About 20 years ago, Mark McCullough was a student at Ohio State splitting time between school and musical aspirations, doing whatever he could to get people out to see his band.
His tactics were the same as those used by students today.
“I used to, for years, go out to the Oval and chalk little blurbs about the shows,” said McCullough, a 1999 graduate in marketing and logistics.
Today, he is still promoting his band, just on a much larger scale.
Red Wanting Blue will celebrate its 20th anniversary of being a band this Friday with a hometown Columbus show.
Though the band began in Athens, Ohio, while founding songwriter and vocalist Scott Terry was attending Ohio University, Columbus became its real home when Terry moved there to pursue a music career more seriously.
“It was a moment of being like, ‘OK, are we going to do this for real?’” Terry said. “For some guys, it was a college thing, for other guys — like myself — it was like ‘I don’t know, I think I want to try and do this for my career and my life.’”
Terry started the band in his sophomore year of college, playing house parties. With Athens isolated from larger cities, he said a move was needed to progress the band.
Columbus served as a land of opportunity at the time. Terry described the city as a middle ground between affordable living and a lively arts scene.
Another important factor for Terry was Columbus’ central location, allowing for more practical trips to larger cities, like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.
“To this day, I still tell bands that I meet, I always tell everyone: Columbus is not that far away,” Terry said. “Everything’s still under a day drive.”
McCullough, who plays bass, said Columbus and other cities nearby provided valuable support during the early days of the band.
“It really allowed us to grow at our own pace,” he said. “No matter how many times we tried to go out west or to the east coast and (were) just losing money all over the place, we could always come back here, to Ohio.”
What started as making their own CDs eventually turned into a fully independent music career. Red Wanting Blue spent about 15 years recording and playing independent of a label, before taking a brief stint on Fanatic Records — the band is currently independent.
During the early 2000’s, Terry said, as Red Wanting Blue prepared to make a career out of music, record labels and the music business began to change rapidly due to the rise of the internet and music streaming services like Napster.
“It was just the cards that we were dealt,” Terry said. “It was just that no one knew what to do.”
Terry recalled musician friends sharing warning stories of bad dealings with record labels. Coupled with labels’ lack of interest in the band, the members continued on independently.
“That’s the road that we took,” Terry said. “We’ve taken the much longer road because of it. I’m still very proud of that.”
Across Red Wanting Blue’s 20-year career, the band has made the most of its independence drifting in style from pop-rock to a more Americana sound.
McCullough said the band focuses on music they enjoy making rather than than popular musical trends.
“To be around this long, almost 20 years at this point, you have to do things differently and change things up from time to time to keep it interesting for us,” he said.
When Red Wanting Blue takes the stage at the Lincoln Theatre Friday night, the band will showcase music across that entire discography, spanning 10 albums.
Terry said the concert is part of a brief tour meant to reach longtime fans, particularly those in the Midwest. The shows will include updated renditions of some of the band’s older songs which are familiar to fans that have followed the band since early in its career.
After 20 years, the members thought Columbus was the right place to celebrate.
“This is certainly the one that’s going to be the most special,” Terry said. “We saved that for Columbus.”
The Lincoln Theatre concert, hosted by CAPA, will take place on Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $23.90 including fees via Ticketmaster.