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Rising star: Grand Ole Opry is next step for Larsen

By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

Sometimes, Blaine Larsen said, he feels like he's living someone else's life.

In June, Larsen was strumming his six strings and crooning "In My High School" at his White River High School graduation ceremony. Friday nights were reserved for gigs at the Enumclaw Godfather's Pizza. A month later he was the opening act for country music's Chris Cagle at the King County Fair.

In October, he hooked up with BNA Records of Nashville, Tenn., and last week his single "How Do You Get That Lonely" had climbed into the 30s on the country charts and is moving upward.

Saturday, before a plane load of family and friends who will be in the audience, Larsen performs at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

"It hasn't really hit me yet that I'm doing it," Larsen said of his visit to country music's grandest stage. "I've heard when you step out onto that stage it's pretty emotional."

Larsen, 18, will share the stage that night with Joe Nichols, Trick Pony, Riders In The Sky and others. It will be the same hallowed stage graced by George Jones the weekend before.

Plateau area listeners can pick up WSM radio in Nashville on Sirius Satellite radio and www.wsmonline.com.

While in Nashville for the Opry, Larsen will also be cutting the final track for his album "Off to Join the World," due to hit store shelves Jan. 25. Larsen calls it a "bonus" track to the songs Plateau area fans are familiar with from his "In My High School" record produced by Rory Lee Feek and Tim Johnson under the Giantslayer Records label.

Then it's home for Christmas before heading off to promote the single and the album in January and February at radio stations across the country. Toss in creating a video for "How Do You Get That Lonely," and it adds up to what Larsen calls "a lot of work, but it's rewarding, and fun and challenging."

"I don't feel any different at all," he said of his fast-moving career. "That's the weirdest thing of all - you're surprised at how unsurprised you are."

But his publicity biography would leave anyone in awe. Not only does it outline his start and humble roots in Buckley, but his recent stop at the RLG offices, where he sat in the same conference room where label superstars like Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Brooks & Dunn and Alabama have also met the press, perused their photo sessions, screened their videos and met with staff.

The biography even notes how Larsen stopped to take a photo of himself in front of his name, which had been added to the list of artists on the wall of the label's fourth floor lobby.

The coming album is loaded with songs written from Larsen's heart that strike a chord with listeners. Larsen said he's proud of the first single to be released from the album and the positive response it seems to be generating.

Written by friend and partner Feek and Jamie Teachener, "How Do You Get That Lonely" is the story of one of Feek's daughter's friends. It is about the heart-wrenching story of teenage suicide.

"I love that song," Larsen said. "The first time I heard it I got chills.

"I look at music, and especially that song, as a way of touching people."

According to a recent press release, since the song's release to radio in the past couple of weeks, calls and e-mails from listeners in some areas sow it has had an immediate impact.

"As my son has become a teenager," an unidentified caller in the release said, "I forget to tell him that I love him no matter what. It was easy to say when he was younger because he was so lovable and was quick to say it, too. Now that he is at the age that he is trying to find himself and gain his independence, 'I love you' doesn't come so easily. But, that song made me realize that he probably needs to hear it more now than ever."

The release went on to tell the story of another caller who said she felt her son was contemplating suicide and she didn't know what to do. The DJs got her some information to help prevent another possible death. In Chicago, the release noted, the program director had to enlist help to field the more than 100 calls they received in less than 45 minutes after playing the song. All emotional and all positive, the release said.

That's what it's all about, Larsen said, "helping our friends and family," by raising awareness and getting information into folks' hands.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), more than 30,000 people a year commit suicide in the United States, making it the No. 11 cause of death.

"I never want to take advantage of a tragedy; my best friend's brother committed suicide, so it hits really close to home for me," Larsen said. "But I feel that this song is so well-written, that it can hopefully touch people and maybe make a difference in someone's life.

"I'm really proud of the fact that the Jason Foundation is on board," he said.

The Jason Foundation Inc. is a nationally recognized leader in youth suicide awareness, education and prevention. It provides information, education programs and resources to parents, educators, youth and others who want to help in the fight against youth suicide. It is named after Jason Flatt, who committed suicide at 16.

Statistics from the Jason Foundation report suicide ranks as the third-leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 and fourth for ages 10 to 14. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth, as well as for ages 15 to 19 in many states.

The U.S. Department of Health reported in 2000, more than 3 million youth seriously considered suicide in the United States and of that number more than 1 million attempted suicide, equating to more than 2,700 attempts each day by young people between the ages of 12 and 17.

The report goes on to state, in the past 40 years, youth suicide rates have almost tripled. Between 1980 and 1996, suicide rates for ages 10 to 14 increased by more than 100 percent.

But that's just one of many of the songs on the album.

Larsen co-wrote six of the 10 tunes, many with Feek or Johnson and one with White River High teacher Dave Bleam.

If single and album do well, Larsen said he's hoping for a slot on a major tour this summer where he'll be "Off to Join The World," literally and figuratively.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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