Blake Shelton Was Still Playing Venues Without Stages When He Had a No. 1 Single

It’s been a long time since Blake Shelton could go unrecognized walking down the street. The country music star has a career spanning more than two decades, with 12 studio albums and more than 50 hit singles to show for it. The Grammy-nominated artist is also a renowned judge on NBC’s The Voice and has racked up the most wins of any judge on the show. 

Blake Shelton performing on stage
Blake Shelton | Todd Williamson/Getty Images

But at one time, Shelton wasn’t a household name. In fact, despite making a breakthrough in country radio in the early 2000s, it was another several years before he was garnering attention for his work.

But now that he has solidified his standing in the country music industry, he’s using his influence to pave the way for other up-and-coming artists. 

Shelton’s first No. 1 hit was ‘Austin’ in 2001

Shelton grew up in Ada, Oklahoma, and moved to Nashville in 1994 to pursue his country music aspirations after he graduated from high school, according to Biography. He first made a living by selling songs he’d written to musical publishing houses. Eventually, he secured a recording contract and released his first No. 1 hit, “Austin.” 

A year later, he released his self-titled debut album, which featured additional hit singles “All Over Me” and “Ol’ Red.” Though country radio loved his singles and his ability to blend honky tonk tunes with country ballads, it would be several more years before Shelton began earning the accolades that cemented him as a country music icon. 

Shelton was ‘under the radar’ for several years after releasing his debut album

In a recent interview at the 2022 Country Radio Seminar, Shelton reflected on his career thus far and its trajectory. “I was always a little bit under the radar for 10 years there,” Shelton said of his early career, despite the hit songs. 

Shelton elaborated on the contrast between his success on the radio with the venues he still found himself playing during another interview with Today’s Jenna Bush Hager. “Even with a number one hit, I was playing places that didn’t even have a stage,” the “Boys ‘Round Here” singer said. 

A pivotal moment in Shelton’s career came in 2012 when he won his first male vocalist of the year award from the Academy of Country Music. He went on to win song of the year with his ex-wife, Miranda Lambert, in 2013 for “Over You,” which the couple co-wrote and Lambert performs, per IMDb

In the same era, Shelton was building other success as a judge on the new show The Voice, which debuted in 2011 and now has 21 seasons. Shelton’s team members have won eight times, making him the winningest coach in the show’s history — not to mention even more of a household name. This year, his tour schedule includes state fair stages with thousands of clamoring fans, multiple nights at the Grand Ole Opry, and performances at Coachella, along with other marquee events. 

He also owns a number of restaurants, each called Ole Red for one of his more popular songs, with locations in Nashville and Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Tishomingo, Oklahoma; Orlando, Florida; and a soon-to-come location in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s these restaurants that Shelton is using to give a boost to the next generation of country performers. 

Now, Shelton owns Ole Red restaurants that feature musical newcomers

Shelton still remembers playing those dives without much fanfare to speak of, and it’s his goal with the Ole Red restaurants to provide a space where people can come to enjoy beer and good food but also take in live music. And for the performers, Shelton said he’s aiming to give them a place where they can earn their stripes — in a venue a little more established than the ones he paid his dues in. 

“I always thought it would be cool to have a bar and grill type thing with some music,” Shelton told Hager in the Today interview. “The centerpiece of the idea is to showcase new artists coming up in an environment that makes them look like a big star.” Perhaps for some of those new artists, they’ll look back and remember an Ole Red stage as the place they made their breakthrough. 

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