Thirty minutes before showtime, you'll find Kip Moore ... well, you probably won't find him.

The singer disappears while his bandmates go through their individual routines. Guitarist Manny Medina searches for his guitar. Others sip from a bottle of beer or can of La Croix, while one or two more rush outside for a final cigarette, or just a drag, if time is tight.

Then Moore emerges with a crimson Gibson ES-339 guitar slung over his shoulder, smiles at the group gathered outside his changing room and strums a chord that echoes through the 1,700-seat theater packed with fans anxious to soak in his blue-collar brand of country. They can't see him -- in fact, the house lights are still bright as he tinkers around on with his machine and jokes with friends, bandmates and crew.

Moore needs his space. It's not a strange demand for someone forced to live with a dozen other men in a rolling room the size of three prison cells for 200 days a year. The 'Somethin' 'Bout a Truck' writer and hitmaker has his routine, his methods. He's a natural introvert who's learning how to let others in.

Kip Moore
Billy Dukes for Taste of Country

“I need that time to gather myself and tell myself, ‘This is the last show you’re gonna get to play. This is it,’" he told Taste of Country a few hours before taking the stage at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, Tenn. "That’s what I always tell myself.”

One show.

Maybe one song?

Moore's approach is truly reckless, and he has the scars to prove it. Read only the media accounts of his scraps with scalpers, internet trolls and even his own record label and you'll fight an urge to paint him red like some hothead, destined to self-destruct. He is fiery, there's no doubt about it.

"After shows, I mean, I can be so angry if we miss one note," the CMA New Artist of the Year nominee says. "If I didn’t do something I needed to do better … if I don’t feel like the crowd is giving back what we put in, I’ll dig in and spit on stage.”

"I’ve had to kind of rein it back in a little bit," Moore admits.

Fans see the laid-back artist type that took six months to find himself in Hawaii before moving to Nashville in 2004. It's certainly clear that his dearest followers are not afraid of his temper. During a VIP performance earlier in the day, they teased and bantered back and forth with Moore. "Awww, you should play it for her," one woman heckled as Moore resisted singing 'Hey Pretty Girl' for a woman celebrating her birthday. Eventually he smiled, dropped his head and conceded.

Roughly 100, mostly female fans line up for a photo with the 34-year-old Moore before the intimate acoustic set that will only whet their anticipation for his sold-out show in Chattanooga. Another 25 will line up for an official meet and greet two hours later. As he sings and asks for song requests, he's startled by their loyalty. Some call for songs he penned and performed five, six or seven years ago -- long before 'Truck.' Long before 'Mary Was the Marrying Kind' (Actually, she wasn't, he now admits during one of the funnier moments).

(I) ripped them both,” he said, referring to his vocal cords. “The whole thing, where it popped over the mic and you could hear it over the speakers ... but that’s the way that I do things.

He has only had three or four "radio hits," but when you attend one of Moore's shows, you quickly understand why he was picked to headline the CMT on Tour: Up in Smoke, with Sam Hunt and Charlie Worsham opening. "It shows that they’re paying attention to who’s selling tickets and who’s working the scene," he says of CMT. "It means a lot to me to be that guy.”

“We traveled in my Jeep for years before ‘Truck’ even came out," he recalls in a slow Georgia accent that's not too different from what one hears during songs on 'Up All Night.' "I would burn CDs in my Jeep while we were driving, you know, and make little two-song things to sell with a T-shirt."

A few bandmates have been there since the beginning. Others came on more recently. Some call it a journey, while others refer to their formative years as a grind or (if he's particularly dramatic) and odyssey. For Moore, it was a fight: "A long, long fight."

"I remember moving to town and living in so many dumps. No heat in the winter time and trying to have a job that gave me just enough money to survive where I could be writing full-time. That was the thing, I wanted to be a professional writer," the singer says. "I wanted to write songs for everybody."

As he talks, Moore's hands dance around like he's playing air piano. At times, a bright smile lightens his look -- faded blue jeans, a sleeveless black Bob Dylan T-shirt that covers his gym-toned chest and black trucker cap. He'll change into his signature red cap and plaid flannel before walking onto the stage.

