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Conway son comes back for 2012 River Celebration

The “2012 River Celebration,” a benefit for the Winyah Rivers Foundation’s Winyah Riverkeeper Program, will mark a homecoming for a man whose growing up in Conway flows in the music he writes in Nashville, Tenn.

The foundation, based at the Coastal Carolina University Center for Marine and Wetland Studies in Conway, will celebrate its mission – protecting and revitalizing the watershed that empties into Winyah Bay in Georgetown – with a event 5-9 p.m. Sunday at The Riverside Club in Conway. Besides a boat ride on the Waccamaw River and a demonstration in falconry, Jesse Rice will perform.

Rice spent a few minutes Monday by phone chatting about how much he cherishes Conway, especially since he grew up and moved away. The graduate of Conway High School and Furman University in Greenville laughed about the pace of awards shows he attended last week, with several music publishers each having their own parties, as well as the 46th annual Country Music Association Awards.

Riding a new high, Rice co-wrote Florida Georga Line’s debut single, “Cruise,” with both of its members, Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard – natives of the Sunshine and Peach states, respectively. The duo also will open Thursday with Love and Theft for Jake Owen at House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach.

Question | Coming home to entertain for the Winyah River Foundation outdoor gala, what reminders of your roots are you eager to embrace again, and how’d you hook up for this?

Answer | I was into outdoor recreation. We camped all the time. ... I was approached by a couple of people who are friends with my mothers ... good family friends .. who asked, “Would you come help out?” I said, for sure. That’s one of the things I love about Conway, from growing up there. We’re all family. It’s just a bunch of good people there, and I just try to reciprocate.

Q. | How did the urge, that voice, inside you lead to a career dedicated to songwriting?

A. | I wrote my first song when I was 12. My dad took me to Nashville when I was a kid. One of his buddies ... they grew up in LaGrange, Ga., together, and he wrote songs for Brooks & Dunn. ... I just kind of fell in love with it. ... It really wasn’t ‘til about when I started playing guitar at age 18, then I seriously started songwriting when I went to Furman. Then I realized in about my senior year, “You know, I might be enough to do this for a career.” It got to the point that I had to do it. If I didn’t, I would regret it forever.

Q. | How has your comfort in Music City grown with time and determination to succeed amid so many colleagues in the industry?

A. | Nashville can be a very tough town. I’ve seen a lot of friends come and go ... all trying to do the same thing. It’s a war of attrition almost. Talent is one part of the equation. Networking and hustling are another third, and outlasting and being resourceful are another third. But I’ve always had a belief in myself that this is something I was meant to do.

For me, “Cruise” is honestly like the invitation that gets me in the door. I have very lofty goals for myself. “Cruise” is just a little gas in the tank, to get me to the destination where I really want to be.

Q. | How long have you made home there, and how did “Cruise” surface on your screen?

A. | I’ve been there 10 years ... writing some professionally for a publishing company, Artist Revolution Co. I’ve been with the company since 2007. ... “Cruise” is their first single as a publishing company, so we’re having fun with that. The response to “Cruise” has been insane. ... This song is going to platinum in two weeks; we’re already at 850,000 sales in downloads, as a debut single, and 5 million downloads on the video. Go look at the Florida Georgia Line YouTube video. ...

We wrote it in my living room, on Sept. 13, 2011, barely over a year ago. We wrote it in the middle of another song, “When God Runs Out of Rain.” ... We went out to lunch and came back, and we’re just sitting there, getting refocused. Then we started messing a guitar riff and little things. We really wrote “Cruise” in about 30 minutes. ... It was completed in the middle of another writing session in another song.

Q. | Your love of pirates’ lore: How did that command its own chapter in your life of composing?

A. | Chase Rice, Florida Georgia Line and I made “The Pirate Sessions.” We just kind of did it for ourselves, just some fun things to do. ... The program director of Sirius XM 57 played it. ... We had all these fans we didn’t know about. ... With the subject pirates, there’s a big demand for that; it’s just very universal. People love that stuff.

Q. | Will you be in town this week when Florida Georgia Line performs here?

A. | I’ll be with them that night at House of Blues. ... I haven’t seen “Cruise” live before ... in that type of crowd ... so it will be in front of me in my hometown. ... Then Friday, I have one or two options: I can go back to Atlanta, and ride the bus and see their show there. Also, for Clemson University, I wrote “Damn Good Day (To Be A Clemson Tiger)” ... and I’ve been invited to that football game for homecoming. So, I haven’t made up my mind. I will be in Clemson or Atlanta.

Q. | Just how much does the Conway side of you shine in all your work, and how special will entertaining at home this weekend play in your heart?

A. | It will be fun to share it with a bunch of people down there on Sunday. Always, I’ve written a lot of who I am by where I’m from. Conway, over the years, has definitely provided a wonderful fabric on which to weave my creativity. Writing various songs, I’m drawing on memories of that town.

Conway is a great town. It’s not a small town. When I was there, it was a small town. When I was there last time, I said, “Where did all this traffic come from?” ... Conway has given me that multicolored pattern to draw from. I love it, I really do, and the people who were around when I grew up. ... It served me well in this big, ol’ world.