Music Spotlight: Kelsey Hickman

Mar 22, 2024 at 04:00 am by Bethany Bowman

As a product of the 80s music scene, I discovered country music later in life. When country rocker Kelsey Hickman came across my desk, I knew she was right up my alley.

Kelsey Hickman is from Central Illinois. No one in her family is particularly musical but she can remember singing all her life. She started as a tot singing Disney songs, then joined choirs in school and got her first exposure singing in musicals.

“For the longest time, I didn’t realize that [music] could be a career,” she confessed.

As a child, she thought one day she could be a star on Broadway in New York City.

But then her aunt found out that a local country band called Still Kickin’ had lost their lead singer and she encouraged Hickman to audition. She was only 15 at the time but the older guys soon realized that she had a gift. She could sing, really sing.

Hickman recalled, “Singing a solo is completely different than singing in a band. The guys set up all their equipment in the garage. I had to sing with the band, with them playing. My mom and dad were like, ‘How do you know how to do this?’ They knew I could sing, but they were like, ‘How does she know what to do and sing with the band?’ It was so funny.”

Hickman sang with the band nearly every Friday and Saturday night for five years. She had to have special permission to play in the bars since she was underage.

After high school, she attended a community college where she was studying to become a PE teacher. But on the weekends, Still Kickin’ got to open for bands like Lady A, Montgomery Gentry, Chris Young, Easton Corbin, Confederate Railroad, and others when they played nearby. It was then that she got the “taste” for live performance, and she realized that other people were doing it for a living, and she could too.

The first arena show she opened was for Chris Young.

“I remember being in the green room after that show, and I looked at my mom, and I said, ‘Mom, how do we do this? How can I do this for the rest of my life?" What do we do? You know I can't stay in Illinois.’”

Her mother replied, “You’ve got to go to Nashville.”

Once she arrived, she was like, “So this is where you go to become a country music singer.”

But she didn’t want to be stuck performing on Broadway in Nashville for the rest of her life. She continued to network and write and just try to figure out who she was as an artist. She grew up singing country music, but for her, rock and roll was just so much fun.

In 2016, she released her debut solo album, Gypsy, a country album that Grammy-nominated producer Kent Wells produced. It showcased Hickman’s talent and potential.

However, in the following years, her love for rock ‘n’ roll and her country roots led her to embrace her inner rebel spirit and evolve her sound. And in 2022, Kelsey’s country rock sound got a fresh makeover when she started working with Don Miggs. With Miggs’ help, she reinvented and refined her sound, giving it a fresh edge and authenticity that fans are sure to love.

Hickman’s voice has found its home on the rocking side of country music. It is where she belongs.

She is no longer putting out a style of music because that is what people expect from her. She is now singing songs that she is proud of.

Her first country rock single, “Novocaine” was released in March of 2023. The song explores the familiar theme of returning to a relationship that has caused pain, with its poignant lyrics and captivating melodies. Her sultry voice shines in the song which suggests that bad things can often feel so good.

The first single off the Lights Out EP, “Love Is For Suckers” was released in November of 2023. The power ballad showcases her soaring vocals as an anti-love song in this edgier side of country music.

Hickman’s second song off the EP, “LUVUH8U” explores the conundrum of loving and hating someone simultaneously. The song's theme requires a rock production and has instantly become a relatable fan favorite.

One of my favorites off the EP, “American Boy” pushes the country music envelope with a kick-drum-led, southern rock-infused single. While the American boy is heralded, the song’s melody, not the lyric, takes center stage. Hickman’s wailing vocals take country rock to a whole other level.

However, Hickman shows her full-on bad-assery with the rock anthem, “In My Place.” With lyrics  Ain’t gonna’ smile more/ ain’t gonna be sweet/ ain’t gonna shut my mouth/ But the jokes on you, I’ll be six feet deep ‘fore I ever don’t stand my ground/ Full on me/ I am exactly the bitch that you think I am/ I’m her, this is me/  Don’t accept no apologies/ You’re going to have to put me in my grave before you’ll put me in my place she echoes the thoughts of anyone who has been made to feel less than.

Just like the song “Lights Out” states, “You knocked me out and I didn’t stand a chance.” The pulsating drive felt in the title track is evident throughout the EP.

To be honest, Kelsey Hickman doesn’t fit the mold of most female country singers. And while some may consider that a negative, I consider it a big positive. She has put everything she has into the new EP, Lights Out. It’s one of the best collections of 5 country rock songs I have heard in a long time.

“It’s tough because right now genres are so different. You’re either really country or you’re not. But I know what I love and what I want to say,” she shared.

As someone who was raised in the Stevie Nicks/Pat Benatar era, listening to Kelsey Hickman is like going home. There is nothing that gets me going like a great female rocker. And while she has been singing professionally since she was a teen, the crooner has now figured out who she is, what she wants to say, and how she should say it.

It’s like country music now has its own version of Joan Jett. But thankfully for us, Hickman is just getting started. She has so much more to offer, so much more to come. I can’t wait!

Be sure to stream Lights Out today. You’ll have it on repeat!

You can follow Kelsey Hickman on her website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and all streaming services.

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Bethany Bowman is a freelance entertainment writer. You can follow her blogInstagram, and X(Twitter).

“Love Is For Suckers”
“Lights Out”
“American Boy”
“In My Place”