Westminster percussionist playing before sold out crowds on "Red" tour

Westminster High School graduate Matt Billingslea is the touring percussionist for Taylor Swift. He's traveling all over the world as part of Swift's "Red" tour.
Westminster High School graduate Matt Billingslea is the touring percussionist for Taylor Swift. He's traveling all over the world as part of Swift's "Red" tour. (PHOTO COURTESY OF INNOVATIVE PERCUSSION , Carroll County Times)

Percussionist Matt Billingslea knows what it's like to play in front of 70,000 screaming fans.

It comes with the territory when you are part of Taylor Swift's band.

Billingslea, a 1997 Westminster High graduate, is in his first year as the touring drummer for Swift, a country and pop music icon in the midst of a global tour.

He is the percussionist for Swift's high-energy "Red" tour. So far, he's performed in front of sell-out crowds at London's famed Wembley Stadium, Detroit's Ford Field and Dallas' Cowboys Stadium.

He's played in Madrid, Spain, Washington and dozens of spots in between, always in front of a sold-out crowd filled with teens and 20-something Swift fans who scream their way through every concert.

This is the latest high-profile gig for the Nashville-based Billingslea, who previously toured with standout country acts Lady Antebellum, Thompson Square and Gary Allan.

Billingslea is used to playing before thousands, but on the Swift tour, even he sometimes stops to take a cell phone photo of the massive crowds. He shares the photos with his more than 2,000 Twitter followers.

Recently, Billingslea posted a photo from when he performed with Swift at the Capital FM Summertime Ball in London's Wimbley Stadium June 9.

There were at least 80,000 fans in attendance at the Wembley concert, which also included Justin Timberlake, will.i.am, Jessie J and PSY.

"That's nuts," Billingslea said of the crowd. "It was huge. That one was really cool just because it was Wembley."

Swift and her band, Billingslea included, played a set of five songs for the London concert.

The traditional "Red" tour show features two hours of music. Swift is backed by her band, backup singers and dancers.

And it's Billingslea's job to keep the beat for it all.

Billingslea replaced Al Wilson as Swift's touring drummer in January. Wilson was with Swift from the beginning and decided it was time for a break to spend more time with his family, Billingslea said.

When the search for a new drummer began, Wilson put in a good word for Billingslea. Wilson was one of the first percussionists to help Billingslea when he moved from Colorado to Nashville eight years ago.

They shared a mutual friend in C.J. Boggs, who also works behind the scenes for Swift currently.

After submitting a video of himself playing several Swift songs, Billingslea was hired just in time to play at this year's Grammy Awards.

Billingslea's second child, a son named Ryman, was born Jan. 4. The next week, he was in rehearsals for Swift's "Red" Tour.

Swift, a seven-time Grammy Award winner, has gone from country music entertainer to pop music icon. She resonates with the teenage and 20-something crowd.

"There's a lot of teenagers for these concerts and they scream loud," Billingslea said. "They are very passionate. They know all the songs."

From his perch, Billingslea can spot crying fans who are moved to tears simply by being at their concert.

"They are seeing their idol," he said.

It's been a busy year on the road for Billingslea, but performing with Swift has its perks. If there are three days in between concerts, Billingslea and the band are often flown home. Then they fly out to the next concert.

Billingslea said he is trying to savor every moment. He's reached the most coveted gigs in his profession, one where the audiences he plays in front of fill venues at every stop.

"When I go sit behind the drums, I'm looking out and seeing 60,000 people," he said. "It's just like, 'wow, this is really something.'"

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