A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Oklahoma musician Kaileigh Bullard featured on “Nashville”
The Wagoner native will continue in her role as a backup vocalist and acoustic guitarist for sassy up-and-comer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, “Heroes”) when the second season of the ABC musical drama launches at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Kaileigh Bullard has been fiddling since she was 8 years old, but she plays an acoustic guitarist on TV.
Still, the Wagoner native, 23, is thrilled with the chances she’s had to showcase her voice and skills on the ABC series “Nashville.”
The musical drama launches its second season at 9 p.m. Wednesday, and the singer/songwriter/musician will continue in her supporting role as a backup vocalist and, yes, acoustic guitarist for sassy up-and-comer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, “Heroes”).
“I actually got hired to be her fiddle player,” Bullard said in a recent phone interview. “I show up to rehearsal, and the day before “An assistant had called me and said, ‘Hey, go ahead and bring your acoustic guitar, too.’ And I was like, ‘Well, OK’ … so I brought it. And sure enough, her song that we were doing for the pilot didn’t have any fiddle in it. They were like, ‘Well, can you play acoustic guitar and do background vocals?’ And I said, ‘OK.’
“So that’s kind of how I became her acoustic guitar player. It was not intended to be that way, but I think through the whole season, only one song that we did had fiddle on it, and, of course, by then I was already established as her guitar player.”
Set in Music City, the show stars Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) as a fading country superstar forced by her label to team up with Panettiere’s prickly upstart. Along with recruiting such high-caliber guest stars as Oklahoma native Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Kip Moore, Pam Tillis and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, the series has earned praise for featuring real musicians and original songs by top Nashville scribes.
“I just play enough (guitar) to write. I’m not trying to be a world-class acoustic guitarist, but it’s fun to get to play that,” said Bullard, who first picked up the guitar at age 12. “The show is really great about getting musicians ‘cause they want it to look as believable as possible. I mean, some of the guys just in Juliette’s band, like the drummer is on the road with Kellie Pickler, the bass player is on the road with Billy Currington, one of the steel guitars we’ve had plays for Martina McBride, one plays for Carrie Underwood.
“They’re world-class musicians and just the nicest guys, so it’s really awesome,” she added. “They’re really picky. They really want people who know what they’re doing, so that’s exciting to be a part of something like that.”
Although she dabbled in acting when she was 10 or 11 years old, the lifelong performer said joining the cast of a television series is an opportunity she never expected.
“I was singing, I was dancing, and acting was not something I wanted to pursue. And of course, my parents weren’t going to push me because they knew I was doing what I loved. But “It’s been awesome to see how it’s opened me up to the possibility,” she said. “I’m currently taking an acting class in Nashville that I would’ve never planned on doing. But it’s been so much fun and I’m learning so much. Who knows where this will all lead. … God just placed this in my lap because this was nothing that I ever planned on doing.”
Bullard was 3 years old when she first sang for an audience, belting “Oklahoma!” at a party at her grandma’s workplace.
“I loved it. It was so much fun. And at that point, people were like ‘Oh, she’s got really good pitch to be so young.’ My mom and dad aren’t singers — I think they have beautiful voices, but they would never sing in front of anybody — so it was kind of foreign to them,” she said, adding she also began dance and piano lessons as a tot.
She started singing in competitions when she was 6, and “from then on, there was just no stopping it. I loved being on stage. I was such a painfully shy child, it was crazy, but I would get on stage and I would just light up.”
In 2000, Bullard took on the role of the kid singer on Northeastern State University’s Branson-style show “Downtown Country.” For several summers, she performed with a cast of eight college students — four guys and four ladies — and a live band, and her tenure in the Tahlequah production overlapped with that of future “American Idol” Carrie Underwood, who was on the show in 2003-04.
“It’s so cool to see her success and how she’s thriving,” Bullard said. “I lost touch with her for a little bit, but I was working the CMT Awards in 2010 … and I was backstage and she walked by and she did a double-take. She was like, ‘Kaileigh!’ What are you doing here?’”
The singers were able to catch up via email, and she occasionally sees her superstar pal around Nashville, where Bullard moved in 2008 to attend Belmont University and pursue her country music dreams. But she didn’t hit Music City alone: Bullard’s parents and brother relocated along with the then-17-year-old small-town girl.
“It was something that we prayed about for a long time. It wasn’t like ‘Ah, I think we’ll move to Nashville today.’ You know, it was something that we as a family always felt like we would end up here,” Bullard said, adding her brother, Kolton, 19, is now studying finance at Belmont. “You know, this business, there’s a lot of good, but there’s a lot of bad about it. They just wanted to be a support system for me, and I was so grateful and still am for that.”
Last year, Bullard released her debut EP, which features her fiddling and old-school country sound, and she and her band frequently perform around Music City. Plus, she stays busy penning new music with other songwriters, teaching a children’s choir, and of course, filming episodes of “Nashville,” including the first two installments of Season 2.
“I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say. “Just know that Juliette is still playing music, she’s still as feisty as ever, and fans will get to see more of Nashville for sure,” she said.
“What’s so great about the songs on ‘Nashville’ is that they get these songs from some of the top songwriters in Nashville. They’ve had songwriters like Ashley Monroe that have written for the show. Mallary Hope, Kate York, just some of these really big songwriters in town … and that’s an inspiration to any songwriter to hear their work and be able to play their music.”