Blues man Eric Lindell remembers quitting his job and taking up a full-time career in music.
Back in 1994, he was living in Sonoma County, Calif., working at a bakery and gigging by night. It was a scary switch, he said.
"It really is some deep water out there," said Lindell, 38. "It's a fine line to walk, too ... to get out there and hustle some original music."
For years, Lindell scraped out a living on the road, playing as much as possible and recording and releasing albums independently. But his career finally started making serious headway last year. Saturday, he plays the Hot August Blues Festival at Oregon Ridge Park.
Lindell signed to renowned blues label Alligator Records early last year. In April 2006, Alligator released Change in the Weather, a compilation of songs from Lindell's previous albums.
"It's nice to see all that material get a second push," he said. "They did a good job with it."
Soon after Change in the Weather came out, Lindell's songs started getting regular airplay on independent radio stations around the country. Larger club crowds came to see him play live.
"It's nice to be appreciated and fall back on a blues label like that," he said. "It's amazing, the power of a record label - what they can do for you."
Lindell started playing music when he was a teenager and slowly developed his own mix of blues, roots rock and reggae. His smoky, soulful voice, scruffy face and tattooed arms mirror the gritty grooves he grinds out on stage. You could picture him playing on a back porch, in a dirty bar or on a festival stage in front of thousands.
Though it took years before he found national attention, Lindell is happy to have spent time as a relative unknown. As a veteran musician, he knew what he was getting into when he signed with Alligator.
"For me, it's nice that it came at that time. I was really settled in," Lindell said. "Sometimes when you're younger, you're not as settled in."
Lindell recently moved to Nashville, Tenn., from New Orleans, where he had lived since 1999. Before he left New Orleans, he finished recording a second album for Alligator at Piety Street Recording. The new record is scheduled for release in January. But in the near future, he will be playing summer festival shows and reflecting on his newfound success.
"I think I got nominated for a blues award or something - best new artist," he said with a laugh. "After 25 years."
Eric Lindell performs at the Hot August Blues Festival, which runs noon-10 p.m. Saturday at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville. Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the gate. For more information, call 877-321-3378 or go to hotaugustblues.com.