Liz Cooper thought she would make a name for herself in the world of golf, but her life ended up swinging in a very different direction.
Instead of a life on the links, the 23-year-old Fallston native picked up a guitar and headed south to Nashville, hoping to chase a new dream of being a singer and songwriter in "Music City."
After releasing a six-song EP, "Monsters," with her band The Stampede last year, Cooper is excited to be performing on a Harford County stage for the first time, at Bel Air's Maryland State BBQ Bash on Saturday.
"No one has any idea what I have been doing in Nashville," she said Tuesday. "I am kind of excited to come back and blow everyone's socks off."
Cooper is set to perform from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday at the BBQ Bash, joining bands that include Jake & the Burtones, Walk-Ins Welcome, The Cadillac Three, Muddy Creek Railroad and Jr. Cline & the Recliners.
Craig Ward, founder and organizer of the bash, says he is excited to add Cooper to this year's line-up, calling her "really cool" and noting she just released the EP.
He also said this year's bash, which runs Friday and Saturday, could be the best one yet.
The bash, which has evolved into one of Bel Air's biggest events, drawing upward of 25,000 people each year, runs from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, in the parking lot of the Mary E.W. Risteau State Office building at Bond and Thomas streets.
Appearing on stage at the BBQ Bash is a far cry from Cooper's younger days, when many thought she would someday be a professional golfer.
"I grew up playing golf and that was like my main thing, and I guess around junior, senior year, I just got super burnt out from it," she said. "It just wasn't for me, and I always loved music and listened to music." As a high school golfer, she was a four-time Harford County and district champion.
"I was obsessed with a guitar, basically," Cooper explained. She was known as Liz Silbernagel in Fallston, but now goes by Cooper, her middle name.
"I came home from school and played until I fell asleep," she said.
After graduating from Fallston High in 2011 and briefly attending Towson University, Cooper hit the road, having been inspired by her parents' musical recommendations like the Grateful Dead and Natalie Merchant.
"I just had a passion for it and I always had thought that the culture of just being a musician is really cool. It very much suits my personality," she said, adding she knew a friend of her dad in Nashville. "I just kind of took a leap of faith."
Cooper's music blends folk, Americana and indie rock influences.
"A lot of my songs are about myself, but a lot are about things that I have been observing, or friends, or people I have been in relationships with," she said.
One song, "Anna," was even written about TV personality Anna Nicole Smith after Cooper watched a program about her.
Cooper said she is proud of her first EP, which was released by the small Nashville Music House production company, featuring members of the band Future Thieves, which played at this year's Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
Although Nashville is traditionally associated with country music, the growing city offers something for musicians of all stripes, without the pressure of New York or Los Angeles, Cooper said.
"I have never been super into country music, but the scene down here is great; there's so many different musicians and, especially the last couple of years, they have really made a point that Nashville is not just a country music place," she said.
"There's just rock-and-roll galore, and folk, and psychedelic," she said. "It's just a really good community of people down here. I have just been absorbing everything for the past three years and writing as many things as I can."
In addition to Cooper and the other musicians performing, the BBQ Bash features more than 50 teams from around the region and the nation trying to compete for the annual Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Tennessee and The American Royal in Missouri.
"We have upgraded the vendors to have more focus on barbecue and less of the carnival vendors," Ward said. "The weather looks beautiful and I think this could be potentially our best BBQ Bash ever."
He added the event is receiving a "great response" from the newly-formed Visit Harford! tourism organization, as well as key sponsor, the Jones Junction auto dealerships in Fallston.
Ward also said organizers have been working even more closely with Bel Air Police Department and "really upped our public safety."
"The other thing that's huge for us in terms of the culture of the event is, we want to keep it free, so the balance of our budget is hugely dependent on our sponsors," he said, adding the patio area of the Mary Risteau building is sponsored by Macy's this year.
More information is available at facebook.com/MDBBQBash or belairmaryland.org/bbqbash.