Music’s in the genes for Ellijay insurance agent Brett Cantrell


If you’ve lived in Gilmer County for a long time, you’ve had a chance to watch Brett Cantrell literally grow up on the stage.

Grandson of well-known Cherry Log musician Ralph Chancey, who passed away a couple of years ago at age 89, Brett has been singing and playing country and bluegrass tunes since he was about 4 years old.

A youthful Brett Cantrell holds his mandolin on stage at the Heart Fund Show in Ellijay in February 1998, with his Papaw (standing right) and his mother Melanie Cantrell.

“I have always just loved banjo and mandolin music,” he said recently in a phone interview. “All I wanted to do when I was a kid was carry a banjo around the house or a little mandolin, you know, nothing expensive, just little, nearly toy instruments.”

In fact, on his office wall, Brett still has a photo of himself holding a mandolin with his Papaw when he was 3 years old, and another photo serves as a reminder of the first time he ever played on stage at the local elementary school a couple of years later.

“I just don’t know anything besides being a part of music in some way,” the 30-year-old says, “you know, for 25, 26 years now.”

Above, a grown-up Brett picks his guitar at a show.

After those childhood days soaking up the music played by his Papaw and later as a member of a local family band with his mom, aunt, uncle, and her cousins, Brett’s interest in music continued to blossom. In fact, you may have seen him performing on the local ETC3 cable channel starting when he was just 10.

After graduating from Gilmer High School, Brett eventually joined a local band named Flatline Bluegrass before moving on to another group, Barbwire Bluegrass, that wound up playing all over the Southeast, including the International Bluegrass Music Convention in Raleigh, North Carolina. Brett himself even won the Georgia State Banjo Championship in 2012.

No matter where you see him performing, Brett makes no apologies about what you’ll hear at one of his shows.

“I am just what I am,” he says. “I carry a sign with me that says ‘Unapologetically Country’ when it comes to the music because, I mean, that’s just what I know, what I like to play. I tell people there are great rock artists or pop artists or whatever, locally, but if you come see me play, pretty much what you’re gonna get is 90 percent country music.”

His musical performances have slowed down lately, though, as Brett found himself at a crossroads.

Over the past year, he has transformed himself into a musician/insurance agent, opening up the Brett Cantrell Country Financial insurance agency at 142 Sand Street in downtown Ellijay. He laid the framework for his new career when he started working as a sub agent at a local State Farm agency about seven years ago.

Brett Cantrell points to the sign outside his Country Financial insurance agency in downtown Ellijay.

The new business takes up a lot of his time. In fact, as Brett took our phone call for this interview, he was just getting back to the office after chasing down a delivery driver to pick up an important package for the agency.
“I don’t play as much now as I used to,” he admits, “but I do think a lot of people know me locally from playing music, so they’ll call me to get insurance as well. I don’t ever want to quit playing music completely because it’s good marketing. In fact, the little sign I take out with me to shows says Brett Cantrell Music Presented by Brett Cantrell Country Financial with an insurance logo.”

Even with his new business going well, Brett believes music will always be part of his life.

“It’s just one of those things you can’t get out of your blood,” he says. “Even if you say you’re quitting or you’re slowing down or whatever, you’re always gonna miss it to an extent, whether it’s playing with a whole band or in a group or just by yourself. I’m sure I’ll always play.”

Brett had a light summer by design, playing only a few shows, including one for a private party and another at Buckley Winery, but says as things slow down in the mountains during winter, he’ll likely pick up his acoustic guitar (which he now uses about 95 percent of the time) and head off for a few more shows at local wineries and restaurants.

He’ll no doubt be recalling the words of his Papaw when he offered up some good advice to his grandson years ago: “Brett, if you’re playing at an event, all people wants is a racket! You don’t have to be no good. All people wants is a racket, and 90 percent of the people don’t know if you’re any good or not, so just get out there and have fun.”

After a quarter-century of entertaining crowds, mountainfolks have come to learn that Brett is good indeed and that likewise he has fun on the stage. If you’d like to see one of his entertaining shows, you can keep up with his schedule of events on his Facebook page at Brett Cantrell Music or stop by to see him at his insurance agency.