Ben Rector is big in Aggieland. That was obvious in September 2012, when the earnest singer-songwriter performed at an MSC-reopening celebration at Rudder Auditorium.
The crowd of Texas A&M students sang along to every song by the Tulsa native. And when he broke out his charming cover of Whitney Houston’s sugary 1987 hit I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), the auditorium became one big dance party. It was an exuberant scene, a jubilant concert moment that earned smiles from everyone in view.
“At that time we were playing it a bunch, and people seemed to really enjoy it,” Rector recalls. “Which is odd, because I didn’t know if anybody college-aged would connect with that song, or really know what it was. I remember feeling like that — like, ‘OK! This is a thing.’”
Rector, who graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2010 and now calls Nashville home, returns Sunday for a concert presented by MSC Town Hall and AEG Live. His latest album is Brand New, a thoughtful piano-and-guitar effort that debuted in August. It is his first album to make the top 10 on the Billboard charts.
“Oh man, it’s so weird,” he says of seeing his name in such company. “... I’m confident in what I do and I think that it’s good, but I’m also the last person to be like, ‘Yeah, you’re gonna see my name in lights.’ I’m not really that guy. So it’s totally still foreign to me that any amount of people are interested in my music, or that any amount of people are buying it. So yes, that stuff feels super weird. Not weird in a bad way. It’s awesome.”
The Sunday concert is his second local show in as many months. Rector held a contest with Yahoo! Live for fans to create a video for the Brand New title track. The prize: a Rector concert at their home.
Four A&M students — roommates Danielle Smith, Leah Hale, Kathryn Beazley and Sawyer Wilson — submitted a clip, featuring dozens of Aggies bopping along to Rector’s sunny, feel-good track. Synchronized dancing, a Say Anything reference and a climactic confetti toss were all part of the fun.
Hale, a junior interdisciplinary studies major from Clear Lake, says the video took three days to plan and one day and night to film. After wrapping up the filming around midnight, director Noah Rodgers immediately went into editing mode, Hale says, with support from the rest of the crew. By 8 a.m., the video was complete and submitted in time to make the deadline.
There was a quick turnaround for the contest, Rector says, and he worried that there wouldn’t be many entries, let alone high-quality ones. He was encouraged by the fan response, he says, especially the one from College Station.
“I was relieved,” he says. “It was so clear that that was going to be the winner, because of the scale of it and the attention to detail. They did an unbelievable job. Outside of just being impressed, I was also genuinely grateful.”
The singer learned just how big of a production the video was while talking to the students at the house concert on Sept. 3, which was billed as “Live! From Danielle’s House.”
“It’s crazy,” he says. “It was even more effort than I assumed. They had gone dumpster-diving to get all those couches. When they did confetti, they said the store was closed, so they basically handmade all that confetti. I was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’”
Getting the house and backyard ready for a concert led to some stressful moments for the students, Hale says. But she was pleased with the outcome, calling it “a really joyful day.” A big part of that, she says, is Rector’s affable approach and friendly personality.
“I kept thinking with celebrities, ‘Oh, they’re so much cooler, they’re so much better,’” she says. “No, they’re actually not. And he’s the first one who will tell you, ‘Don’t put me on a pedestal. I’m a person just like you.’ He’s so incredibly humble.”
For Rector, it was another happy night in Aggieland.
“Honestly, it was so great,” he says. “It was such a pleasant experience.”