Chandler Kirkhart, business junior, sings his song "Shelby" during the opening act for Kansas native Jerrod Niemann at his show on Saruday. Kirkhart snagged $1,000 and first place prize. Alejandra Rojas/Collegian Photographer

By Paige Carswell
Staff reporter

If Chandler Kirkhart was nervous for his first performance, the judges obviously didn’t notice.

Kirkhart, a business junior, wooed both the audience and judges at the Liberal High School Booster Club’s Country Showdown last Friday, grabbing first place, $1,000 and the opportunity to open for Kansas native, Jerrod Niemann, at his show Saturday.

Kirkhart decided to participate in the competition in early December, sending in his recorded piece, “Shelby,” along with his photograph and biography. After being chosen for the top 25, he traveled to Liberal to play his songs live for the first time.

“I was very nervous,” said Kirkhart. “I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I wasn’t sure how they’d respond to my song.”

Kirkhart breezed through the first round with his song, “Shelby,” before playing his newer song, “Let’s Go Fishin’” to seal the deal. The top three in the competition got to perform two songs each before Jerrod Nieman took the stage Saturday. Kirkhart said that one of those three spots was all he was really hoping for.

“When I was one of the last four, I thought, ‘Please, don’t announce me as fourth place,’” said Kirkhart. “It was a big surprise that I won the thing.”

After playing the Saturday show, the aspiring musician said that though singing is his dream, he’s going to finish college.

“If I was in Jerrod’s position, that would be my top dream. If things happen, then yay. If not, then I’ve got a plan B,” he said.

Right now, he’s going to continue working toward that goal, and see if more opportunities come his way.

“Some things I’m working on are playing and singing at the same time,” Kirkhart said. “And, I’m definitely writing more songs. Right now, my focus is a serious song. I’ve got it halfway done. When inspiration hits me, I’ll finish it.”

And as for playing more shows, “It depends on the time,” he said. “I’m in school doing 20 hours this semester, and being in track, I can’t quit my life for this. I’ll make time for it, but I won’t stop everything.

“I’m gonna be a realist about this,” he said. “But, man, was it fun while it lasted.”

Paige Carswell is a senior majoring in journalism. You may e-mail her at paige.carswell@sckans.edu.