In the summer of 2016, Ben Johnson was selected to be a resident artist at one one of Nashville’s most historic honky-tonks, Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge.
Worthington may be far away from Nashville, but Johnson is still eager to perform along Sailboard Beach on Friday, June 11, as he’ll be opening for headliner Casey Donahew. Like all of the other acts performing at this year’s Windsurfing Regatta and Music Festival, Johnson had been booked for the 2020 event and was secured once again for this year.
Johnson got his gig at Tootsie’s just a few months after he quit his day job in February 2016 and moved into his music studio. He had no kitchen, no shower and no money; “just a suitcase full of clothes and guitar,” as he puts it.
Residing in Minnesota, he soon began traveling to Nashville for weeks at a time, staying there for weeks at a time and crashing on couches, floors or wherever else he could. While he wasn’t garnering valuable experience in the honky tonks, Johnson would set up sessions with writers in Nashville, and then go test songs at one of the Music CIty’s many writers’ rounds.
In 2017, Johnson caught a break. He was introduced by a mutual friend to platinum producer Matt McVaney (Kane Brown), and the two began working together on Johnson’s self-titled debut recording.
Johnson’s four-song EP, released in February 2018, was a breakout success. It debuted at No. 1 above Chris Stapleton on the iTunes Country Music Chart, and peaked between Ed Sheeran and Eminem at No. 11 among all other genres. The EP charted as one of Billboard's top digital downloaded albums the week of its release.
A little more than a year after the EP was introduced, Johnson met again with McVaney in April 2019 to record his first full-length LP, “Bring Me Home,” which was released that December. Proceeds from sales of “Bring Me Home” will help fund childhood education programs across the United States, thanks to a partnership with SkyWater Music Group. The LP is now available on all digital streaming and download platforms.
In addition to performing in Worthington on Regatta weekend (show begins at 7 p.m. Friday), Johnson will be spending a lot of time in Minnesota and Wisconsin communities. He’s scheduled to play gigs at Shooter’s Pub in River Falls, Wisconsin on both June 5 and July 3, and is also set to perform at the Maple Tavern in Maplewood, Minnesota on June 19 and July 17, Other shows for Johnson include the 201 Tavern in Anoka on June 12, Lakes Jam II in Brainerd on June 25, and a performance in Osceola, Wisconsin on July 9.