When Drew Baldridge released his viral country hit “Senior Year” in 2019 as a memento to his high school days in Patoka, Ill., he couldn’t have ever fathomed the life his record would take just months later as the world many students knew would never be the same.
The 28-year-old crooner and songwriter, whose grandmother would shuttle him to piano lessons as a teenager, knew early on that he wanted to bring joy to the faces of screaming fans as a musician when he graced the staged for the first time as a first-grader during a Christmas program.
Years later, Baldridge was handed a guitar at 16 and never looked back as he frequented the local Elks Lodge where he’d put on small shows in the corner of the establishment – singing to the likes of Johnny Cash and Josh Turner.
Ironically, those same legends, along with the likes of Brooks and Dunn, Eric Church, Eminem and Nelly, would become inspirations featured on a multitude of burned CD mixes Baldridge would make as a high school student, which he would distribute among his buddies.
But for the “Burnt Toast” performer, March 2020 would mark a monumental shift in his life and career that unfortunately came when the country began shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic that swiftly permeated the globe. “Senior Year” would become the anthem for thousands of high school seniors who would have their milestone moments cut short.
“This is a song that’s gotten way bigger than I thought it was going to be,” Baldridge said. “You know, I’ll be honest – when I’m in a writing room, I just try to create something that’s real to me. And I know if it hits home with me, it’s going to relate to somebody else. And we sat down that day and we just all talked about our senior year. And we’re all from different age ranges. And we kind of put it together.”
Baldridge said when he penned the song’s hook, “Never thought it would disappear senior year,” he did so with the intention of sending the message to graduates that “it’s going to go by fast, so enjoy it.”
“Then all of a sudden in 2020 when March hit and on March 16 when the shutdown happened and everybody – schools said, ‘Hey, you’re not coming back,’ Well, I started getting tagged [in] all [of] these TikToks and my dad called me and he said, ‘Hey, there’s a little girl down the road and she used your song in a video – you should go watch it,” Baldridge explained.
“So I went and watched it and it got to the hook where it was all her videos of her kids, her friends, and pictures,” he continued. “And it got to the hook and said, ‘Never thought it would disappear, senior year’ and man, I just start crying. I was like, I can’t believe I wrote that because their year did disappear. And so it took on a whole new meaning. And before I knew it, kids all around the country were reaching out and were posting these videos.”
Baldridge said he couldn’t believe the “wildfire effect” his song had on a generation of students.
“And that’s all – as a songwriter – you can hope to do is to write something that’s going to impact somebody,” he said. “And this the song’s really done that in a huge way. It brought a generation of people together forever.”
The contemporary soul said before he knew it, he was playing “Senior Year” at some 60 to 70 virtual concerts around the country.
“It was six or seven a day,” he said. “I was like, man – it was a lot of Zooms. But it was so, well worth it. And like, jumping on there and hearing these kids’ and stories like, ‘Hey, we were supposed to go to state this year in soccer and we didn’t even get to kick a ball.”
A former high school athlete himself, Baldridge said those conversations with students who got the short end of the stick in 2020, hit home, and he empathized with those students given the fact he lost his record deal as recently as Oct. 2019, which left him to fend for himself while hustling his music.
“Senior Year” doubled back and rewarded Baldridge when it cracked the top 50 on the Billboard chart.
“I was independent and one of the biggest surprises for me is that we didn’t have a promo team or a record label and ‘Senior Year’ was top 50 on Billboard, and that never happens,” recalled Baldridge. “The radio just started playing it and it got to top 50 which was a huge surprise for me.”
He added that because of his turn of luck regarding the viral success his song has had, Baldridge urges everyone, especially students to keep pushing forward and maintains that many will grow to be much stronger because of the circumstance they found themselves having to overcome.
“Now, of course, going out and playing these drive-in shows – that’s a whole different surprise [for] me, too, because I never thought I would be going and doing a ‘Senior Year’ tour. You know what I mean? That was a weird surprise,” Baldridge said. “Of course with COVID-19 and there are a lot of different things going on but I never thought, ‘Man, I’m going to play graduations and it’s going to be cool.’ But it has – it’s been so much fun!”
Baldridge added that the energy he feels when playing drive-in shows pales in comparison to the response he receives on the festival circuit.
“I’ve played so many shows – so many huge, huge festivals and to play these graduations – it’s like the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done to make these kids days when you’re playing the song and in the middle of it, they’re all just blowing on their horns in their cars,” he explained.
“You know, it’s a whole different feeling. It’s not claps – they’re horns and you hear screams out the windows and it’s a whole different experience that I’ve never had or felt before. I mean, I’ve played all kinds of shows and I always hear people screaming but hearing the honks, when you’re like, ‘How you doing class 2020?’ and they’re laying on their horns and sticking air horns out the window – it’s a whole other feeling for sure.”