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Beckley college student hitches rising star to classic country sound

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It's a double duty night at the Raleigh County Convention Center for Cody Wickline. 

Gaining a reputation for his singing talent, the Beckley 19-year-old has been invited to perform the National Anthem prior to a rodeo event in his hometown. No sooner than he reaches "the home of the brave" line, the spotlight shifts to the cowboys who are entering the arena for that night's bull riding.

Meanwhile, Wickline is backstage making a quick wardrobe change into his uniform for the duration of the evening. Within a matter of minutes, he has made the transition from his crowd-pleasing rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" to his less glamorous role of selling popcorn at the arena concession stand.

Emerging country music celebrities have bills to pay, too.

"People come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you look like the guy who was singing,' the college student recalls. "And I'd say, ‘That's because I am.'"

It's an example of his hectic lifestyle. On week days, Wickline concentrates on his academics as a nursing major at Bluefield State College. His weekends, however, are devoted to performing at fairs, festivals and auditoriums across the region.

"The nursing program at Bluefield State is tough, but it should be," the former Promise Scholarship recipient was quoted in a press release. "Nursing is a challenging career and your studies have to develop your skills and understanding."

The dual pursuits actually complement each other. 

"In both fields, you have to be sensitive to the situation," said Wickline, who taught himself how to play the guitar at age 14 and began entertaining audiences two years later. "In a patient care setting you've got to understand what the patient is going through. As a songwriter, you also have to understand what it feels like when someone is going through a tough time, and that's the basis for a lot of my songs." 

His empathy is paying dividends. He was recently invited to record three of his original tunes at Trinity Records. Dick McVey, a West Virginia native who operates a Nashville referral service, says Wickline is getting noticed in the music industry. He was recently contacted by the manager of headliner Kenny Chesney.

"I stay busy playing somewhere about every weekend," said Wickline, who has made two appearances at the Wheeling Jamboree. It's the same venue that helped to launch Brad Paisley to stardom. "I have very few weekends off.

"It's hard to keep up with nursing school and study time around the shows," he added. "I love playing and all, but playing every weekend gets to wear you out after a while."

Wickline may be tracing Paisley's path, but he's doing with his own sound. He describes his singing style as an up to date version of country music legends such as George Jones and Waylon Jennings.

"I'd like to think that I kind of have my own style," said Wickline. "There aren't too many people in the business now who have a love for traditional country music like I do. All of the songs that I write are traditional.

"I try to take the old, traditional sound and make it modern," he said. "Most of the country songs that you hear on the radio now are so diluted with pop (music)."

School obligations have kept Wickline from attempting to appear on one of the popular musical reality television shows, but he has not ruled them out.

"I want to see how my music career plays out," he said. "It's a challenge, but it's also pretty exciting."