Ten years ago, Pat Pollifrone was flying around football fields as a star defensive end at Salem High School. He competed strongly, throwing the shot put and discus on Salem’s track team, too.
Every night, though, he would sit in his family’s basement and play guitar for hours at a time, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, he said. Some nights, he played out on gigs with his dad.
School sports ended after he went to college, but guitar remained a constant. At Marshall University, Pollifrone met Todd Hanchock, from Princeton, West Virginia. The pair started a band and have been making music together ever since.
Tonight, they’ll do it in front of a national audience, when they perform on the USA Network series “Real Country.”
Pollifrone and Hanchock’s act, Adairs Run, is on the showcase series’ debut episode. Adairs Run will return for the climactic episode, in which all contestants are back to cheer for the finalists, a show publicist said.
Country music stars Shania Twain, Travis Tritt and Jake Owen are the show’s artist panel, and they selected the series’ 21 acts, according to show publicity.
Filming is already complete.
“Man, it was the experience of a lifetime,” Pollifrone said. “I don’t think that we’ll ever get an opportunity to do something like that again. If we do, that would be awesome. But it was just a ton of fun. Everybody that we worked with on the show was super professional, super friendly. Things were in place where they needed to be. Obviously things go wrong, but nobody ever made us feel uncomfortable.
“We didn’t have to do any crazy things like on ‘The Real World’ or something. Nobody was stirring the pot. It was a very good experience for us, and we are extremely grateful to have had the opportunity.”
The first seven shows will feature three acts competing for $10,000, a spot in California country music festival Stagecoach and a slot in the grand finale, episode eight. In the finale, $100,000 and a performance at the Grand Ole Opry are the prizes.
Pollifrone, 28, was Timesland defensive player of the year for the Spartans in 2008. Marshall invited him to walk on to its football team, but Pollifrone declined. “I decided I had a lot of concussions, a lot of head trauma from football in high school and hockey and just goofing off with the boys,” he said. “I figured there’s not much longevity in that.”
Marshall had dropped its men’s track and field team after 2003, so that was out, as well.
“I joined a fraternity and got really good at being an idiot, and then I met Todd, and we started playing and took our idiocracy on the road,” Pollifrone said.
They formed a band in 2009, and wound up moving to Nashville, Tennessee, where they had a disastrous showcase. “We got down here and got in front of some really big people way too fast,” Pollifrone said. “We thought we were good, and then realized we had some work to do.”
The big takeaway from that experience was the need to stress professionalism. Being a pretty big deal in West Virginia did not translate in Music City.
“We can’t be up here being a bunch of drunk idiots onstage,” Pollifrone said. “Let’s sober up, let’s get our act together, make it tight, make it professional and make it good.
“If you want to compete, you have to stand out in some way. I think our way is just being sober and putting on a really great, professional show. Guys aren’t falling down sloppy drunk onstage and all that stuff, acting a fool, saying crazy things on the microphone. Not to say that we haven’t, but we have learned since.”
They had already learned something about networking. And that would be key in getting the “Real Country” gig.
“It was one of those Nashville things being in the right place at the right time,” he said.
The Adairs Run guys are friends with a manager whose act was approached about auditioning for the show. That performer couldn’t make it, so their friend suggested that show producers take a look at Adairs Run. Pollifrone and Hanchock got the call, which led to multiple auditions, then the gig.
“I’ve had other people ask me, musicians back home in Roanoke and Salem, ‘Hey, how do I get on one of these shows?’ “ he said. “I’m like, ‘Man, you’ve gotta be in Nashville. You’ve gotta get your name in the loop.’ I don’t think they had an open audition call on this.
“Networking is everything in Nashville. Social media, just getting out and going to bars, rubbing elbows, [the writers night] Whiskey Jam, things like that.
“This town is solely based around networking, and the better your friends do, the better you do. That’s what we’ve heard from day one, and it’s been true for us.”
The show won’t do anything until tonight, but Adairs Run began doing better as soon as they announced they would be on, Pollifrone said.
“From the first day we posted we would be on the show, we’re already getting better gigs,” he said. “Our value has increased overnight, it seems. ... When you’re on top of the mountain in this business, the trail is narrow and windy, and you don’t stay there long. So we’re just trying to capitalize on every little bit that we can right now.”
Pollifrone’s parents, Patrick and Nita, still live in Salem. Patrick played music on weekends until Pat started playing varsity football, after which he preferred being in the stands, watching his son play.
“Dad and mom have always supported me in everything I’ve done,” he said. “I come from a great family, and I should probably be doing more with my life, considering how great they are.”
The elder Pollifrone is happy, though, to see his son getting recognition for his music.
“He loves it man,” Pat Pollifrone said. “He’s a ham for this kind of thing. He’s as proud as he could ever be, and to him, we’ve already won.”