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UpNCountry
Featured Artist

Biography

In 1999, 7-year-old Mae Estes walked into the middle of a southwest Arkansas rodeo show arena with a cordless microphone and sang the national anthem a cappella for the first time, claiming she could do it better than the LeAnn Rimes recorded version the venue typically played. Mae went on to perform at every rodeo she competed in, as well as other sporting events, nearby hayrides and opries.

“I wasn’t very good,” she acknowledges now, “but I loved how connected I felt with the crowd. I felt a fullness like no other and have been chasing those small moments ever since. Music has always seemed to be where I feel bravest.” It must be in the blood. “A few generations back, my family had a bluegrass band, but that was before I came along,” Mae says. “Then my mom loved country music and instilled that same love in me.”

Next, Mae entered a local talent show for which the late Billy Herrell of Billy’s House of Guitars in Glenwood, Ark., was a judge. “He became a musical mentor to me, and even sold my first acoustic guitar to my parents,” Mae recalls. Herrell invited her to play on his weekly AM radio show hosted on a classic country station, “so that’s how I dove headfirst into that part of the genre,” she notes.

Around the same time, Mae began performing at the Oaklawn Opry in Texarkana. “It was a full-band show, and I learned so many live music skills on that stage,” she explains. “I’m so thankful for those early years and for parents who believed in me enough to let me start that young.”

After graduating high school, Mae couldn’t yet afford the 400+ mile solo move to Nashville, so she accepted a scholarship at Henderson State University for three years, earning a degree in communications while working full time to save money for her eventual relocation. The Hope, Ark., native moved to Nashville in 2015, where she’s been paying her dues from the moment she stepped foot in Music City, working up to three jobs at a time to stay afloat financially and playing for anyone who’d listen in her time off.

“I’ve known Nashville was my dream destination for a long time,’” Mae remarks, but getting here, she adds, wasn’t easy and staying here is, at times, still a challenge. “I’ve been in Nashville for over seven years now,” she reflects, before adding, “Sometimes it feels like a couple days, and sometimes it feels like a lifetime.” Mae says her biggest struggle is being so far away from family, “but my favorite part is the undeniable talent I’m surrounded by that constantly inspires and motivates me.”

Taking cues from traditional artists like Lee Ann Womack and Keith Whitley, Mae merges the timelessness of classic country music with modern melodies to create her artistry, both as a songwriter and a performer. “I’ve been heavily influenced by Keith Whitley as an artist,” Mae says. “I definitely don’t aspire to live the same life he did, but there is an organic delivery of raw talent that lives on in his music,” she explains. “I want people listening to my music to feel the way I do when I listen to Keith. I also immensely respect Lee Ann Womack’s career, reputation and talent,” Mae adds, confiding that by listening to Lee Ann’s records, “she quite literally taught me to sing.”

“I probably would’ve told you I already knew who I was musically when I first moved to town, but that wasn’t true, I can see now,” Mae says, reflectively. “I’m recording new music now and am more excited than ever at the sound we’ve stumbled on.” But it hasn’t always been easy. “In between getting my ass kicked by several jobs I’ve had in Nashville and the handfuls of ‘almosts’ I’ve experienced over the years,” she says, “I really think I’ve mastered mixing my classic influences and small-town roots with a modern style” that will resonate with today’s country audience.

The tide began to turn in 2019. “I was lucky enough to play The Bluebird Café one night when songwriter Justin Klump was in the audience,” Mae recalls. “Justin contacted me afterward and offered to record my first studio single ‘Naked’ for free. My friend Josh Matheny (songwriter, studio musician) and other musicians donated their time and talents, and that’s how we got the ball rolling” on my first few independent releases. “Naked” received over 100,000 streams on Spotify, making both the Fresh Finds Country and New Music Nashville playlists.

Later that year, Mae was asked to tour internationally with Armed Forces Entertainment, which lead to more, valuable live performance experience at U.S. Air Force Bases in Guam, Diego Garcia and Singapore.

The following March—after being laid off from her serving job due to Covid—the stars aligned once again and Mae signed a deal with Plaid Flag Music, leading to her most recent set of singles. This time, in just three days, her latest release, “Roses,” surpassed 100K streams on both Apple Music and Spotify, and now has well over 1M streams. “To this day, “Roses” still feels like the most ‘me’ song I’ve released so far. I’m so very proud of it and blessed to have the support of my Plaid Flag family while also working with the incredible team at Kobalt Music.”

“The new music we are writing and recording now is not shockingly different from previous releases,” Mae says, “but I’m slowly peeling off more layers. These songs offer glimpses into my life and mind, and I hope they bring me and my audience even closer,” while simultaneously making waves in the industry.

Mae had already performed shows stateside in Arkansas, California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, Illinois and Tennessee before Covid hit. “I’m so excited for more live, full-band shows this year. My main goal right now is to get my music in the hands of as many country music fans as possible.” In May of 2022, Mae’s release “Thinkin Bout Cheatin’” exclusively premiered with The Boot, where they described it as “traditional country perfection that transports listeners back in time when the genre’s pioneering women like Kitty Wells, Dolly Parton, Lynn, and Wynette told their plain-spoken truth over rootsy instrumentation brought to life by Nashville A-team session players.” A week later, CMT exclusively premiered the first music video of Mae’s career, describing her as “a country newcomer playing a vital role in reshaping the genre with her truthful and non-surface-level storytelling.”

Awarded Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2021, 2022, and 2023 Arkansas Country Music Awards, Mae is the first artist to accomplish such in the history of the Awards. She looks forward to touring her debut EP, “Before the Record”, and recently reached her ultimate goal by debuting at the Grand Ole Opry on March 4, 2023.

 

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