It wasn’t that long ago that Jo-el Ulmer was driving an 18-wheeler across 1-80, passing the hours singing along with George Jones on the radio. But we all know how time flies. Fast forward a decade or so, and a whole lot has changed. Jo-el still puts in a lot of windshield time and sleeps in truck stop parking lots. However, these days he drives a van loaded with guitars and fancy clothes with his wife and music partner LeAnne riding shotgun. Together, they are the duo 2Country4Nashville.
Theirs is a modern-day love story with chapters that could be mistaken for an adult version of The Little Engine That Could. They met through a mutual friend, LeAnne’s husband, who also happened to be Jo-el’s best friend. When her husband lost a heartbreaking battle with cancer, the two friends developed an unbreakable bond with one another and married in 2001. Ever since, they’ve been on a mission to make a living doing something they love, playing country music.
As soon as LeAnne could, she retired from a 25-year career as an elementary school teacher, and they hit the road. They played anywhere and everywhere they could find, including nursing homes, dive bars, restaurants, back yards, and parking lots. They played for tips, just to get in the door (ask any musician, booking gigs is not for the weak at heart.) However, one thing they never did, gave up — enter The Little Engine That Could. Against all odds, they kept asking, knocking on doors, and making cold calls. They built their success on the word no, using it as a mere stepping stone to get to the next yes — a paying gig.
Jo-el and LeAnne are the embodiment of perseverance and what it means to not only chase a dream but to make it come true. They don’t know how to quit, and they don’t take no for an answer. They just keep on moving forward, climbing the mountain, singing, and strumming. “My dream is to sing and play till the day I die. I wanna be like Little Jimmy Dickens — 90+ yrs old and still doin’ it,” Jo-el comments.
Today, the duo sells out theaters with a loyal following that “shows up and shows out” wherever they play. Through non-stop touring (except for a brief stall during 2020) they have gained a following the size of Texas. It’s not uncommon for some of their fans to hop in the car and drive 1,000 miles for a show. Venue owners can’t help but take notice. Recently, they even scored a regular time slot at a well-known venue in their hometown of Nashville. Nashville hasn’t exactly embraced the duo. In a town that has the highest concentration of people working in the music industry per capita than anywhere else in the world, it’s a tough crowd, to say the least. After all, the name 2Country4Nashville was born from an actual conversation. However, among all the naysayers, are the fans who adore them, and that’s who they play for.
In rhinestone-studded suits and handmade cowboy boots, they show up and deliver their unique brand of real country music to anyone with ears to hear. They know the power of a song and most importantly how to connect with every person in the crowd. Meet them once, and they’ll never forget you. 2Country4Nashville is pure showbiz, with bells and whistles and silly antics on stage. But, in all seriousness, it’s much more. It’s two people singing their hearts out, with one twangy electric guitar, a tambourine, and a stomp board — inviting the world to sing along. And we all could use a little more of that.