After years of travelling hundreds of miles each week to play in venues across Texas, two Rockdale musicians got their first big break from country music star Darius Rucker.
Musical duo Treble Soul, made up of married couple Curt Jones and Hannah Prestridge, will take off for California in June with a gift given to them by the former Hootie and the Blowfish lead vocalist on the CBS show Celebrity Undercover Boss -- a scholarship to the Musician's Institute in Hollywood, $20,000 for living expenses and the promise of mentorship.
The surprise was presented during an episode that aired in May featuring Rucker, disguised as a retired teacher looking to break into the industry, scouting for talent in Austin.
Of the three musician groups to benefit from Rucker in a teary exchange on the show, Treble Soul was the only group to instantly recognize the out-of-tune old man was actually Rucker when he sang Wagon Wheel at the show's reveal -- Prestridge and Jones immediately looked at each other in shock, and Prestridge whispered, "Is that 'Hootie?' "
With their 2-year-old daughter and new guitars courtesy of Rucker in tow, the couple hopes to improve their technical skills and music business savvy.
"We have fun playing the music side, and we have an idea of the business side, but he's sending us to that school to get an idea of what's going on in marketing, publishing your own stuff and recording and pushing your own stuff without paying a lot of people to do a lot of things," Jones said, although he said being able to afford to stay longer than a year will depend on what gigs they are able to get.
They will attend a week of classes in June and head back in January full-time, but for now they are continuing to play in venues across Texas Wednesdays through Saturdays, performing anywhere from Sixth Street in Austin to Galveston.
The other three days are spent practicing and spending time with their daughter, Presley, who they say is their real motivation. They say that the need to provide for her gives them extra strength in the tough music industry.
"Music is working out wonderful right now, and the grace of God is letting us have this opportunity with Darius Rucker, and it's been working out right now, but if it doesn't -- I'll keep doing this till we have to stop," Jones said.
The two met while they were teenagers performing in Nashville venues and have since cultivated a sound they describe as soulful country music without the twang. But more than anything, they say what draws them to music is making the audience feel something when they are on stage.
A favorite moment for Prestridge was when she played the song I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack for a man in the audience who told her his grandson had just committed suicide." I was like, 'I didn't mean to make you cry,' but he said, 'No, it's a good thing,' " Prestridge said.
The duo said they generally feel out the crowd on whether they want to hear covers or originals. Jones mostly writes their music, drawing on personal experiences.
He wrote the song Addiction, which was performed during the show, at the lowest time in the couple's life, when Prestridge was in rehab for a painkiller addiction she developed while dealing with a pregnancy complication.
With lyrics like "let me be your addiction," Jones said he hopes the song can encourage people to reach out for help during times of struggle. He said it was confirmation that the song was special when he performed it for Prestridge shortly after writing it and then again for her therapy group in rehab.
"I love to write, but I've never written anything that moved somebody like that, and when you see a whole group of people saying, 'That actually moved me,' " Jones said. "I started choking up, because I wrote something that they said moved them. They've been told, 'Don't do this, don't do this,' but music speaks differently."
In her Rockdale home this week, Prestridge said the experience of going from rehab to being a mentee of Rucker is a testament to the ability to overcome -- and she hopes the people who watched the show or hear them perform know that they, too, can overcome.
"I hit rock bottom, now I'm just going back up," Prestridge said. "That's all you can do."