He is the quintessential walking billboard for West Virginia University.
And although country music superstar Brad Paisley never studied at WVU – he earned a music business degree in Tennessee – the Glen Dale native has bled gold and blue from a young age. His fondest childhood memories involve fall Saturdays with his father in Morgantown rooting on the Mountaineers.
Paisley returned to WVU in September on his Country Nation College Tour to wow 16,000 fans with his blend of honky-tonk guitar wizardry and cowboy crooning. Before crushin’ it on stage, the three-time Grammy winner spent a few moments with WVU Magazine to leave no mud on the tires regarding “Country Roads,” his favorite Mountaineer memorabilia and all things West Virginia.
QYou played “Country Roads” at Mountaineer Field last year, several years after John Denver performed it here. What does that mean to you?
AIt’s like the national anthem here. It’s a great song. It’s iconic. It’s sort of a worldwide anthem, and I don’t understand why it means anything to anyone who’s not from here. But it does. And it’s a really proud thing for us. It’s such an iconic and wonderful piece of country music history that really is about love for this state. As you imagine, it means a lot to me.
Where’s the farthest place you’ve ever heard "Country Roads?"
England. I’ve heard of people going to China and hearing it. It’s a big karaoke hit over there.
You’re a walking brand ambassador for WVU. Do you have a favorite piece of memorabilia or clothing with the Flying WV?
Coach Holgorsen has signed two helmets for me – one of the white ones with the blue WV and one of the iconic blue helmets with the yellow WV. I have both of those in my house. One is in my bar at the house. That’s a fun item. I don’t know who wore it, but I think it’s from one of the bowl games.
Obviously you’ve never lost sight of your roots. You’re a big supporter of West Virginia and the University. Why do you come back so often?
My parents still live here, and a lot of my friends are still here. West Virginia isn’t an easy place to forget. It’s too ideal. It’s a wonderful place to grow up. You can’t just move on and not want some part of that to stay in your life. I’m trying to bring a piece of that to my kids who are growing up in a totally and completely different way than I did. I’m trying to replicate that a bit.
If you were to enroll in WVU today, what would you study?
Maybe architecture. That would be fun. Not medical school. Or law school. Although law school might be fun, come to think of it.
Your Flying WV-inspired guitar is on display at the Erickson Alumni Center. What’s the story behind that?
Bill Crook, the guy who builds me guitars, built me a gold-and-blue Telecaster in gold-and-blue paisley print. I said, “You should stick a WV on that,” because he’s from here, too. He lives in Moundsville. And so, there it was. It looked great. But I soon realized that we’re not loved by everyone when I play guitar like that on TV. I always think, “This will be really cool.” And then you read Twitter. And Pitt fans aren't happy.
Brad Paisley performs a free concert outside the WVU College of Law in September (Photos by M.G. Ellis).
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