It was four short years ago Payton Johnson took to the stage for the first time in her life. She was a sixth grader at Andrew Lewis Middle School, and planned on singing in their annual talent show.
Understandably nervous, Johnson had never showcased her ability in front of that many people before.
Later this month, she will have another first, and she already admits she will be nervous for this one too. And it will be for a lot more than a couple hundred classmates.
The fifteen year old sophomore at Salem High School will be part of the performing list of the “Country on Mayo” festival in downtown Richmond on October 19th. The event is held on Mayo Island near the 14th Street Bridge in Richmond, and will be headlined by Brett Eldredge, a County Music Association Award Nominee for Best New Artist, who’s song “Don’t Ya” reached number one on the country charts earlier this year. Johnson is humbled by such an opportunity to perform on the same stage with one of the industry’s rising stars, and hopes to perhaps be in the same situation someday.
“I’m really exicted, I think it’s going to be a big step for me,” said Johnson. “I’m really nervous as well, but just the opportunity to meet some of these country people is something I know will be big for me later.”
Since those initial talent shows in middle school, Payton has also popped up in local café’s and has performed the national anthem for the Salem Red Sox. She is the proud daughter of Mark and Jamie Johnson, and the support she receives from them definitely elevates her.
“I’ve always wondered where she got this talent from, because it’s certainly not from me,” joked Mark. “I can’t tell her how to sing better, that’s not my job… but I can try to tell her how this will affect her big picture…because it can change her life.”
Protecting her identity as a typical teenager is something that translates well from her parents. In spite of her dreams to grow her musical career, Payton continues to be heavily involved in her school and extracurricular activities, including playing JV volleyball for Salem, as well as a being a member of the Young Life program and Junior National Honor Society. Payton also has two younger siblings to help mentor, Jake, an eighth-grader at Andrew Lewis, and Macy, who’s in third-grade at South Salem. All of those remain highly important and keep the teenager on a ground level.
“I still want to go to school with my friends, and I do not want a lot to change,” she said. “Playing sports, and doing activities, and just hanging out…that’s what I want to do right now…but I do want to make [singing] a more serious part of my life as well.”
Performing at a major event in Richmond may be a first for the teen, but no matter the crowd, Payton believes she cannot possibly have as many butterflies for this show as she was when it was all beginning several years ago in that auditorium at Lewis.
“I was so nervous,” she laughed. “But after a while, I just let it go and had fun with it, and that’s when I realized it’s something I want to do.”
Dealing with the apprehension and anxiety of performing is where Payton really leans on her parents for a little bit of a boost, and like most parents, they will always come through with what she needs.
“My mom taught me how to sing, and she’s always there to push me,” said Payton. “Sometimes I get really nervous or just may not want to do it, but she’s always there…and it makes a difference because I end up loving it and doing fine.”
And if it’s mom that provides the inspiration beforehand, being there after is something Mark takes a lot of pride in, no matter how his daughter feels.
“My role in this whole thing is to just give her a hug when she’s had a bad day and she’s feeling like it’s too much…that’s what I gotta do,” he said. And like his daughter, Mark is not quite ready for a drastic change, but knows through any success Payton has, his one wish will always remain.
“I just want to be dad…and I’ll always be there.”
Tickets are currently on sale for the “Country on Mayo” festival. They are $15, and kids under 12 are admitted free.