It doesn't take long to realize Kip Moore isn't really a brooding bad boy anxious for a fight. He's actually quite charming. The compliments he pays are genuine and effortless, and he smiles with ease. During dinner, he's chatty and inviting before he slips away. One does sense embers glowing beneath the surface of every conversation. A T-shirt at his merchandise table reads "#IDontGiveaS--t," and he'll echo the sentiment during his show. But the truth is, he probably cares too much.

After shows, I mean, I can be so angry if we miss one note,” the CMA New Artist of the Year nominee says. “If I didn’t do something I needed to do better … if I don’t feel like the crowd is giving back what we put in, I’ll dig in and spit on stage

“I sing really hard," Moore says. "And I don’t sleep well, so when I have to do a lot of shows in a row, I get really worn out. I get sick. I get sick a lot. And when I struggle like that, it’s not fun for me. But I always can reel it in and be like, ‘These people have been waiting to see this show.’ Regardless of how I feel, I always lay every ounce of everything I got out.”

“If (my voice) ends up blowing out one day, it’s gonna end up blowing out," he adds.

That actually happened. It was just as 'Somethin' 'Bout a Truck' was winding up and his career was taking off. For a month, Moore couldn't talk after hemorrhaging his vocal cords on stage.

"(I) ripped them both. The whole thing, where it popped over the mic, and you could hear it over the speakers ... but that’s the way that I do things.”

Things seem to be going well during his Chattanooga show, but Moore said fans (and media) will never know when he's not happy, so it's tough to tell. Still, his interaction with the crowd is remarkable. The VIP set felt like more a gathering of old friends than another day, another dollar. The rising star told stories of refusing to play worn-out covers like Van Morrison's 'Brown Eyed Girl' at bars unless someone put $50 in his tip bucket. He talked about his late father -- a man honored with a song called 'Comeback Kid' on his new album, tentatively scheduled for April -- and how he was the coolest dude he knew. He recalls riding with his brothers in Dad's pickup truck, listening to Sam Cooke, the Little River Band, Springsteen and Willie ... the memories are heavy. His stories are familiar, yet unique.

During his real set, the back-and-forth doesn't end. 'Wild Ones' opens and is followed quickly by 'Mary Was the Marrying Kind,' 'Reckless,' 'Beer Money' ...

During the second hour, Moore's still loose. He does a goofy dance on stage as he tells the woman in the upper box to his left that he knows why she was dumped -- she had her head buried in her phone too much! She loves it, offering to toss a phone the size of a sheet of notebook paper down to him.

He points to the other side and tells a dark-haired woman in a white shirt that she dances like a bad school teacher. It's a weird sort of conversation with 1,700 slightly inebriated fans. Go to any country show and you'll find the typical artist-fan interactions. The cutesy wave, the little girl onstage, the high-five ... Moore doesn't repeat any of those cliches. The three minutes he spends questioning the selfie (#PoolTime) fill in nicely for another song or extended drum solo.

At the end, he thanks the fans, a grassroots crush that's surged in spite of his stop-and-start love affair with radio. He admits it hasn't been a great year for him on the airwaves. And it hasn't. 'Young Love' neared the Top 20. 'Dirt Road' didn't crack the Top 40. His album got pushed back again and again, and stories of his brushes with his label began to seep into Music Row conversations.

There’s a lot of people that I trust to put me in my place and rein me back in.

"The intensity I’ve had making this new record ... I’ve butted heads with so many people," he admits. "The powers that be, the label, the management and agents. And I’ve had to rein myself back in and take in their perspective and what they’re thinking and not be so bull-headed."

“Because their opinions are very valuable to me," Moore adds, admitting, "I’ve learned a lot during this process.”

Balancing artistic integrity with business of making music is something every country troubadour struggles with, but few have struggled more than Moore. He's not blameless, and he'll admit to that. But he's also not stuck.

'Somethin' 'Bout a Truck' -- the song that put him on the map -- closes the show. A new single is on the horizon, and perhaps a CMA Award will usher it in. While the 34-year-old knows he can't control who wins on Nov. 5, he admits winning would be special.

A strange calm also appears to be drawing near. The fire will never go cold, but the storms of this past year sound like they've mostly blown over. An opening slot on Tim McGraw's tour helped personally and professionally, Moore admits. Trust has been the key.

“There’s a lot of people that I trust to put me in my place and rein me back in,” he says, naming his A&R rep at UMG, his manager and his band.

“I can’t imagine any band and crew out there being any tighter than we are."

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