by Karen E. Farley
Growing up, Chuck Wills spent summer vacations on Lake Lemon at his grandparent’s cabin. His childhood memories of the rolling hills and the forest made it easy to decide seven years ago to return to Southern Indiana with his wife, Teresa, and make Brown County his home.
“Moving to Brown County has made a significant change in our lives,” he says. “It’s easier to focus on the things that matter. I believe we are here on purpose, not by accident.”
For their first Christmas in Brown County, his wife gave him a gift certificate from the Weed Patch Music Company in Nashville for guitar lessons with Kara Barnard, well-known musician, instructor, and artist.
“It wasn’t easy at first,” he laughs. “I had to unlearn every bad habit I had playing the guitar.”
Wills didn’t always play the guitar. In middle school, he discovered the trumpet and in high school, he learned to play the piano. It wasn’t until college that he taught himself to play the guitar.
After graduating from Ball State with a degree in business administration, Wills and a friend travelled 13,000 miles through 19 states and Canada. Over three months, they camped at national parks, rode mountain bikes, played guitars, and wandered around the country. When he returned, he worked in the family business and a co-worker encouraged him to join the Greenwood Community Band. Wills played the trumpet and later started the Greenwood Brass Quintet.
In 1998, Wills married and settled down to family life with their two daughters, Jessica and Emily. The next few years were filled with work and school functions.
“I got busy with family things and music took a back seat,” he admits. “I even loaned my guitar to a guy for a year. I rarely played with anyone and it didn’t seem to matter very much at the time.”
Since the move to Brown County, Wills hasn’t put his guitar down and continues to take lessons from Barnard. He joined the Nashville Christian Church music team and then the Barnstormers. In 2009, he started an acoustic duo called The Nodding Compadres and played for several years with Shelf Life (nominated for best new band in the 2013 Brown County Music Awards). He credits the people of Brown County and Barnard for helping him rediscover music in his life.
“I’ve had two amazing music instructors in my life—my trumpet teacher in college and Kara,” he smiles. Kara’s an amazing friend and mentor. She taught me the spirit behind the music. Her fingerprints are on everything I do.”
Wills also enjoys acoustic guitar duos which he has performed with several musicians. He plays as a solo performer, but loves the energy when playing with others. In 2012, Wills teamed up with Barnard and they created the first Indiana State Fingerstyle Guitar Competition.
“It was Kara’s idea, but we both wanted to do something good for the community,” he says. “Our core values are hospitality and community involvement. We want visitors to experience Brown County through music, food, and people.”
The 2014 competition will be held on July 26 and 27 at the Brown County Playhouse on Van Buren Street. The competition draws musicians from all over the country and is one of only eight fingerstyle competitions in the world.
Barnard and Wills also started the Brown County Christmas Sing-along held at the Brown County Playhouse featuring local performers, musicians and audience participation.
Last year, singer/songwriter/performer Cari Ray called Wills and asked him to play guitar with her band, Cari Ray and the Loaners. He continues to perform with the band and recently worked with Ray on a CD project in Terre Haute. The band is currently working on a new CD to be released in 2014.
Wills is quick to admit he has many irons in the fire. He is owner of Content Management Systems Inc., a company that designs websites, and is also the executive director of MEO Foundation in Indianapolis. About six years ago, he took up beekeeping as a hobby. He has seven hives and sells the honey at the Wild Olive in Nashville.
“I feel like I’ve just fallen into this wonderful place,” he laughs. “I think of myself as an accidental performer. It’s really all about the music and I am just grateful to be a part of the vibrant arts community here in Brown County.”
Wills can be reached at (317) 697-7192 or email him at <email@example.com>. Catch him at Muddy Boots Café with Kara Barnard the first Thursday of every month in downtown Nashville and with Cari Ray and the Loaners.