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Maggie Rose: A country singer with a new name, new look and new sound

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Before country singer Maggie Rose chopped off her hair earlier this year, she and her stylist did shots of Fireball whiskey to calm their nerves. There was a lot riding on this haircut.

It had already been a long, slow climb for Rose. When she grew up in the quiet suburbs of Potomac, she was Margaret Durante, a name she kept when she moved to Nashville to pursue a music career after dropping out of college. She was told she had the voice to become a star and released a few singles after landing a record deal. But, as with many aspiring artists, something wasn’t quite clicking.

So she decided to try a new tactic: Hit the reset button on her career as Margaret Durante and find a new sound, a new band, even a new name. And a completely new style, which led to the scissors and alcohol.

“When in doubt, have some whiskey,” advised Rose, 24, sitting in the air-conditioned back room of her sparsely decorated tour bus this summer. She paused. “Wow, that’s a terrible motto.”

Maggie is a nickname given to her by her father, and Rose is her middle name. The new moniker caps a long line of changes to her musical persona. Her formerly long, light tresses are shorter and bleached blond, and her makeup is heavier. Her flirty, poppy tunes have evolved into songs with a dark, swampy feel. While the edgy Maggie Rose isn’t so wildly different from the wholesome Margaret Durante, it’s far enough away on the spectrum to give her a much-needed confidence boost.

“I just figured, this is a way to take bits of Margaret Durante and show the changes that occurred,” Rose said, relaxing before a show several months ago in Glen Allen, Va. “Not abandon what I was,” she added, “but it’s a more grown-up version of who I am.”

The change seems to have paid off, as Rose has seen the buzz start to pick up. Her brassy single “I Ain’t Your Mama” made a mark on the country charts, she got booked on her first major tour and is in the studio with veteran Nashville producers James Stroud and Blake Chancey, preparing to release her first album in February. And in August, the 2006 graduate of Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School marked a true country milestone with her debut at the Grand Ole Opry.

As she navigates the country music world, Rose seems almost surprised that she’s made it this far. She never thought that singing professionally could be a realistic option, so she just went about daily life growing up while being known as The Girl With the Great Voice. Attending Our Lady of Mercy School in Potomac, she performed in a youth choir and at church. During high school, she got hooked on performing, began writing songs and soon recorded a demo.

In 2007, Rose was focused on college, starting her sophomore year at Clemson University, where she majored in vocal performance and joined a campus a cappella group, TakeNote. But a family friend slipped Rose’s demo to a music industry pal, and it worked its way up the ladder to legendary record producer Tommy Mottola, who helped shape the careers of stars such as Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez.

One day on her way to class, Rose got a call: Mottola wanted her to come to New York to perform some original material.

“Obviously, I didn’t go to class that day,” Rose said.

Mottola was impressed, and that’s when Rose’s life started to change. After intense consultation with her family (her grandfather’s advice: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”), Rose left Clemson and moved to Nashville. Having grown up on a steady stream of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bonnie Raitt and Patsy Cline, she found country music to be her natural genre. Mottola helped her meet people in Music City, and she got to work writing songs.

Five years and some false starts later, Rose found herself booked on the high-profile Country Throwdown Tour, sharing a bill with big names such as Gary Allan, Josh Thompson and Sunny Sweeney. As one of the tour’s youngest acts, she performed long before those headliners took the stage. In fact, when Rose and her band — three guys and four girls, a ratio she’s proud of — stepped onto the side stage at 4:10 p.m. at Snagajob Pavilion at Innsbrook, people still weren’t being allowed into the Glen Allen venue.

The band launched into its first song, undeterred. Concertgoers were slowly allowed in, and about 30 people trickled over to the side stage, with that number growing throughout the half-hour set.

“I’m glad they let you in in time,” Rose said dryly from the stage.

Her set featured some hard-stomping new tunes, including “Fall Madly in Love With You,” “Preacher’s Daughter” and “Whiskey & a Gun.” The single “I Ain’t Your Mama” was a warning to a lover of all the things she will — and won’t — do around the house.

After her set, Rose made a beeline for the merchandise booth, chatting with audience members and family and friends from the D.C. area. Her parents and two sisters were there; they come to as many shows as they can. Some grandparents also drove down to watch the Virginia show. On Sunday, a similar group will be in Baltimore to watch her perform at the Hippodrome.

Rose doesn’t seem daunted by the enormous effort needed to build a music career, and the grueling exhaustion that comes with constant travel, touring, performing and visiting radio stations all across the country, sometimes multiple times a day.

“I’d rather be double-booked than not booked at all,” she said. After Baltimore, she’ll head to Terre Haute, Ind., to open for Josh Turner and Easton Corbin at Indiana State University.

Right now, Rose is just hoping that this new “reset” will take her where she needs to go next.

“I needed every bit of time that I had to get to this point,” Rose said. “There were times when I was frustrated, and I was like, ‘Why isn’t this single working?’ or ‘Why isn’t this coming together the way I want it to?’ And the fact of the matter is, I needed that time to grow.”

Maggie Rose will perform Sunday at the Hippodrome in Baltimore.

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