Everyone is quick to point out how hard it is for people working in creative industries to support themselves solely on their craft. But the conversation usually stops there, and hardly ever steers toward the fact that there are people doing exactly that right here in Colorado.
Meet A.J. Fullerton: one of Colorado’s self-made solo musicians out of the Western Slope. Fullerton got his start the same way as many aspiring musicians: he performed at open mics and school talent shows, opened for local bands, and generally played anywhere that would have him throughout his mid-teens. By the time he was 19, however, Fullerton was a full-time solo artist who now plays up to 250 shows a year around Colorado and the surrounding states.
In the still relatively short length of his professional career, Fullerton has already made quite a name for himself in the local music scene. He has performed at some of Colorado’s major musical events including the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival and the Durango Blues Train. The Colorado Blues Society has deemed him “best” in a number of categories, including Best Self-Produced Album for his debut work, “Kalamath,” released in 2017 – among many others.
Fullerton is currently at work on his second studio album, which will be produced by multi award-winning Canadian blues artist, Steve Marriner. This project is especially unique in that it will be the first time Fullerton has recorded outside of the U.S. He will record the album at Signal Path Studios and Baldwin Street Sound, both in Ontario.
“I think I’m going to focus a lot more on the lyrics and the meaning of the album overall as compared to my last one, which was really just an attempt at making a first record.” said Fullerton of his upcoming album. “I really feel good about working with the producer too because he’s somebody who I admire the work of quite a bit. I feel like that’ll help give it a certain flavor, a certain direction.”
Generally in Colorado it can feel next to impossible for artists to nurse a budding music career from outside of Denver. The smaller, rural parts of Colorado aren’t necessarily perceived as having the same amount of opportunity for people who aspire to pursue careers exclusively in music, art, or another creative medium. Fullerton’s focus on becoming a local success in his hometown on the Western Slope is what ultimately paved the way for his popularity to spread throughout the rest of the state and even parts of the country.
“I think, especially growing up as a native and local in Colorado, you’re always wondering if there’s a greener pasture or a better opportunity somewhere,” he said, “That being said, you can do a lot in a local community. You have to understand what boundaries are there and what things you can work around. I think Colorado has a lot to offer.”
Varying ideas of success exist in modern society. Some people measure success with money and reputation, others by personal fulfillment. While Fullerton may not align with the majority’s stereotypical idea of mainstream success seeing as he hasn’t won any Grammys (yet), it is precisely this narrow view that is discouraging and damaging to so many aspiring artists. But as Fullerton points out, success is subjective. And his definition is constantly evolving:
“The funny thing about success is a lot of time it’s just achieving small goals,” he said, “During the time I was in high school, to me, success was just going out and playing a show every now and then. Once I got out of high school, success became about me wondering if I could support myself and make a living playing music. And now I’ve been playing full-time for about six years and playing professionally for about ten years, so success has kind of evolved and changed again into: well now I’m supporting myself and travelling and all these things, so what do I want success to be now that I’m reevaluating and reshaping those goals.”
Fullerton’s story is a refreshing departure from the tired trope of the “struggling artist,” and serves as evidence that life in the “big city” isn’t the only avenue to pursue a craft seriously and make it into a successful career. He is a living testament to the actuality that someone from small-town Colorado can go on to carve out a legacy as a renowned musician, and an inspiration for others aspiring to do the same
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