“You’ll never be good enough.” He’s heard it his entire life. From school to athletics to music, there’s one common theme that Chance continues to hear. There were always smarter kids in class. There were always better athletes in sports. There are much bigger stars in country music. And, there will ALWAYS be someone there to tell Chance “you’ll never be good enough.”
“I was always a big kid... a little taller, a little more clumsy, a little more chunky and a lot slower. So, I found myself always bein’ made fun of and being told I just wasn’t going to be good at anything. Kids are cruel sometimes, but teens and adults can be downright vicious,” says Chance. “I’ve spent a large portion of my life tryin’ to prove folks wrong.”
A product of Lolo, MT (Bitterroot Valley) the 6’6” McKinney ended up doing just that... proving folks wrong. With the help and support of his family that pudgy, clumsy, slow kid ended up as a 3-Time National Champion javelin thrower in high school, an All-State basketball player and a 4.0 GPA. From there, he went on to becoming a Division I All-American for Washington State University while graduating Summa Cum Laude in Mathematics. “Not bad for a kid with no ‘chance’ of makin’ it,” jokes McKinney. “I guess it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have no social life gettin’ in your way.”
A self-taught guitar player/singer/songwriter, Chance set off on a new path with everyone telling him “you’ll never be good enough.” He remembers “everyone, and I mean just about everyone (minus some family and friends) telling me ‘don’t even try’ to make it in the music business. ‘You’re not good enough’ and it’s a ‘long, hard road’ especially when you try doin’ it from anywhere else but Nashville.”
In spite of everyone’s warnings, Chance moved to Seattle where he fell in with a local musician “Lonesome” Steve Mitchell. “Steve taught me the basics. He taught me song structure, chord patterns, circle of 5th’s and better guitar techniques. He literally sat down with me two nights a week (for nothing) and passed on whatever knowledge he could (or whatever I was capable of retaining at the time),” recalled Chance. “We used to do a live, acoustic show one night a week for tips and dinner.”
From there, Chance hooked up with a regional musician Darren Wayne who took it up another level. Darren and Chance spent the next 6 months tracking, mixing and mastering Chance’s first cd in 2006 titled “Hittin’ The Road.” To be honest, “it was 9 of the first 13 songs I’d ever written. I felt bad, knowing what I know now, for Darren. He had to do a lot of ‘deciphering’ in reading those charts. Much of that first cd was Darren’s interpretation of what he thought I meant. And let’s be honest, he made me look very good for what I truly was at the time.”
Soon thereafter, Chance took on with some other regional musicians (among them, long-time drummer and friend Brian Bujucich) and formed the duo “Nathan Chance” who got a HUGE break when they were asked by 94.1FM KMPS to open for Kenny Chesney one of their first shows... ever. “I can’t reiterate what a lucky break it was when Erica Hall and Apryl Battin (KMPS Marketing) called me up and asked if we’d be interested in playing their stage for the Kenny Chesney Flip-Flop Tour. I remember it bein’ over 90 degrees that day (and for Seattle, that’s hot!) as we played for almost 3 hours to a jam-packed street party there at Qwest Field. If I’d have known we’d end up as KMPS’s House Band for the next 4 years, I’d have probably paid them instead of vice versa.”
Openings started flooding in, some Main Stage, some Parking Lot, but all of them were ‘steps on the path’ Chance had started down just a couple years before. That duo opened for Kenny Chesney, Big n’ Rich, Blaine Larson, SheDaisy, Martina McBride, Little Big Town, Toby Keith, Brooks n’ Dunn, Kenny Loggins and Gary Alan. “The George Strait/Taylor Swift/Ronnie Milsap opening was probably the most validating show for me of the bunch. We played the stage just outside the Tacoma Dome in JANUARY! It was 35 degrees for 2.5 hours and people stayed! I mean, they stuck around to the point where they missed part (if not all) of Taylor Swift’s show just to hang out with us in the freezing cold. Can you imagine somewhere close to 7000 people hangin’ out in the cold partyin’ for that long? Missin’ Taylor Swift? Ha... if only they’d known then what they know now.”
In September of 2009, however, “Nathan Chance” disbanded. Chance got a call from a buddy in Nashville who urged him to submit some of the new songs he’d written to CMT’s Music City Madness competition. So, in October 2009, just minutes before the deadline to enter, McKinney uploaded the video to “Be Real.” A song he first penned in 2007, it’d been sitting on the shelf (recorded) because the former group hadn’t agreed unanimously that it was a song they’d like to do.
“The first time we played Be Real publicly was at the SheDaisy concert. It was in the dead center of a 40-minute set and the only slow song of the night for us. Folks at the amphitheatre gave it a standing ovation. I figured it was just the fact that it was a little out of the norm for our type of song, but now I realize, it was the first of many.”
As the CMT competition rolled along (October through December), who’d have guessed that Chance’s song “Be Real” would continue gobbling up the competition round after round? Well, maybe Chance’s former high school students would’ve guessed. See, throughout this saga, Chance had been teaching high school mathematics. Keeping his two “occupations” very separate, Chance was surprised to find out that the students of Kamiak High School, combined with former students and athletes from Skyline, Inglemoor, Woodinville, UW and WSU had secretly formed a MASSIVE network throughout the U.S. Word spread like wildfire. Media outlets from Washington to Montana to Oregon to Utah (and beyond) were catching on to the story of the high school math teacher gone country singer.
December 2009, Chance wins Country Music Television’s search for the #1 “unsigned” artist in the nation taking home the Music City Madness title with over ONE MILLION VOTES in the final round alone.
Since then Chance McKinney has been hoppin’! In 2010, he shared stages with Dwight Yoakam, Jamie O’Neal, Grand Funk Railroad, Pat Green, BLAKE SHELTON, LUKE BRYAN, Creedence Clearwater, .38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He also traveled to Nashville (just before the floods) and filmed a World Famous CMT Studio 330 Session that aired in July and August (while on tour with Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan) on CMT.
In 2011 alone, Chance had shows with John Rich, Sebastian Bach, Dwight Yoakam (again), Dierks Bentley, Sunny Sweeney, Steve Azar, Phil Vassar, Little Big Town, David Nail, Gloriana, Eden’s Edge, Colt Ford and Chance’s long-time inspiration... MR. ALAN JACKSON.
2012 shows no signs of slowing. He’s already been out with Colt Ford and has dates with Ronnie Dunn (Brooks n’ Dunn), Mark Chestnutt and Darius Rucker (Hootie n’ The Blowfish).
For a kid that’ll “never be good enough,” he seems to be doin’ alright.