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In the crowded dining room of Hardee’s/Red Burrito in Hardinsburg on a Thursday night, amid the scent of deep fried onion rings, strains of deep fried country music fill the air as patrons line dance and clap along.
Meade County High School senior Emily Summitt alternates between sitting at tables with friends and sitting with family, awaiting her moment on the makeshift stage where her musical mentor Rodney Watts sings Tim McGraw’s “Down on the Farm.”
Summitt, 17, counts her appearances at the restaurant as just part of a full schedule of activities. In addition to her musical endeavors, Summitt holds a job, runs track and cross-country and helps on the 72-acre farm in Payneville where she lives.
“It’s so hard to keep everything on top,” Summitt said about maintaining grades while keeping such a busy agenda.
Some Saturdays she performs at the restaurant as well. She places her music among the more important areas of her life.
“If the job has to go, the job will go first,” Summitt said.
As part of a work co-op with school, Summitt reports to work about 7 a.m. then to school just after 10 a.m. and later back to work. She works at Brandenburg School Age Center, a day care facility.
The farm on which she lives has a limited number of animals but involves some effort on her part.
“We have three horses that are a lot of work,” Summitt said.
Most days during the week, the teen gets up at 5:30 a.m. and gets to bed about 10 p.m.
“I love weekends,” she joked.
As early as 8 months old, so her grandmother tells her, Summitt played piano, though she has no recollection of learning to play. In addition to piano, she plays guitar, ukulele, flute, drums, saxophone, clarinet and the xylophone.
Summitt cannot read music and plays all instruments by ear.
“I’ve never had lessons or anything,” she said.
A couple of years ago, Summitt sang in a competition at the Meade County Fair. She sang “Follow Me” by Uncle Cracker.
“It was terrifying,” she said, explaining she has stage fright.
It also was a source of hope for her after she discovered she won second place, she said.
About four months ago Summitt went to an open mic night at The Dinner Bell in Irvington. The event was hosted by country singer Rodney Watts.
Watts believed in Summitt and invited her to be a guest singer.
“She’s growing as a singer and songwriter and an artist,” Watts said.
Summitt, he said, has a good personality and seems to be a hard worker. Watts believed if Summitt is true to herself she can be successful.
Her musical ability, he said, is reminiscent of a current pop singer.
“I see a young Taylor Swift,” Watts said.
In November, Summitt opened for Watts for a charity event in Monroe, Ind. Though stage fright struck again, she overcame it and was surprised at the feedback.
“All these little kids wanted me to sign their popcorn bags,” Summitt said.
Summitt’s boyfriend, 19-year-old Wyatt Bean, called her a talented musician who accomplishes all she does by keeping the various parts of her life separate. She is driven, he said, by her music.
“I’m just drawn to her,” Bean said.
Though Summitt admits music is a big part of her life, she said she knows it can all backfire. She plans to join the Air Force, and as a backup will attend Elizabethtown Community and Technical College before attending Western Kentucky University.
“I didn’t really have it mapped out until the last few months,” Summitt said.
A FEW NOTES ABOUT EMILY SUMMITT:
City of birth: Louisville
Favorite music: Country and Taylor Swift
Favorite TV show: “The Vampire Diaries”
Favorite books: The “Hunger Games” series
Favorite movie: “Charlie St. Cloud”
Favorite song: “To Make You Feel My Love,” by Garth Brooks