“There’s times, hard as we pray/Heaven has another way/And even though there’s nothing faith can’t do/Sometimes that mountain doesn’t move.”
— “That Mountain,” Charley Jenkins
OGDEN — Charley Jenkins knows a bit about trying to move mountains.
Growing up on a small farm operation near Roosevelt, in the high desert of eastern Utah, Jenkins says life was good. But not always easy.
“It’s a tough place to make things grow,” said Jenkins, who now lives in Heber City. “But I was blessed to grow up there.”
What’s more, the 41-year-old chose a mountainous path that he describes as both tough and a blessing: country music.
Jenkins, who was one of the finalists on 2008’s “Nashville Star,” will perform a free concert on Monday night at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in downtown Ogden. The show is part of the Excellence in the Community concert series.
“I’m excited to play up in Ogden again — it’s been a number of years since I was there,” Jenkins said in a recent interview with the Standard-Examiner. “The last time was with Lady Antebellum at Ogden Amphitheater.”
Jenkins said his concerts are a family-friendly affair.
“The first thing you can expect is it’s going to be a safe place for your family,” Jenkins said. “It’s going to be completely appropriate for your 4-year-old all the way up to grandma and grandpa.”
Jenkins and his band will offer up a mixture of originals and familiar cover songs, “with our own twist to them.” He also promises an interactive show, with moments when Jenkins calls on the audience to participate.
Not a country music fan? Not a problem, Jenkins says. Although you’ll get “Folsom Prison Blues” during the evening, you’ll also get some Elvis — and even a little “Footloose.”
Jenkins said he played a Google corporate event some time back, and even that crowd enjoyed their time with the country singer.
“You’ve got twenty-somethings from California and New York who might not even have a country radio station where they live,” he said. “But we find that good music is good music … people will relate to it.”
Indeed, Jenkins says people tell him all the time that they’re not country music fans, but they enjoyed his show.
“If you just want to come for an entertaining night where you don’t have to worry about anything, this is for you,” he said. “We don’t have people walk out very often. But just know that when we take the stage, it’s all about our audience and what we can do to use music to create moments for them — moments we create together.”
Wrestling with music
Jenkins concedes that he came a little late to the music game. In high school, he sang with a performing group tied to the local Utah State University Extension but wasn’t “super-focused” on music — spending most of his time on rodeo and sports instead.
He went off to what was then Ricks College in Idaho, with the intent to compete on the school’s wrestling team, but his mother encouraged him to audition for the school’s Showtime Company performing group and he was accepted.
“It was tough, and I was out of my element, but luckily I made the group so I gave up my wrestling plans,” he said. “I love sports and wrestling, but music is something I can do for the rest of my life.”
After taking a hiatus to serve an LDS mission to Chicago, Jenkins went back to Ricks. But he was faced with another tough decision. Being “poor as dirt,” Jenkins simply couldn’t justify choosing the college performing group over a part-time job to help with his schooling, so he left Showtime Company.
About that same time, Jenkins and a roommate began writing songs and entering local competitions and showcases.
“The next thing we know, we took all we owned and spent it in a Rexburg studio, recording our first album,” Jenkins said. “We hired a studio band and recorded every song we’d ever written.”
Jenkins insists the album wasn’t very good, but the two men purchased 1,000 copies, and sold every one of them.
“I remember going door-to-door selling albums, trying to get my money back,” he recalls. “My parents were already apprehensive about it, so I really wanted it to be a success.”
Off to Nashville
After college, Jenkins had intended to transfer to another school to finish his degree. Instead, he decided to pack up and head for Nashville, to give country music a try. Jenkins admits he had to quickly change his mentality once he got to Music City.
“There was so much talent, so many great writers and players and singers in every corner of that town,” he said. “I had to really flip my ego. Instead of looking at Nashville as a competition, I looked at it as an education.”
Eventually, Jenkins got a job on Music Row, connecting musicians with songs.
“I was living the dream,” he said. “But then my dad got cancer and I came home, in the middle of haying season.”
For almost a year, Jenkins’ father had told his son to stay in Nashville.
“But eventually,” Jenkins recalls, “I said, ‘I really wanna come back home,’ and he finally said, ‘Yeah, I think you should.’”
That was 2004. A couple of months later, Jenkins’ father died.
“It was a great decision, coming home,” Jenkins said. “You only have so much time with your family, and I would hate to know that I didn’t take advantage of being with my dad and what he was going through at the time. It was the right thing to do.”
Jenkins remained in Utah after his father passed. He produced a couple of albums, “Round Here” and “Ridin’,” and in the summer of 2008 landed a spot on “Nashville Star,” the country-western equivalent of “American Idol,” where he was a Top 12 finalist.
‘Another big push’
These days, Jenkins works booking artists at events, fairs and festivals, in between doing about 50 concerts a year himself. He travels around in a 1993 “money pit” of a tour bus that he purchased a decade ago — sight unseen — on eBay.
“We have a love-hate relationship,” Jenkins said of his trusty ride. “Probably 90 percent of my stress in this business is, ‘Will it start? Will we get there?’ Of course, I say that, but she’s never NOT gotten us there. She’s like the Millennium Falcon — beat to snot but gets the job done.”
A couple of years ago, due to some personal issues, Jenkins says he almost gave up on music. Almost. But recently, he’s been thinking he might give his music career “another big push.”
“I’ve always said that the only reason I wanted more success in this business was to continue to make music,” Jenkins said. “I do know this: I still have songs left in me that I want to get out there, I have ideas and performances I want to complete, and until the songs dry up and I don’t feel like I have anything else to say? I’ll just keep doing it and doing it.
“And in the end, I hope people walk away saying, ‘I wanna see him again,’” Jenkins added. “That’s our ultimate goal.”