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We don’t always realize the magnitude of the events in our life as they happen. Sometimes we are shaken to our core, and we know we will never be the same again. We are left shattered in such a way that no amount of emotional glue can put us back together the way we were. Even then, there’s no way of knowing exactly how our lives will change. We have no choice but to pick ourselves up piece by piece and hope wherever we’re going is brighter than where we are right now.

That’s what Buddy Tyree did when he watched his dad pass away from Stage IV lung cancer. He pulled out his guitar and, though he had written songs before, for the very first time he was actually pleased with the final product.

Months later, while sitting in an Exxon parking lot, he realized he needed to get out of his hometown of Barbourville, so he applied to Eastern Kentucky University the very next day. He walked into EKU “a beer T-shirt wearing, no-slacks-owning country boy with no sense of musicality in the voice” and stands today as “musical man’s man who isn’t afraid to be right and be ahead of the curve.” Tyree picked up all the pieces of his old self, and every day makes them into something better.

Now a junior music education major, Tyree hopes to become a high school choir director. For Tyree, though, music is much more than an academic pursuit. It’s a way of life. Ten years ago, young Tyree started strumming on the guitar as a way to pass the time. By age 11, he was writing his own songs, and now, at 22, he can play his hand at guitar, bass, ukulele, piano and drums.  In late 2015, he released an EP titled “Big World” under the stage name Buddy Tyree and the Traveler’s Suitcase. Since then, he has dropped the suitcase moniker, and has released several singles from his latest album, “Neon.”

Tyree’s music is the kind that grabs you by the soul, that forces you back to your own high school and college days, and all of the simultaneous angst, fear, and exuberance that comes with adolescence and dipping your toes into the real world. Describing his style as “modern-folk,” Tyree explained that “Neon”is “a chronicle of maturing from band tees and Chucks to polos and New Balance 574s and how I coped with all the break ups that came with that switch.”

As his music developed, so did his fan base. Tyree has played several shows at You and Me Coffee and Tea in Corbin, the Richmond Beer House and the Wesley Foundation on campus. He also has a merchandise line of Buddy Tyree stickers, guitar picks, and koozies.

Surprisingly, music wasn’t Tyree’s first choice of study. Tyree first chose English education after taking English 101 with Kimberly Siahkoohi. Given his musical background, Tyree “eventually spent enough time in the Foster Building that I made the switch to music education and never looked back.”

His time in University Singers has been especially meaningful. “(EKU Director of Choral Activities) Dr. Richard Waters has provided me and so many others with a sanctuary every Monday through Thursday,” Tyree said. “When you walk into Foster 100 for U Singers, you leave your problems at the door. They tend to wander out the front doors of Foster and, more times than not … get lost in a pile of autumn leaves. You forget about the problems, and they forget about you. The air smells fresher. The world gets brighter. Life gets good again.”

Tyree has “found friends, colleagues, mentors and a home” in the music department, explaining that Dr. Waters and University Singers have “given me more opportunities than I ever could have dreamed possible.”

Along with the music department, Tyree looks to such artists as Jason Isbell and John Moreland for inspiration, as well as Adam Duritz from Counting Crows, who taught him “how to wear your emotions way too loosely on a poorly tailored sleeve.” His all-time favorite artist is Butch Walker, who also recently lost his father. “A friend of Butch Walker told him when his dad passed, ‘You don’t become a man until you lose your dad.’” Tyree can relate to Walker’s experience.  After the loss of his own father, he had to learn “how to like myself since he wasn’t around to do it anymore.”

Tyree used to dream of he and his dad arguing, because that’s how they spent much of his teenage years, but he now imagines the two of them laughing and drinking. “I think that’s how we’d be, and I think that kind of person is who shows through in my songwriting now.”

Tyree’s father lives on in his son’s music. A lyric in one of Tyree’s songs, “When the Neon Light Screams” recalls his dad: “I’m in college now, it took a while, but I think you’d be proud.”

He certainly would be.

— By Yasmin White, student writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management