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Chance McKinney
Chance McKinney is taking his biggest chance yet on concert tour this spring and summer, and a recording session with Country Music Television next month. The country singer and Big Sky High School graduate plays with his band Crosswire on Saturday in the University Theatre. Photo courtesy Stephen Sexton Photography

This whole thing was a game of chance to begin with, so even the guy at the center of it can’t believe it’s all gone his way so far.

Who would ever figure that when Chance McKinney stepped up to a microphone during a night of karaoke, it would set him on a path to Nashville, to a seat in front of the cameras of Country Music Television, to a concert tour with his name in lights?

Certainly not this Big Sky High School grad and Seattle-area math teacher, who will play a homecoming concert on Saturday in the University Theatre.

“A month ago, I was grading tests,” said McKinney, still flabbergasted by his quick rise to stardom. “Now, I’m waiting to hear back from Reba McIntire’s people.”

Indeed he is. Because in April, McKinney will join McIntire – one of the biggest names in female country stardom – for a recording session at the studios of Country Music Television for its “Studio 330 Sessions” series.

McKinney earned the gig last December, when he won CMT’s Music City Madness competition, besting hundreds of amateur country musicians from around the nation.

But it’s not all branded and pre-arranged for McKinney. The guy with little musical training but a beautiful, robust country-tinged baritone is not guaranteed anything on this journey, and he knows it.

Even Saturday’s concert in Missoula, while a sweet homecoming and a chance to play for old friends and his family, is being watched carefully by the country music industry.

“This is more than a fun show,” said McKinney, who has taken a leave of absence from his Mukilteo, Wash., high school this year – and may never return. “This is part of the audition.”

Agents and insiders will be watching ticket sales carefully, just as much as they watch McKinney’s performances, especially the ones this summer he has scheduled with Dwight Yoakam, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blake Shelton and others.

Will McKinney and his band Crosswire boost ticket sales?

That’s to be seen. But McKinney said he is astounded by the musicians in his four-piece band, having been joined by Brian Bujacich (“probably the best studio drummer in the Northwest”), bassist Ray Neyenes and lead guitarist Paul Schille, who has toured with INXS and the Romantics.

“These players are unreal,” he said.

As much as he admires his bandmates, McKinney said, they are similarly amazed by his sudden rise to fame.

“It’s kind of this mutual awe,” he said. “Because I’m flabbergasted at what they can produce, and they’re flabbergasted at the things that continue to happen to me.”

Chances are, you will be too on Saturday night.

Reach Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at

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