Shawn Keller has big dreams.
The 19-year-old from Gillette, Wyoming, has been playing baseball for years and wants pick up a scholarship from a college in Vermont. The pitcher and midfielder has also recently transitioned to catcher and most evenings find him on a baseball diamond.
What Keller never dreamed of was a career in music, but that path might be unfolding for him.
In October, a family friend invited Keller to play some music at the People’s Patriot Project event in Nashville, which raised money and awareness for homeless veterans. His performance caught the attention of Glen Cain with the Real Country Band, who took Keller under his wing and introduced him to others in the music business.
Last month, Keller competed in the North America Country Music Association’s international competition in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and was named the 2023 Horizon Male Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the year ages 17-20.
“We had a hell of a time,” Keller told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s been awesome.”
All In the Family
Keller didn’t set out to pursue music, although it was a constant presence in his life.
Since he was young, members of his family have gathered for jam sessions once a week playing bluegrass and folk tunes.
“They say I was 4 or 5 years old when I started messing around with playing the guitar,” said Keller.
A family friend, Barrett Norris, taught Keller to play guitar and became a valuable mentor, encouraging him to improve his instrumental skills, which he has maintained by practicing Tuesday nights with his mom, aunts, uncles and cousins.
“It's just the ‘Hunter Family Band,’ but we don't do paid gigs or anything like that,” said Keller. “Usually, when we actually do go and play somewhere, we go up to the senior citizens center or the old folks home, and we just play a half hour set or whatever.”
In addition to singing, Keller said he plays acoustic and electric guitar as well as the banjo, “and then I'm trying to pick up the fiddle, but it's not going great,” he said with a laugh.
But outside of jamming with his family, Keller said he’s had no formal training and has never performed solo.
“I was in honor choir in sixth grade and played guitar in jazz band in eighth grade, but other than that, I've never done band stuff,” he said. “This kind of took me by surprise, because I had no intention or any expectation of ever being a musician professionally.”
It’s Who You Know
Keller said he was introduced to the People’s Patriot Project by the organization’s founder, Mark Peterson.
“He was one of my grandparents’ ‘Young Life’ kids,” said Keller, referring to the nationwide youth ministry organization. “And he ended up living with them for a while, so he was kind of like a brother to my mom growing up.”
Keller said because of Peterson’s history with the family, he knew that Keller played music with his family band and facilitated his introduction to the professional musicians in the Nashville event in October.
“He just kind of gave me a shot to meet more people,” said Keller. “But when we got down there, I guess the people that I was playing for absolutely loved it, and there were a whole bunch of musicians down there that were trying to help me out.”
Keller’s recent awards categorized him as “traditional country,” but he said he appreciates a variety of styles and genres, and writes his own songs as well.
“A lot of my influences come from anywhere from traditional country, through to the ’90s country stuff,” he said. “And even now, I get really big into, like, the Turnpike Troubadours.”
A New Direction
Now that he’s been introduced to the country music world, Keller said he’s become focused on getting his music heard.
“Right now I'm trying to do the research and figure out what I can do to start booking gigs,” he said. “I’m trying to get kind of a social media fan base going so that I have something out there.”
Although he ruefully admits he “sucks at technology,” Keller said he’s started posting to social media platforms, including Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.
“I have no idea how any of the social media stuff works,” he said. “So, I'm getting some help with that as I'm starting it up.”
Keller said he has begun working with a studio in South Dakota to get at least one of his singles recorded.
“And then I'm going to get that out on whatever I can, whether it be Spotify or however I can get it out there,” he said. “And it's probably going to end up on some radio stations back east somewhere because I've had some disc jockeys ask for them.”