Eric Ethridge, right, performs in the masonry workshop of Algonquin's Perth campus. The event, promoted by the Perth Students' Association, marked the start of a new semester.

Country artists Eric Ethridge and Cory James Mitchell rocked Algonquin’s Perth campus on Sept. 7.

Headlined by Ethridge, the show was promoted by the Students’ Association in order to celebrate the new semester. Free to Algonquin students and $10 for visitors, the event took place in the campus’ empty masonry workshop, an industrial setting which that was lit up by vibrant lights and country charm.

“It’s something we haven’t tried before,” said Perth dean Chris Hahn. “But we thought the empty workshop would make a great setting for a show.”

Perth’s country fans flocked to the show, mainly comprised of college-aged men and women and middle-aged couples. While only 50 tickets were sold prior to the show, another 85 were sold as the show progressed, alongside dozens of free-to-enter Algonquin students.

While the crowd may have been modest, the energy and passion of the musicians were anything but. Mitchell’s country-rock pumped a volatile energy into the air and got the crowd moving, followed by the pop-country Ethridge and his soothing songs of love and heartache.

Ethridge, 29, started his career in 2014, midway through his schooling as a chiropractor. Upon graduation in 2015, he began his country music career in the Boots and Hearts Emerging Artists Showcase. In 2016, he was asked to take part in the Canadian Country Music Awards Discovery Program, a national program that developed up-and-coming country artists. Out of the 250 applicants, six contestants were chosen, of which Ethridge was the winner.

“It was right after that when I started recording my first album, my debut EP, in the fall of 2016,” said Ethridge. “In 2017, I released my first single, called Liquor’s Callin’ the Shots. That one went to top 30 on the Billboard Charts.”

Since then, Ethridge has released two more singles, called Makin’ Me Crazy and California. His songs have been played on Country 101.1 in Ottawa and his debut EP was number one on iTunes.

“Within the next year, I’m hoping to perform throughout Canada, and the goal is to branch out into the US,” said Ethridge. “The dream is to relocate out to Nashville.”

While Ethridge and his music boast a clean-cut kind of rural Ontario charm, his opening act was in many ways the polar opposite. While Ethridge wore a clean tank top and a backwards hat, the country-rockin’ Mitchell wore a half buttoned flannel over a body covered in tattoos, ranging from skulls and hearts to caricatures of Beavis and Butthead.

Mitchell, 31, has only been gigging since April of 2017, but he took to the stage with the kind of devil-may-care confidence that normally takes years to cultivate. His bandmates played fast solos as Mitchell called out to the crowd with a gruff voice that would have been more at home in a hard-rock band.

Before pursuing his musical interests, Mitchell found his passion as a barber. He works a day job at a hair salon in Sarnia which, according to Mitchell, is coincidentally the same salon that Ethridge gets his hair cut.

“I always wanted to be a barber, and I always wanted to be a musician,” said Mitchell. “I got the experience needed to work at a barbershop and I got to live that dream, so I figured why not go out and try the other dream as well?”

Alongside his gigging and touring, Mitchell has released his first album, an EP called Something You Ain’t Ever Seen.

“We released the first couple songs, and now I want to have a full album out by next year,” he said. “And hey, if none of this ends up working out, I’ve still got my other dream to fall back on. It works out for me no matter what.”

Both of the Sarnia-based musicians are on the road again, with Ethridge heading to an awards show in Toronto while Mitchell and his band return home, where they will impatiently wait to find out when and where the next gig will be.