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Dukes taking the country music industry by storm

Copperman with Dierks Bentley
Ross Copperman ('04) is one of the most sought-after songwriters in country music, having written hits for such artists as Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan. In March, he performed with Dierks Bentley (above, right) at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

SUMMARY: ACM Songwriter of the Year Ross Copperman ('04), three members of the breakthrough band Old Dominion and Taylor Swift's guitarist are among the JMU alumni musicians making a name for themselves in Music City.

From the May 2016 digital issue of Madison.

The road from Harrisonburg to Nashville is full of twists and turns, but a bevy of JMU alumni have staked their claim in Music City and are enjoying rewarding careers on the stage and in the studio.

Ross Copperman (’04), the Academy of Country Music’s 2016 Songwriter of the Year, and three of the members of the band Old Dominion, winner of ACM’s New Duo/Group of the Year, began their careers as Dukes.

“The music department drew me to JMU,” Copperman said. “I knew I wanted to do something in music, and JMU had the best program around. Then I came up with my parents and did a tour of the school and absolutely fell in love with the campus. I knew it was meant to be.”

While at JMU, Copperman was focused on a career as a performer. “It's where everything started for me,” he said. The talented music major was playing shows at Taylor Down Under and building a following when he got the opportunity to open for country music star Phil Vassar (’85), who was returning to his alma mater for a performance in October 2003 on the heels of an ACM award for Male Vocalist of the Year and a string of No.1 hits.

After the show, Vassar’s keyboard player, Clay Ryder, invited Copperman to come to Nashville to record an album. “I took him up on the offer and made my first record, ‘Believe,’ in the basement studio at EMI,” Copperman said.

Copperman joined the National Association for Campus Activities touring circuit, playing colleges all over the country. That led to a record deal with Sony UK. “After two years [living and recording] in London, I decided to make the move to Nashville.”

Today Copperman is one of the most sought-after songwriters in country music, having written hits for such artists as Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan.

Old Dominion group
Old Dominion band members (L to R) Trevor Rosen, Geoff Sprung ('01), Matthew Ramsey, Brad Tursi ('02) and Whit Sellers ('01) are touring the country in support of their debut album, "Meat and Candy."

Like Copperman, Old Dominion bassist Geoff Sprung (‘01) chose JMU on the strength of its music program. “The largest part of preparing me for my career was putting me in an environment where I was surrounded by talented people,” Sprung said. “I learned a lot about music and the music business from my professors, but just as much from the people sitting next to me in the classes.”

At Madison, Sprung met drummer Whit Sellers (‘00) and guitarist Brad Tursi (‘02). After college, the three men would eventually find their way to Nashville separately as songwriters, performers and session players before teaming up with Trevor Rosen and Matthew Ramsey to form Old Dominion.

The band is currently touring the country on the success of their acclaimed debut album “Meat and Candy,” which features the singles “Snapback” and “Break Up With Him.”

Meadows and others in Hburg
Guitarist Mike Meadows ('00), now a member of Taylor Swift's band, with Devin Malone ('01), another Nashville-based musician alum, and future Old Dominon band members at a show in Harrisonburg in 2001.

Count another Nashville-based JMU alum, Mike Meadows (’00), among Old Dominion’s fans. “Been wearing out this new record,” Meadows, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, tweeted in November 2015. “Go buy it if you haven’t yet!”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in cello performance at JMU, the Danville, Virginia, native performed with the Pat McGee Band as a bassist and vocalist. In 2009, he joined Taylor Swift’s band, The Agency, on the “Fearless” tour.

Meadows continues to play guitar, banjo and other stringed instruments for Swift while also working and recording with country music artist and former “American Idol” contestant Josh Gracin. In 2015, he released a five-song EP, “When You Need Someone, Volume One.”

Published: Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Last Updated: Friday, May 18, 2018

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