Even busy, award-winning recording artists have favorite fall traditions. Cherokee County resident and platinum-selling country music star Mark Wills is a case in point.
Wills has eight Top 10 hits under his belt, all receiving Single, Song and Video of the Year nominations by the Country Music Association, and he was named Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in 1998. In 2002, his single, 19 Something, spent six consecutive weeks at No. 1 before being awarded Billboard’s prestigious title, Top Country Hit of the Year. Still, like most great country crooners, Wills is just an average Joe at heart. “I’m a normal guy like everybody else,” Wills said. “I love my football, love to be outdoors, love to do all the normal things people do here in the fall.”
Originally from Blue Ridge, Wills grew up a tried-and-true Georgia Bulldogs fan. And, while he doesn’t have the creature comfort of sitting in his favorite chair with his favorite blanket while out on the road touring, he’s almost always eating some chicken wings and watching the Dawgs play come Saturday. “In Blue Ridge, you were either a Georgia fan or a Tennessee fan,” he said. “The majority of my family were Tennessee fans, and that rivalry is where the love of college football comes from.”
Another favorite fall tradition that also can be traced back to his upbringing in the North Georgia Mountains is Wills’ love of all things outdoors. “I love to be out in the woods,” Wills said. “I’ve always loved to go camping and hunting, but the last couple of years I’ve developed a new tradition. We do a Wounded Warrior hunt.”
Although Wills and his friends have done several Wounded Warrior hunts in a variety of places, the annual trip to Wyoming became a much-anticipated fall tradition after some military friends invited him to play music at the event. “It’s really something special,” he said. “We go elk and mule deer hunting with soldiers who have been wounded post 9-11 and then play some music, sit out by the campfire and eat. Just getting to be with our men and women who have placed their lives on the line for our country and entertain them and take care of them is a great feeling.”
Except for the annual Wounded Warrior hunt in Wyoming, Wills is on tour throughout much of the fall and well into December, but he said he always looks forward to coming home to see the seasons change and spend time with his family. “Traveling all over the world, there are few things as beautiful as fall in the Georgia mountains with all the changing colors,” Wills said. “I was fortunate to grow up in this part of the country and travel the world. I’ve been in the desert in the fall where there’s nothing changing, and it reminds you to never take the beauty of this place for granted.”
When Wills is home in the fall, he spends as much time as possible with his wife, Kelly, and their daughters, Mally (13) and Macey (9), enjoying fun family fall traditions like the Ellijay Apple Festival and Woodstock Music in the Square. “Just because I’m an entertainer and travel doesn’t mean we don’t try to live a normal life,” he said. “We like to go see family in Blue Ridge and look at the leaves and all those other typical things people do in the fall.”
The weather’s fine, the leaves are changing and the apple’s aren’t going to pick themselves, so why not let Mark Wills provide the soundtrack to your favorite traditions this fall? Hit the trails to your favorite fall traditions with friends and family or, like Wills, blaze some new ones of your very own!
*Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Cherokee Life Magazine.