Blairsville native makes country connections along road to Nashville

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The last thing Michael Christopher expected to be when he graduated from college was a rising country music star.

The Blairsville native, who was born Michael Christopher Palguta, graduated from Blairsville High School in 2000 and then majored in communications media at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He made some friends who were into country music and that changed everything.

“I didn't have any background in music,” Christopher said. “I didn't play any instruments or sing. I never even liked country music until college. It was all sort of an accident.”

That “accident” has resulted in Christopher fronting his own band, opening for some of country music's biggest stars, having bookings of his own all over the country, cutting a CD in Nashville of songs he wrote and getting national airplay on the radio.

“My friends in college were always listening to country and I found that I liked it,” Christopher said. “I started singing, then learned to play a guitar just to accompany myself. Then I started writing songs.

“It was a hobby at first, but I couldn't settle for a hobby. I'm like that in everything I do in my life. If I'm going to do it, I have to strive to be the best I can be.”

After he graduated from college, Christopher decided to start a “pickup” band that has since developed into a group of professional musicians who come from all over the country.

“The band kind of evolved, mostly through networking. One musician knew of someone else who was good and would fit in.” Christopher said. “What I have now is a group of great musicians that supports me and shares my vision. We all get along, too. The band is like a second family.”

Christopher's interest in music didn't prevent him from also continuing to pursue his educational goals. He completed a master's degree at Seton Hill University while his musical talents became known.

Similarly, Zach Reeder, who contributes lead guitar, piano and harmony vocals for the group, just completed work for his master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

Christopher and his band have opened locally for country stars Phil Vassar at the Butler County Fair, Josh Thompson at the Lawrence County Fair and Craig Campbell at the Altar Bar in Pittsburgh. This summer, they have bookings in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee. They frequently play at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.

“I have two things going through my mind at once when I walk on stage,” Christopher said. “First, I'm just hoping the people will like my music. Second, I'm gauging the crowd. Some people are real energetic and want to take part in the show. Other times they are just there to listen.”

Christopher enjoys extensive travels with his band. It helps that his wife, Jessica, who is his number one fan, accompanies him. “She's the one you see at all our events taking pictures and selling T-shirts and our CD,” he said.

Christopher's CD, “You and the Open Road,” is a collection of 12 songs that he wrote either alone or with someone else. His favorite cut, ‘She Stood Out in the Crowd,' was co-written with Jon Conley, the guitar player in Kenny Chesney's band.

“Some of my songs are about my own life and my story. Others are just something I want to say. I like to write songs people can sing along with,” Christopher said.

According to Christopher, the most popular song on the CD is “Daisy Dukes.” It's getting national airplay on country radio stations.

“The first time I heard myself on the radio, I was at a dealership buying a truck. I'm a country singer. Of course I drive a truck,” he said with a laugh. “I was sitting in the truck talking to the salesman and my wife called and said I had to turn on the radio. I did and they were playing ‘All About the Chase.'

“It was great to hear my song on the radio, but I also liked watching the salesman listen to it and liking it.”

Christopher makes several trips to Nashville each year. “My CD was produced there,” he said. “I hope it takes off, but if it doesn't, I'll just enjoy my music. Luck is very much involved in that. There are thousands of people in Nashville trying to do the same thing I am.”

He recently started writing songs for a second album. “Sometimes I can write a song very quickly. Other times it might take a year from the time I start a song until I finish it,” he said.

Christopher resides in Irwin but still has family living in Blairsville.

His mother, Rita Palguta, supported his interest in music, buying him an electric guitar for Christmas and arranging for some lessons for him.

Christopher put them to good use — as his mother discovered the first time she heard his band play, in a performance his family attended at the Chesnut Ridge Golf Resort and Conference Center just outside Blairsville.

“I heard a band start and I didn't realize it was him until I turned around and saw him,” she said. “I couldn't believe how good they were. I was so surprised and so proud. I was really impressed.”

Christopher hopes that someday he can devote all his time to his music, but for now he is still working as a web designer for a Monroeville company. His fans can keep up with his music career as well as his scheduled performances on his website:

His next local performance will be May 24 at the Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort and Conference Center.

Jeanette Wolff is a freelance writer.

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