There are many people across Horry and Georgetown County selling real estate. Only one of them has performed before thousands at the Carolina Country Music Festival (CCMF), held every June in Myrtle Beach.
Shawn Bilton, 37, is just a typical guy from Manning, South Carolina. He sells real estate for Coldwell Banker Chicora Advantage along the South Strand and makes his home in the Pawleys Island area with his wife Brandy and their 1-year old son, Jaxson.
“I was always shy growing up, and now I get to go up on stage before 10,000 people,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Bilton got his love for music at an early age from his dad, who was the Sales Manager for Wheels 92.5 FM (WHLZ) in Manning when he was growing up.
“I was always around country music and have always loved it,” Bilton said. “Country and Southern Rock were always my favorite. It just kind of turned into a thing where performing now is just something I want to do.”
After graduating Manning High School in 2000, Bilton earned his Associate’s degree in Business Management from the University of South Carolina and his Bachelor’s degree in Finance at Limestone College in Gaffney.
“I was a finance guy for seven years,” he said. “I was tired of sitting in the office and didn’t really fit that mold. I was good at it, but I just wanted to get out and about and apply that financial knowledge helping people buy houses. It just got to the point where I wanted to go out there and make relationships.”
Bilton did some contracting work in Louisiana and started songwriting but never performed. He later moved back to the East Coast and that’s when he first got on the stage.
“We moved here in 2014,” he said. “I played a bunch of hotels and resorts up and down the coast. I have been playing country music since 2013, but didn’t really perform for anyone. I played in church growing up and was a musical director. As far as chasing a career, I started in 2013.”
Those gigs attracted positive feedback which led him being asked to perform at CCMF four years ago. Bilton received a call to come to their annual golf classic held in March, which led to him being asked to perform at the festival where the likes of Alabama, Kenny Chesney, Darius Rucker, Lee Brice and Luke Bryan have performed.
“I went up there and played in front of their sponsors and executives,” he said. “They keep calling me back, so thankfully it’s been a huge positive relationship.”
Bilton was recently selected to perform on the inaugural CCMF Cruise, which will take guests down to the Caribbean Nov. 16-21, and will feature many of the acts that come in June.
“Every aspect of CCMF gets better every year. It just blows my mind how amazing that production is to get all of that done from the golf tournament, to the festival and now the cruise.”
Bilton and his band have traveled and played in places such as Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin and New York.
“All of these experiences and getting to connect with people locally and across the country has been cool,” he said. “I even have people that come back every summer and want me to send my schedule to them because that’s when they want to book their vacation. That is so humbling for me.”
Bilton taught himself the art of playing guitar, which gave him the passion of writing songs.
“I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 20,” he said. “I would always sing in church, but never played an instrument. So, I taught myself guitar, wrote a song in three months and have written a thousand since.”
According to Bilton, most of the songs that he writes come from his own life experiences.
“I can sit down and just get the inspiration,” he said. “I guess certain people have that thing about songwriting, about trades about whatever skills they may have. Songwriting just comes natural to me and I’m thankful for that opportunity.”
He has released one album, “Turn the Radio On,” and the second is currently in the works. That title track, recorded in Nashville, was written about his experiences traveling to the South Strand with his family while growing up in Manning.
Bilton said that he hopes that his songs can be impactful and maybe help someone with whatever they are going through.
“Events, things that you go through, hard or good times, marriage, kids or whatever it is, if you can take that and put it into a song where someone goes back to that moment every time, that’s what I want,” he said.
Bilton said that some family members and friends of his have experienced cancer, and he is writing a song about the dreaded disease for his next album.
“My brother-in-law’s wife died at 21 from breast cancer and my mother-in-law has beaten it twice,” he said. “I’m writing a song called “The C Word.” It’s an emotional song about the struggle that people have faced and tells them to keep their heads high. This song is really important to me.”
Bilton says that people who are not fans of the genre can enjoy his music.
“Country music just connects with people,” he said. “It usually gets boxed into this regional thing, and that is quite the opposite.”
Bilton said that while real estate pays the bills, he still looks to country music as the career that he wants to pursue.
“Selling real estate is great,” he said. “My clients become friends. Those relationships matter to me. Doing real estate keeps my wife happy, keeps everything going until it gets to the point where performing can support itself. I look forward to that opportunity.”
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