Freeman and Wilson backstage at the Ryman Auditorium on Jan. 13.

When Aslan Freeman moved to Nashville from the Triangle area in the fall of 2016, the goal was to continue making a living playing music – he just never guessed it would be country music.

Today, he’s not only doing exactly that, he also earlier this week performed at one of country music’s most iconic venues – Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

“They call it the Mother Church for country music. It’s a pretty important place,” Freeman, a Sanford native, told The Rant.

Freeman played the Ryman on Jan. 13 with Lainey Wilson, an up and coming singer songwriter with whom he’s been collaborating as bandleader for the last few years. The show was part of a charity event hosted by Nashville DJ Bobby Bones, who’d met Wilson on a video shoot for another artist.

“Lainey didn’t mention that she was a singer or anything, they were just kind of hanging out,” Freeman explained. “When he eventually found out that she was, he was more impressed that she didn’t try to push herself on him. He was like ‘now I actually want to check out your music.'”

Freeman, who graduated from Lee County High School in 2007 and went on to earn a degree in music composition from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, had been playing in, recording and running live sound for rock bands for much of the 2010s when he decided Nashville was the logical next step in his music career. Although he’d had some interaction with Wilson running sound at one of her performances in Raleigh, he had little experience in country music and expected to find work more in line with some of his prior efforts.

“When I moved to Nashville I was more thinking I’d end up getting a normal job again for a while,” he said. “I had friends here in some punk bands, and my thought process was more that I liked the city. Every time we played here it was a lot of fun.”

Instead, he met Wilson again at a singer songwriter “round” and was immediately impressed.

“She played her song ‘Dreamcatcher,’ and I thought it was great,” he said. “I never thought I’d be working in country music either, but I hadn’t gotten chills listening to music in a long time. I thought maybe I should try to work with her – I was new to town, and we had friends in common, and I needed work.”

It wasn’t long before Freeman was helping Wilson track demos and flesh out “full band” versions of the songs she liked best. Not long after that, he was helping assemble a full band and working with Wilson on a series of EPs and singles.

“At the time, I didn’t really know what a bandleader was. She just kept asking me to help, and I kept helping,” he said. “Just because of the way the whole situation was introduced, the people who came in started asking me the questions. They just naturally thought I was in charge.”

Although Freeman and Wilson maintain a fairly rigorous touring schedule, he continues to pursue other musical interests, including recording other bands, occasional songwriting collaborations, and performing with friends from other musical genres.

Freeman said the Ryman performance was a quick one – just a couple of songs from each act, played with a house band – and that it went well. Although plenty of “industry folks” were on hand, the coolest thing was being on the legendary stage.

“It’s like any other type of music. Like you think of rock music and indie rock in North Carolina, and if you play at the Cat’s Cradle you know all of your favorite bands have been on that stage,” he said.

We don’t have video of the Ryman performance, but here’s one of Freeman and Wilson performing in London back in 2019: