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One will be forgiven for worrying that 17-year-old country singer Caitlin Eadie might be “pageanty.”  If you watch American Idol, you’ll be familiar with the term; it is one of Simon Cowell’s favorite dismissals.  If you watch the Miss America competition, you will know all too well the symptoms.

“Pageantry” symptoms include prettiness, a big white smile, a decent singing voice, and the lack of a true connection with the material being performed.  The pageanty singer also is confident and polished (sub-symptoms) and generally has good hair (sub-sub-symptom).

You might think, Hey, wait a minute! What’s wrong with a nice smile and a good singing voice?  Those are assets, not detriments.  As for confidence,  show me anyone who has gotten anywhere without it.

That’s right.  Good hair is also as asset.  But every asset can be cancelled out by a lack of connection to material.  That’s why Caitlin Eadie is not pageanty while still possessing all of the superlatives (she has the best teeth I’ve seen in ages, along with an enviable tangle of long reddish hair). It’s also why Caitlin Eadie–and I am willing to wager on this–will make it to the top of the country charts by the time she’s 25.

Friday night was Caitlin’s third turn at Free Fridays.  The first time she performed, she was booked as an opener for Chris Young, a headliner still coasting on a Nashville Star win two years before.  She was back on her own the next year, where, at age 16, she proved that she could more than hold her own against the concert series’ line-up of much older, more established acts.

Caitlin wound up opening for Chris Young because the Plaza booker found her on YouTube while googling for country singers.  If you ever doubt the power of social media, here is a case study in its influence and reach.  Caitlin was 15 when she was “discovered,” but it turned out she’d been a pro since the age of 10.  She’s still not out of high school, but she has seven years of experience to her credit.

It’s not hard to be charmed by Caitlin.  She bounds over with a big smile and a hug; she remembers the perfume you wore the last time she saw you.  She’s a teenager with the social finesse of someone much older; having known a few difficult and monosyllabic teenage girls I can tell you that Caitlin could walk into a board meeting of a Silicon Valley powerhouse and have them signing over rights to their top secret software technology with very little effort.  That’s the effect she has, this slip of a girl who will head to university in Nashville, where she will no doubt emerge as a country star par excellence.

I’ve gotten this far without talking about Caitlin’s voice, which is big and gutsy and completely capable of handling heartbroken blues and those songs of womanly confidence and attitude that have made people like Patsy Cline a star.  Caitlin isn’t faux-mature, though; she has a decided freshness and young appeal that aren’t in the least at odds with the traditional country domain of womanly triumph over bad men, bad breaks, and bad makeup.  I’m joking about the last one on that list; Caitlin looks like someone you could talk lipstick with with as much ease as you could talk songwriting.

A first CD–Country Girl–reveals that Caitlin co-wrote four of the ten songs on the disc, which was released when she was 15.  That was two years ago, a long span in teen years but the blink of an eye for an adult.  You can hear the adult Caitlin in it; the country sound is already there, formed, even as the singer was a freshman in high school.  What Caitlin sings is bluesy country that doesn’t strain at the boundaries of rock. Country, to my mind, has been diluted recently by the gimmick and by the rock crossover, and it has never been more apparent what a weakening this is to the form until you hear Caitlin’s straightforward take on the traditional stylistics.  This is a strong selling point for the young singer; as the music evolves away from the traditional, it has started to go so far in another direction that a plain take on the standard seems alive and anew, especially when coupled with such a pure country voice.

The only thing holding Caitlin back is the very wise decision to get an education and to not make any big decisions until she’s of an adult enough age to do so.  For the moment, she’s an extremely hard worker who keeps racking up the gigs, opening for big-name acts and playing out with regularity either as a solo, a duo, or with a full band.  She’s won over the notoriously hard to please Gainesville crowd that is used to some superb musicianship.  The Swamp City will get one more summer with Caitlin before she goes off to put her stamp on Nashville–and then we’ll reserve a parking space for her fancy tour bus if she comes back to see us again.

Visit Caitlin at her MySpace, and don’t miss the chance to see her locally while you still can.  Or buy her CD and get into some of the most honest and unassuming country you haven’t heard on the radio.  Yet.

(Also of note: Caitlin’s lead guitarist and second member of her duo act, fellow 17-year-old Joe Brown.  The kid is a dynamo with killer chops; a little seasoning on the touring circuit and we’ll be hearing from him, too.)

Caitlin and Joe Brown.