Fans of country music might not expect to find themselves at a symphony concert.
Supporters of a symphony orchestra might not expect to hear country hits made famous by Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, Patsy Cline, George Strait, Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss on their performing arts center stage.
And a boy growing up in a Southern Baptist church in Georgia might not expect to be right in the middle of that cultural crossover.
But that's where Rick Brantley finds himself.
"I do a lot of symphony work these days, and I love it," says Brantley, who will perform Oct. 14 with the Fort Smith Symphony for a "Country Hits: Songs from Nashville" concert. "I'm not from this world, so getting to experience it, create within it and be a part of it is kind of a minor miracle and one of the best, most surprising things to ever happen to me."
Of his first influences, "gospel music is closely akin to country music in the way it moves in the deepest part of our bones," Brantley says. "Our humanity is wrapped up in both, no matter what you believe, so growing up in the church surrounded by the sounds of the pipe organ and 'old time religion' choir certainly sparked a deep love of music that moves from a young age.
"The other side of that is that my old man was also kind of a recovering hippie with great musical taste. [So] my earliest memories are riding around listening to Kristofferson, Duane Allman's slide guitar and my mother playing organ in the church."
Brantley started playing in bar bands as a teenager, moved to Nashville when he was 19 and signed his first publishing deal -- "and the rest is kind of history."
"It's actually as simple as that," he says. "You doggedly pursue something you love, some itch you need to scratch, keep pushing through even when it's incredibly hard and seems pointless, and one day you look up and you've made it out the other side and someone has recorded your song or a bunch of people have bought tickets to your show and you think, 'It doesn't get much better than this'... and it doesn't."
Brantley promises listeners will enjoy "the energy of what makes Nashville special" -- and maybe take away a little lesson, too.
"Country music is the music of us ... as a collective ... as a human race," he says. "The joy, the pain, the heartache, the triumph, the failure, the longing of just being a human being is wrapped up in these stunning songs, some written decades ago, some written just a few years back.
"What I hope the audience takes away from this performance is a little slice of who they are, who we are and what it feels like when we all come together in one place to celebrate a common, simple idea: Music is the tie that binds us in a polarized world. No matter who you are or what you believe, we can all agree that Dolly Parton should be the queen of the world.
"It's really that simple," he says again. "And we're going to have a lot of fun while we're at it."
Fort Smith Symphony:
Songs From Nashville
WHEN -- 7 p.m. Oct. 14
WHERE -- ArcBest Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith
COST -- $25-$55
INFO -- fortsmithsymphony.org
BONUS -- A free afterparty starts at 8:30 p.m. at the Bakery District.