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Sydney Hutchko has been in love with music since her momma played Naomi to her three-year-old Wynonna, singing, "Grandpa, Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days" in their family room. These days, whether she's opening for Miranda Lambert or Charlie Daniels, rocking 80,000 fans at Ohio's Jamboree in the Hills or impressing an industry crowd at the prestigious Key West Songwriters' Festival, the love is just as strong.
"There are plenty of ups and downs when music is your life," she says, "but when a singer and audience really connect sharing energy and emotion, the feeling can't be explained"
Sydney has given music a lifetime of dedication, from childhood choral work that put her on stage with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Pittsburgh Opera to stints as a Music Row intern while she attended Nashville's Belmont University. In return, she's already seen the kind of success few singers fresh out of college could even dream of.
She has opened for Miranda Lambert, Florida Georgia Line, Brett Eldredge, Charlie Daniels and the legendary George Jones, performed on the long-running Wheeling Jamboree, which launched Brad Paisley, and spent six weeks on the national MediaBase chart with the single "Mr. Mister." She has sung the national anthem for the Pittsburgh Pirates vs St. Louis Cardinals Game 4 at the 2013 NLDS, Memphis Grizzlies, and at the 2012 Enshrinement Ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.
Through it all, she can trace the head start she got from her musical family. "When visiting with my grandma, who had been in a Country-Western duo, playing guitar as well as being a great yodeler, we'd sit and sing at her kitchen table for hours," she says, "She was the happiest and most optomistic person I have ever known."
Thanks to her parents' record collections—and her mother's singing voice—she heard plenty of new and old country, Reba, The Judds, Trisha Yearwood, Patsy Cline along with a generous sprinkling of Beatles, Motown/R&B and classical music thrown in.
"Momma worked with me a lot on harmonies," she says, "She would sing a melody line and I would jump in, she'd work with me until I got it. We kept ourselves entertained on road trips, around campfires and any other chance we got!"
At age 10, she became part of the Children's Festival Chorus at Duquesne University thanks to a teacher's recommendation and an intense audition process, and performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops, directed by Marvin Hamlisch. Sydney also performed with the Pittsburgh Opera, her favorite being the opera Carmen.
She did musicals and talent shows in high school, and auditioned for American Idol, Season 5 in Chicago.
"I was in line talking to people and a woman asked what kind of music I liked," she says. "I told her, 'Trisha Yearwood, and she mentioned that Trisha had gone to Belmont. That planted the first seed of a move to Nashville in my mind." Just before her senior year in high school, she and her family visited Belmont. "My mom could tell the minute I set foot on the Belmont campus that I was headed there right after high school. I wrote an essay as part of my application called ‘All Roads Lead to Nashville,’ and that's where I went."
While at Belmont, she put together a band, playing shows in Nashville and in the tri-state—Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia area. She threw herself into her classes and interning opportunities, including for Cherry Lane Music, which, she says, "really made me pay attention to what makes a good song," for McGhee Entertainment, whose legendary management roster ranges from Darius Rucker to KISS, and for radio legend Bob Kingsley at Country Radio Seminar, the yearly Nashville gathering of artists and the radio industry. "CRS gave me the chance to work with artists, their label reps, their PR people and their management, and to see how it all plays out behind the scenes," she says. "That's the beauty of living in Nashville. The city and the industry are the best classrooms."
That knowledge, combined with her talent and experience, have made her one of Music City's most exciting young artists. The hard work that ties it all together has her poised for a breakthrough. She continues to shine on stage, both as a headliner and in support of country's biggest stars.
"To get on the charts along with many of my heroes was an amazing experience," she says, "and I get that same thrill every time I walk onto a stage. I've spent my life trying to learn all the things that go into making that little girl's dream of a singing career a reality."
"The beauty of country music," she says, "is that it's real. It's stories. It's a great vehicle not only to express yourself but to do good for others, if only to let them get away from what's going on in their lives and enjoy themselves. I love to see people come to a show and, without realizing it, let go of their burdens and get swept up in the music. That's what it does for me too."
As the crowds grow and the attention increases, Sydney Hutchko continues to develop that relationship with her audience as she watches her childhood dream grow into something wonderful.