As the former Belton street crew worker tried to express his gratitude to fans a million times over, words were simply not enough for this singer and songwriter as he stood below the city’s water tower that now bears his name.
“I will never stop thanking you,” Tate Stevens said to those who had gathered on a chilly spring morning. “It’s because of you guys that I get to do this. I get to do this, and I get to live this life that people dream of, and I that dreamed. And I get to do it now, because of you.”
Stevens, 38, received a celebrity’s welcome as he stepped out of the driver’s seat of an SUV upon arrival at the water tower with his family beside him for a ribbon cutting on April 22.
Along with area community leaders, more than a hundred fans from across Missouri, including a woman and her family from Brazil, gathered at the City of Belton water tower on Monday for Stevens’ first publicized appearance in his hometown since winning the reality-TV singing competition “The X Factor” four months ago.
“There’s a lot of people I need to thank, and I know ‘thank-you’s’ don’t really cut it, but that’s all I can do now,” Stevens said. “I want to make you guys proud.”
A crew from D.E.M. Enterprise in Wichita, Kan. finished painting Stevens’ name on a Belton water tower, located just south of the Highway 58 interchange, on the west side of Interstate 49, just as the sun was setting on Easter evening three weeks ago.
The water tower is inscribed, “Home of Tate Stevens: Live the Dream!”
Needing little introduction, a family friend, Pam Elkins, welcomed Stevens within minutes.
“A long time ago, a few of us were riding around town. We all had dreams of doing things with our lives -- whether it was Brad St. Louis playing professional football or me and Drew (Davis) doing whatever we could think to do that day. But, we had dreams, and I’ve always dreamed of doing this,” Stevens told fans. “This has been my dream since I was a little boy. We would drive around town and you would see things from other people’s towns, like Toby Keith and Garth Brooks’. We always thought ‘Man, wouldn’t it be cool if we had our name up on the water tower.’ That’s when we would know we had made it.”
Stevens told the crowd that he was apprehensive about going on the reality TV show.
“When this whole X Factor thing started, I never thought that I would even win or I wouldn’t do very well in a pop-driven show that’s mainly for kids,” he said. “Being one of the old guys on the show, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just thought that if I could ride it a little bit, maybe something would come of it. Well, because of people like you, and all the other country music fans out there, I get to live my dream.”
The intention of painting the water tower in Stevens’ honor was unveiled by former Belton Mayor Jim Odom on national television during a watch party the night before Stevens won the reality TV show, just days before Christmas.
“That was one of the moments I will never forget. Those dreams came back. That dream became a reality,” Stevens said.
Stevens’ former coworkers watched in a bit of awe from stage right, as their boss, Street Department Superintendent David Frazier gave a few accolades about his former employee.
“We are very proud of him,” Frazier said. “We are very excited to watch him continue to grow and go on, and this is just a token from Public Works and everybody from Belton and Cass County that put their minds together and we came up with an idea, and it came together.”
Elkins helped organized Monday’s fanfare while Stevens was in town for two performances at the Midland in Kansas City. The Cass County native sold out the Midland theater for Sunday’s concert in just 30 minutes after tickets went on sale last month for the start of his U.S. tour. Event organizers later announced that Stevens’ had agreed to do a second show on Monday night at the same venue.
During the ribbon cutting and at both 90-minute shows, Stevens was humbled by the love of his fans and that his dream of being a star had come true.
He also expressed appreciation for his family and friends who have supported him on his journey.
“Every time I come home, I look at (the water tower) and the first thing that runs through my mind is how I can make, and continue to make, these people proud,” Stevens said. “I am going to work my (butt) off to do whatever I have to do to make you proud and keep my name up there.”
Stevens started playing the drums at an early age, receiving his first set when he was only 4 years old, but remembers that singing was his first love. He later picked up the guitar during his senior year of high school, and after graduating from Belton High School in 1994, he hit the road to perform with the Dixie Cadillacs. He traveled with the band across the country for about five years, performing in 200 shows a year.
But two years after his oldest child was born in 1997, he decided to come back home.
Focused on working and caring for his family, Stevens took a few years off from performing, but eventually found his way back to the stage in 2004.
He joined The Outlaw Junkies, and went solo four years later.
Over the years, he’s performed at area festivals around Kansas City, but had never given up on his dream to perform regularly on the national stage.
“Cuttin’ my teeth at an early age, out there on the road, I’ve kind of honed my skills, to do what I do now,” said Stevens, last fall.
Stevens’ talent was discovered by “The X Factor” at an audition last spring and later at Kansas City’s Sprint Center in June when British judge Louis Walsh told Stevens, and the other judges which included Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and L.A. Reid, “We found ourselves a country star.”
During Monday’s concert, Stevens’ told concert-goers that his wife, Ashlie, and their two kids, had signed him up to audition for the show’s second season.
Prior to appearing on the music reality show, Stevens made his living as a street crew worker in Belton.
“I can’t imagine having to go back to my job where I get to rake out a road that we’ve laid asphalt on and sing all I want and it doesn’t mean anything to anybody,” Stevens previously said on the show. “I don’t want to go do that.”
If the past week has been any indication, Stevens has the support of at least his hometown fans to make it far. Fans, young and old, sang along with Stevens during the performances.
The set included Stevens’ singles “Power of a Love Song” and "Holler If You're With Me," along with a medley of "Anything Goes" by Randy Houser; "Bonfire" by Craig Morgan; and "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi, and another Alabama medley of "Dixieland Delight," "Song of the South," Mountain Music," and "If You're Gonna Play In Texas."
He also sang passionately to the chords to “Ordinary Angel” and Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge.”
Longtime friend, Drew Davis and his band, the Magnificent Bang Bangs opened both shows for Stevens.
Davis told attendees that he grew up with Stevens and remembered him as “a little pudgy kid who happened to be my best friend.”
After performing in front of 3,000 people on Sunday and more than 2,000 on Monday night, Stevens’ self-titled major-label album was released on Tuesday.
“They’re going to get to know me as an artist, a little more of my personality. It’s good country music and it’s a lot of fun,” Stevens said of his album and what listeners can expect.
Stevens was accompanied on stage this week by a five-member band, including Colt Prather (lead guitar/background vocals), Eric Frampton (piano/background vocals), Mike Rogers (drums/background vocals), Jeremy Worden (bass), and Lee’s Summit resident Daron Tapscott (fiddle/banjo/background vocals).
After his stop in Kansas City, Stevens was scheduled to travel to New York to perform "Power of a Love Song" on ABC's Good Morning America on Friday, April 26, before a concert Friday evening in Atlanta, Ga. with Alan Jackson.