the chance to pursue it. Mammoth Spring native Matthew Huff has made the decision to chase his dream as a country music singer/songwriter.
Huff's parents, Matt and Karen, moved to Mammoth Spring when Huff was four years old, and he graduated from Mammoth Spring High School in 1998. Growing up in the rural community, he loved music but it never occurred to him that he could become a professional musician.
"In the years prior to American Idol and The Voice, growing up in this little town, the reality of becoming something more than a middle class or blue collar worker wasn't really reality. We were taught to work for what you have, work to make a living, work to feed your family, small town morals and ethics that seem to carry on in all little towns," Huff said. "There wasn't a big enough influence in my life to help me get off the ground and set my wings to Nashville. That would come much later in life," Huff said.
Huff graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education, and taught elementary school for six years in Conway. Huff wrote his first song in 2008, which turned out to be a stepping stone to where he is now. Back Again, the title of his first recorded release, peaked at number 39 on the Music Row Breakout Chart in September 2010. He made that progress with just the help from a couple of promoters and small radio tour. "The significance of this is that as, as a new, independent artist with no big money, no label, it was a tremendous accomplishment to hit a Top 40 song right out of the gate. As the song climbed the chart, I made the decision to resign (from teaching) in May of 2010 and have been full time music ever since," Huff said.
Three years later, Huff is no superstar, but the way he sees it, whether you're from a small community or big city, making it as a musician is no easy feat. "I look at it like this: a farmer looks over a field of weeds, grass and unplowed clay and sees rows of beautifully grown cotton, corn, beans, and wheat. It takes years of learning this craft and, if you know a farmer's hours, you know the hours put in to turn a field in to a good harvest. The music business is much the same metaphorically," Huff said. He said the journey is emotionally, mentally and physically draining, but the key to pushing forward is visualizing the end result.
While Huff travels the country playing his music and trying to establish fan bases, he still finds it important to play shows locally. "This area, this town and even Thayer, it's all home to me," Huff said. "If you've grown up in a small town, you know there isn't much to do outside of the river, dirt roads and bonfires, so it's nice to have a little music to go listen to every now and again," Huff said. He hopes he can be an inspiration to other young musicians. "I feel that had I had someone to coach me or give me just a little insight on what to do when I was younger, I think I might have pursued the music career a lot younger in life. Mammoth Spring, historically, is rich with music history but no one really knows this," Huff said. The George D. Hay Music Hall is something he feels is very important in the area but has always been overlooked.
Like so many others before him, Huff has learned that the music industry can be tough and even discouraging at times, but he has no regrets on his newest career choice. "Since resigning from teaching and taking on music full-time, I have moved out of my house in central Arkansas and rented it, gave up a stable steady career and gave up my own business, Grassy Lake Retrievers, that I had started in 2004. I have moved about four times, placed everything I own in storage besides music gear and clothes, and stay on the road as much as I can bouncing from friend or family members' spare bedrooms. The lack of stability and mental strain really wears me down more than anything."
Through all the sacrifices, Huff said sharing and playing his own music is what keeps him going. "I love entertaining people, whether it's a crowd of 20 or 2,000. Any musician will tell you that they don't do it for the money; they do it because they love it. It's the drive inside of me. I have to keep burning down the highway to get from one gig to the next," Huff explained. His determination and passion outweigh all the negatives. On this journey Huff said he has learned that he doesn't need a lot to be happy and that he is happier now than he has ever been. "It's funny that once you go without "things" you realize they are just things and things can be replaced at any given time. I find positives in knowing that I can be home in Mammoth Spring hanging with my friends, and tomorrow I could be in Florida playing a month's worth of shows. I always try to look for the bright spots."
The final thing that drives his determination is the hope of making it "big." "Making it big is to be determined by the beholder of the career. Some musicians don't want any more than just to be playing small bars for their whole career, and some just enjoy making a living writing. The 'one percenters' that make it 'big' are the ones that got the right break, met the right person at the right time, but didn't do that without putting in a tremendous amount of work to get there." The inspirational stories of artists like Blake Shelton and Eric Church are ones the really make Huff stay on track. "I'm too far in to turn back now, so I just keep going one day, one show, and one town at a time."
If you're a fan or have never heard Huff, his next local show will be on Friday, July 5, when he opens for singer Mark Chesnut at Thayer's Red, White and Blue Barbeque Blowout. Visit his website for current news and show listings, www.matthewhuffofficial.com or follow him on Facebook by "liking" his page.