Q’s With: Morris Higham Management President, Clint Higham

“Truthfully, we’re just getting started”

Courtesy Morris Higham Management

Clint Higham is a manager’s manager. He sees the goal, then finds a way to get there. Whether with neophyte Kenny Chesney, who couldn’t get an agent, or Old Dominion, who weren’t sure where they were headed, Higham created a path. Using creative notions to keep the young songwriter working, Higham established Chesney as a live force before he turned into a superstar. Knowing the talent buyers, assessing the marketplace and recognizing the authentic power of Chesney’s kind of country, the young executive grew into one of the most respected and sought after managers in Nashville today.

Higham heard Old Dominion when they were songwriters going out and doing bar gigs on weekends for the joy of it. Struck by the freshness of their sound, the ability to interject joy into people’s most sideways days and the group’s willingness to get in a van and drive to wherever to get
on stage, he signed on as manager.

Record deal or not, Matthew Ramsey, Brad Tursi, Trevor Rosen, Geoff Sprung and Whit Sellers loved being a band and playing their songs for whomever. Even before Old Dominion were a known quantity, its members had written No. 1s for Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, The Band Perry and Tyler Farr; obviously, they were writing songs people loved hearing on the radio, so why wouldn’t their own music get people cheering as they got their Friday or Saturday night on?

Produced by Shane McAnally, Old Dominion had a sound unlike anyone else. Higham  recognized all of it and made it his mission  to not just find them a record company home, but create the same kind of torque that gave Chesney the foundation that’s taken him to the highest levels of touring. Nine No. 1s, myriad Top 5 and 10 country songs – as well as seismic hits for Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, Chesney and others – later, they’ve become a five-time and reigning Country Music Association and six-time and current Academy of Country Music Vocal Group of the year, as well as receiving a pair of Grammy nominations, an ACM Single of the Year and two CMA Album of the Year nominations. 

And like Alabama, who Morris Management founder Dale Morris helped to achieve unprecedented success, Higham understands that bands have a different dynamic. For the biggest, it’s a more everyman ability to connect with fans, as well as each supergroup having their own kind of ecosystem that’s different from solo artists and even duos.

Pollstar: You recognized Old Dominion as a band that mattered early on. How have you seen them grow from a touring perspective?
Clint Higham: We never had to reinvent their A&R and talent, obviously, but we didn’t know how the entertainer side would evolve on the artist side of the business. And truthfully, we are just getting started: Old Dominion has headlined their own tour this year with real poise and success, demonstrating their understanding of their fans. They evoke energy and engagement with mass audiences, and they’re very mindful of creating an experience worth every penny that’s spent on a ticket to their show. They’re fans of music, so they try to give what they love.

What was your vision for building them?
I work alongside the best team in the business to bolster our acts through touring. Each client has their own slant, so we work tirelessly to ensure that their skills are more sharply defined and supported at every pass, every stage of development. Vision is everything to me, and I knew in my marrow, these guys were destined for greatness as one of the best country bands to ever grace the format. But when you see them live – and this is what we’ve always focused on – they’re also definitive entertainers, period.

No act has ever had more than two years with Kenny. How did Old Dominion do five major stadium tours?
I have to admit, it is never a thought to bring back an act year-after-year with Kenny, especially on the stadium model. We pride ourselves on his experience being unique and tailored to each and every summer. He’s really in the mix on who gets booked, and he’s got great taste. Old Dominion is a first for us in all the years of his touring, but it was something Kenny himself believed to be right.

I remember when we discussed their first run with the tour; both of us realizing they were engaging the crowd in a way most acts cannot. We also knew they were adding value to the entirety of the tour as partners and participants. It felt very organic, every step – like it was meant to happen. And those first two tours influenced [OD]’s shows and their confidence in ways we could have never predicted.

And you can say, “Kenny took them the first time as a favor to me; they were a developing act, and he knew I believed in them,” or whatever. But you and I both know you don’t get a second, let alone fifth year if he doesn’t believe in you … or you’re not really adding value.

2012 NATD Honors
NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 14: Dale Morris – Morris Management presents, Morris Management Group President Clint Higham his NATD Award during the 2012 NATD Honors at The Hermitage Hotel on November 14, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Nashville Association of Talent Directors)

What do you think sets them apart as a live act?
Their talent comes first, but it’s a combination of that reality and their innate passion for the work itself. They do not skip a beat; they learn nightly what worked, what could be elevated, even where they should be routed. 

They are engaged in each and every possible way when it comes to their show and fan base, as well as their industry partners. They really care. They’re class acts to a T.

What do you love most about them live?
That’s a tough question, trying to pinpoint one particular part. I like their consistency without losing the nuance. They bring such tangible energy to each performance, but I enjoy seeing their small tweaks, interactions onstage with one another and hearing the crowd sing their brilliant songs right along with them.

Why are the fans so invested in OD?
Authenticity. They have never pandered to the platforms or format. They write from their heart, sing from the heart, and wear their hearts on their sleeve. It has always been their core to operate as such, and it comes across in their shows no matter the scale.

Did touring with Kenny change their live show?
The Kenny tours were like master classes in how to entertain on a massive level. Kenny is able to connect with the crowd like no other. Whether the fans are stage front or the upper tiers of a stadium, he understands how to bring fans closer to him, how to weave them into his shows and the entire experience of the moment.

I would always see Old Dominion gather nightly to watch his show after their set to see how he worked – how he approached his craft. As a manager, I have rarely seen artists opening for large scale entertainers take a vested interest in learning from the greats. The OD guys are not your average band, they constantly are seeking ways to grow, to be great. They are there to be the best for the fans. 

Honestly, that makes me and my entire team incredibly proud. It also speaks to the caliber of the client we are willing to handle. Entertainment is a key part of our process at Morris Higham, and our artists must be invested to this level to really reach where we believe they deserve to be.

And for Old Dominion, who you’ve helped take from driving around in a van to headlining and selling out arenas, it’s working. But every young act believes they have the work ethic, the songs, the ability to connect.
I get that, but we have always believed OD transcends “the moment.” This isn’t something that happened, even though lots of things have happened. They were storytellers – and very successful ones – before launching into the artist stratosphere. They’re a band in every sense of the word, meaning each member of Old Dominion is integral to their overall success. 

That’s what resonates most with fans, and even the format at large. Their humility, integrity and raw talent align to make them a force to contend with at radio, on tour and across the media platforms – now and for years to come. It’s how they’ve built it, and the way people can feel that.

These guys have always been “the real deal.” And we’ve endeavored to build upon their authenticity, their charisma, the fun they genuinely have on stage and musicianship year after year. When you add up everything that’s there, it’s about more than maintaining their trajectory but actually letting their fan base develop just through the way they make people feel.