Jax Musician Madison Hughes to Open for ‘90s Country Queen Terri Clark at the Florida Theatre

Late last year, Madison Hughes went viral with her cover of a Morgan Wallen hit. In February, she'll open for Terri Clark at the Florida Theatre | Brooke Jennings, courtesy of the artist

Since appearing on NBC’s The Voice, local singer and guitarist Madison Hughes’s country music career has been steadily taking off. Late last year, she went viral with her cover of Morgan Wallen’s hit “I Deserve a Drink.” 

Nowadays, Hughes splits time between Nashville and her hometown of Jacksonville, and she’ll be playing one of Northeast Florida’s biggest venues soon, opening for ‘90s country star Terri Clark at the Florida Theatre. I sat down with Hughes to talk about the songs she’ll be playing on the Florida Theatre stage, her pre-show rituals and the emotions around playing the historic Jacksonville venue.

You posted on Instagram a while ago that you’d set a goal to play the Florida Theatre at some point, and now you’re doing it. What does that feel like?

I had written on my goal sheet back in 2022 that my 12-month goal would be to play at the Florida Theatre, and then to record enough songs that would compile an album.

What was it about the Florida Theatre, exactly, that made you put that on your goal sheet?

I’ve always been attracted to Jacksonville’s history and the music history behind it. And the Florida Theatre is kind of the big venue in town, and it’s one of the only historic theaters in town. Even though I didn’t think it would be possible, I still wrote it on my vision board because I’m like, you got to write it on your vision board, even if you don’t truly believe it fully yet. I needed to write it on paper.

How’d you end up snagging this show?

I emailed them. “Hi. Do you have any opening slots for this other band?” It was the Steeldriver, I think. I asked, and they were like, “Nope, I don’t think that’s available. Let me go see if what else we have open.” And he’s like, “Oh, you know, let me ask Terri Clark’s team. She’s actually coming to town in February, and she doesn’t have an opener coming with her.” And it took many emails back and forth to try to get this locked down. And any musician understands how hard it is to kind of get things booked, especially in a prestigious place. But they booked me a 30-minute opening slot. It’s happening.

Something similar happened when you were booked to sing the national anthem at the Jaguars’ home opener this season, right? You sent them an email asking about it, and they said yes?

Yeah. Exactly. Sometimes you gotta think ahead. In this case, it was cool because I didn’t know Terri Clark was coming. But Kevin Stone, who works at the Florida Theatre, helped find an aligning act. Funny story: I split time in Nashville, and Kevin was going to a booking agent/talent buyer conference in Nashville. And we met up there, and we were just talking about how you move forward and get things booked. He’s been a great resource to me. So thank you to him.

Would that be your advice for local musicians who want to book bigger gigs? Putting yourself out there and seeing what happens?

Pitch yourself in a way where it makes sense to the person you’re talking to. Make them see how you and the other act would work together. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t had a viral moment yet. Be proactive in email. The opening slot theory is definitely doable. If you are scared to email bigger venues, ask if you can open for someone.

Nineties-country fans are bound to go crazy over the fact that Terri Clark is coming to town. What is your relationship with Clark’s music?

When I was auditioning for The Voice, I ultimately chose a Bob Dylan song, but I was also considering Terri Clark’s song “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.” That was in the running. I know now that her number-one song is “Better Things to Do.” When I was looking at auditioning with “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” I found that song, too. But I don’t know much about ’90s country, honestly. Terri Clark was one of the only female country artists of that era that I really knew about.

I like that Terri’s doing tough-girl country, which I feel like I’m sort of similar to. It’s not all about Barbie doll glitter country, right? I feel like I’m in alignment with her gritty style. And I feel like it’s a perfect match-up with her audience and demographic. So I’m really excited to open up and see if her fans are vibing with the songs I bring, because I feel like they will, even though I’m not fully ’90 country style, but I think I connect with the people who would like that music.

What’s your pre-show ritual going to look like for this show? Such a big stage!

People are always confused why I’m so like quiet or like not super outgoing or kind of mean sometimes before shows. I just, I can’t have people talking to me, and I have to be alone for the hour before, and I just have to, you know, do my warm ups alone, drink my tea and water. It’s funny, because people are always like, “Why are you in a bad mood?” But I’m not in a bad mood. I have to just focus. 

I do get nervous before everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s a smaller coffee shop gig: I get nervous because I take it seriously. It’s not just a hobby anymore for me. Like I want to be in game mode like an NFL player.

What songs are you most excited to play on that amazing stage?

I want to play some newer songs that no one’s heard yet. Even my family hasn’t heard them. Mhm. I’m going to play them all just acoustically. I haven’t decided if I want to bring my acoustic guitar or electric guitar.

There’s this one song I wrote recently with this girl up in Nashville. Her name’s SJ McDonald, and we wrote this song called “If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another.” No one has heard it yet, so I’m excited to debut that. I haven’t had many Nashville co-writing sessions lately with people my age, and she is actually a ’90s-influenced country writer and artist, but she’s my age, and so she’s able to help me write a song that I really connect with, sonically and lyrically. The cool thing about playing live is that the people in this audience are going to hear everything I’ve been working on that’s unreleased.

Madison Hughes opens for Terri Clark at the newly renovated Florida Theater on Friday, February 2. Tickets and more information here.

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