Thornton students play alongside Keith Urban at the American Country Awards


While many undergraduate students search for a path on which to travel, some talented and dedicated individuals are lucky enough to have found their passion and are seeing their aspirations become reality. Brandon Combs and Devon Eisenbarger are two such lucky individuals who, on Dec. 10, performed on stage at the American Country Awards with renowned country music artist Keith Urban.

Devon Eisenbarger takes center stage as she plays guitar with Keith Urban. – Courtesy of Devon Eisenbarger

The opportunity first arose for these up-and-coming musicians due to their participation in a week-long summer program for high school musicians held here at USC called Grammy Camp, which is a subset of the Grammy in the Schools program. Urban, being a supporter of the Grammy Foundation’s efforts to bring music to youth, decided to invite a group of Grammy Camp alumni to play with him on stage.

“This was my first opportunity playing with someone of Keith’s caliber,” Eisenbarger said. “I was really quite nervous leading up to the show … Once I was actually up there performing, despite the thousands of people watching, I felt very at home.”

Her feeling of security was obvious as Urban and the Grammy Camp alumni performed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Crossroads.” One got the impression that this performance was completely organic — there were neither choreographed dance moves nor elaborate costumes. Eisenbarger, Combs and everyone on that stage looked as if they could have been playing in front of fifty people at a bar or in a friend’s basement.

One aspect of playing guitar that Eisenbarger’s especially loves is the ability to have fun rocking out and performing on stage because of the instrument’s ability to make songs come to life. During the performance, Eisenbarger had a solo in which both of those facets were clearly portrayed: Her energy and the way she interacted with Urban and the other performers proved that she was no sack of nerves, but rather was enjoying every minute of the experience. The audience also got the impression that even though she was playing a song written 30 years ago, there was still a way for her to make it her own and add her distinct passion into the performance.

For someone like Eisenbarger, experiences like these are what reinforce her future goals.

“In five or 10 years I see myself performing and writing music full-time … I was so in love with this whole experience of being at the show, of playing on a huge stage in front of tons of people and of being surrounded by so many talented artists and musicians gave me that much more belief and confidence in following music as my career.”

A standout regret from her performance with Urban was that she didn’t have the opportunity to ask him questions about his career and any advice he may have had for the budding artist. With a résumé and talent like Eisenbarger’s, this will definitely not be her last opportunity to play with a high-caliber musician.

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