The scene could not have been more perfect: a humid-less 90 degrees, picturesque sunset shadowing the strip of the boardwalk to the left of the Daytona Beach Bandshell while the waves rippled on the Atlantic Ocean to the right. Fans set up lawn chairs or rented white chairs in front of the stage in anticipation of a hometown hero’s performance; Warner Chapell Music songwriter Johnny Bulford, who just turned 29 years old the following day, was celebrating with family and friends. The Orlando native was out and about in the audience embracing family, longtime fans and friends alike while attendees were treated to the beautiful vocal stylings and lyrical magic of Bulford’s fellow songwriter, girlfriend, and Florida native Janell Wheeler.
When Bulford hit the stage, smiles on the attendees faces brightened the Florida evening; you could see how proud everyone was of Bulford, who is taking Nashville by storm with his lyrical magic, captivating voice and welcoming personality. Bulford had the crowd swaying with a complete set of original music, some in which newcomers to his tunes may have already known; crediting Cowboys Orlando with continuously playing his opening number, “Tonight Starts Now”, Bulford talked about his working relationship with RCA artist Chris Young before performing their unreleased co-write “Don’t Nothing Take My Breath”, later performing “Flashlight” and “Lonely Eyes”, songs co-wrote by Bulford and cut by Young on his albums “Neon” and “A.M.”, respectively.
With family members accompanying Johnny on stage musically, such as his sister on the mandolin, a chocolate frosted one layer cake brought on stage while the audience sang. Bulford blew out the candles and chuckled; “You know you’re getting old when they have to start using the numbers instead of candles, because they can’t fit”, in reference to the ‘2’ and ‘9’ candles in the center of the cake. It was a jovial moment for all and the show resumed. Resuming the show, Bulford acoustically performed his first and only #1 hit to date; co-written by Bulford, Jon Stone and Phil Barton, Lee Brice’s hit “A Woman Like You” was inspired by Wheeler (“She’s the girl with the throw pillows on the bed”, laughs Bulford) after she and Bulford had just started dating. Naturally it received a great response, with a female guest yelling out “I LOVE this song!” before the performance and a standing ovation at its conclusion. Attributing much of his inspiration because of Wheeler, Bulford called her onstage and the two beautifully blended their voices for Wheeler’s song “Break My Heart”.
A particularly touching moment occurred towards the end of the show; if you had not been captivated yet, you were a goner when Bulford sang “How Could I Not”. Written when he was only roughly 18 years old, this song helped him clench the winning title of Best New Act in Country Music at the 27th Annual Colgate Country Showdown in 2008; his win in the national competition with over 50,000 artists not only secured him a prize of $100,000 but also the attention of the music industry. Shortly thereafter, Bulford was signed to Warner Chappell Music as a staff writer. While performing, several groups of couples ventured to the front of the crowd and slow danced; Bulford turned his body to face them and gave them their own personal performance. Listen to this heart-grabbing song and imagine slow dancing with your loved one while being cascaded by light ocean breezes and you will know why everyone’s heart stopped beating for a moment. After wrapping up the show with a song encompassing his journey to Nashville, “When I Make It”, Bulford ventured to the merchandise table selling photos, t-shirts and all of his EP’s, to say thank you to everyone who stopped by.
Johnny Bulford is a real diamond in the rough which, honestly, leaves this reviewer wondering how he does not have an actual recording contract. Although it is undeniable that Bulford can stir emotions and capture hearts with the stories in his songs, the man can sing. And from what was shown that night in Daytona, everyone falls in love when he opens his mouth and the voice comes out. Bring yourself over to johnnybulford.com and listen to the amazing music that Florida, Chris Young and Lee Brice fans and Nashville songwriter round attendees have grown to admire. Many more #1’s, including some that he himself records, are in the stars for this young man. Swing by and listen to why everyone’s attention is fixated at HERE.