A lot has changed for Barron-based musician Chris Kroeze since he played Osceola’s community fair last September.
At the time, he’d already recorded several episodes of a nationally broadcast singing competition, The Voice, and was getting ready to film live episodes later in the year. In the meantime, he was sworn to secrecy.
“I was deep into it,” he said. “I just couldn’t say anything. … It was a long process.”
He flew to Los Angeles June 3, 2018, to prep for blind auditions at the end of the month. After battle rounds in July and knock out rounds in August, he was three rounds deep when he returned to Wisconsin.
“I came home and couldn’t tell anyone,” he said. “I’d been playing a couple hundred bar shows a year. Bars were reaching out asking me to play. I couldn’t commit to anything and I couldn’t say why. It was a lot of awkward anxiety.”
After heading back to the West Coast in late October for live tapings, he took second place in the competition. Now he’s finding that his success on the national stage has helped launch his career, from playing larger venues to performing more of his own songs.
“It’s taken me from a lot of small shows to a lot of really big shows,” Kroeze said, “between 500 to 5,000 people a night. It’s a whole new venture.”
August 3 he’s set to perform at Hazelfest as part of a showcase of Voice alumni including Kat Perkins, Jesse Larson and Nicholas David. The two-stage music festival on the Hazelden Betty Ford treatment center campus also includes comedy, speakers, a kids dance party, exhibitors and food trucks.
Kroeze, who will be backed by a band, plans to perform several new songs and some favorite cover tunes.
“Our shows are just about connecting with the crowd and putting on a show people can walk away from thinking about what a good time they had,” he said. “At Hazelfest I’ll talk about the background of my new, original songs. I’ll play some covers I did on TV and others that are just fun to play.”
Like the songs he chose for The Voice, his new material is influenced by country and southern rock. But the lyrics are uniquely suited to his life experience.
“I have one song, ‘Better on a Boat,’” he said. “It’s about summer days when we get warm weather and get the boat out. It’s fun to get out on the lake since we only have three months.”
Some of his favorite new material tells a story.
“They’re songs that are stories, fictional stories,” he said. “Those are some of the best songs.”
Extending into more songwriting has been rewarding, Kroeze reported.
“To play my music and have people react positively is really cool,” he said.
On tour since February in support of his latest album, Kroeze recently visited military bases in the Middle East and Africa.
“The travel to get there is absolutely crazy with super long flights,” he said, “But when we get there they’re the most receptive and appreciative crowds I’ve seen. They’re excited to do something other than work in a war zone.”
Although he’s performed for troops overseas for about four years, he reported that this year the reception was a little warmer.
“This year it was definitely different. People were a little more excited after seeing [The Voice],” he said.
Although Kroeze still plays solo shows occasionally, he’ll be joined onstage at Hazelfest by a second guitarist, fiddler, drummer and bass player.
“It’ll be high energy and fun,” he said. “Come out and see it for yourself!”
If you go
When: August 3, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Hazelden Betty Ford (15251 Pleasant Valley Road
Details: For more information or to buy tickets visit hazeldenbettyford.org/events/hazelfest