Sometimes everything changes with the push of a button.
In Ian Flanigan’s case, the person pushing that button just happened to be country music superstar Blake Shelton.
“This experience has brought me and my music to millions of people that I could never have reached on my own,” Flanigan says. “That in itself is a once in a lifetime experience that has changed the course of my music.”
The Ulster County local has seen a meteoric rise in popularity since placing third on season 19 of NBC’s The Voice, but he’s captured hearts in the Hudson Valley and beyond long before the competition. Locally, Flanigan has taken the stage everywhere from West Virginia to Texas to Bethel Woods, where he performed at the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Concert in 2019 ahead of John Fogerty.
However, it was in the country-soul capital of Nashville, Tennessee where his journey to The Voice began. He had just played a Valentine’s Day show at Austin City Limits and was on his way to the Mercy Lounge in Tennessee. Flanigan’s fiancé and partner in Nightcap Entertainment Ayla Rector signed him up for a feature open mic night, which turned out to be a scouting event for the show.
Everything changed after that. His Nashville performance turned out to be the last show of the tour before the pandemic brought all live music to a stand-still. After a lengthy audition process, Flanigan took the stage in a completely changed world.
For the blind auditions segment of The Voice, he sang “Colder Weather” in his signature raspy, soulful style. The Zac Brown Band tune always reminded him of his Hudson Valley home during the changing of seasons, and it was a powerful rendition. In fact, it was so powerful that it caught the attention of country music superstar Blake Shelton.
“His mom and I just shared that ‘hiccup breath’ moment where you realize everything we’ve done, all the choices and sacrifices along the way have become something bigger, and you watch someone who’s worked so hard get the validation they deserve,” Flanigan’s girlfriend Rector says of his success. “I cried and laughed for a long time after that.”
Flanigan’s experiences along the way fueled his performances on The Voice, enabling incredible success in the competition. He even paid homage to the Hudson Valley stage he shared with John Fogerty.
“Singing ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain,’ one of his songs in the battle rounds of The Voice, was a full circle experience for me,” Flanigan says.
Since stepping foot on The Voice‘s stage, Flanigan has become an absolute sensation, with the other celebrity coaches on the show praising his unique and authentic sound. At the blind auditions, John Legend said Flanigan “sounds like he’s lived a thousand lives,” a testament to the way his music inspires audiences.
Several of those lives have been spent touring incessantly. Flanigan has spent days on end traveling with his family in their motor home, performing for as many people as will listen. The stories he’s collected — and the artists he’s met along the way — are culminating in a new album, which he’s recorded 100-percent “on the road.”
“Whether it’s a keyboardist in Austin or a saxophone player in Mississippi, we’re going to record the album with musicians we’ve met on tour from our mobile studio in the RV,” Rector says. “These are some of his best songs, and definitely a snapshot of the times.”
During such a difficult time for musicians in the Hudson Valley and beyond, it means everything to Flanigan to represent them in his music and on the show’s global stage. Performing live to an audience you can’t see is a daunting task, and he’s had to work diligently to adapt his persona for television.
Plus, the singing is only a fraction of the work that goes into competing on The Voice, with interviews, rehearsals, and other ways of telling contestant stories on TV.
“I’ve had to overcome a lot of personal obstacles of being uncomfortable on cameras, which has been one of the hardest parts,” Flanigan admits.
Fortunately, it helps when you’ve got someone like Blake Shelton in your corner.
“The [coaches] are superstars in this world. But at the same time they are some of the most down-to-earth and kind people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting,” Flanigan notes. “I feel a lot of comradery with Blake; he truly loves music and originality.”
That genuine passion for music and humility that coach and competitor share has earned Flanigan new fans everywhere. A scroll through the thousands of comments left on YouTube performances shows just how much his personality resonates with people. During the pandemic, he and Rector upgraded their streaming and recording equipment, so stay tuned for more live performances online.
The new exposure to Flanigan’s music also brings exposure to Nightcap Entertainment. As Flanigan and Rector travel the country, they help launch the careers of other artists. In regard to what inspired them to launch Nightcap, it was apparent to them that to start in music, artists are required to do way too much on their own. Running websites, filming music videos, editing in post-production, marketing on social media; it’s extremely overwhelming. To be an artist, you must be a small business owner.
Nightcap presents solutions to bear some of that load and get independent artists off the ground. The pair are looking to turn the company into a small label, creating even more opportunities for up-and-coming creatives. Though they aim to help musicians throughout the country, they haven’t forgotten about those in their own Hudson Valley backyard.
And the Hudson Valley certainly has not forgotten about them. Flanigan described the support from his hometown in Saugerties and the surrounding areas as “100-percent mind-blowing.”
He’s cherished his local performances over the years, including at venues like Colony in Woodstock, Poughkeepsie’s The Chance Theater, The Falcon in Marlboro, The Towne Crier in Beacon, and at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in his hometown. To celebrate his success on the show locally, the teams at Hope Rocks Events, Sawyer Motors, and the Town of Saugerties organized drive-in showings for the most episodes of The Voice, where the communities that inspired Flanigan could gather to celebrate his impact.
“I can’t even express the gratitude I have…I’m always aware that I’m performing for America and everyone back home,” Flanigan says.
As he pushed on in the competition, the message remained the same: never give up on your dreams.
In summer 2021, Ian Flanigan plays shows at Clermont State Historic Site, Daryl’s House Club, and Ole Savannah in the Hudson Valley. Visit his website for a full list of tour dates.