Musicians react to questions about the bands they played with in high school the way you might react to your mother pulling out naked baby photos in front of friends.

They’ll laugh, but they’ll cringe, too, remembering the youthful sincerity of then-profound songs on love, philosophy and nuclear war. Their cheeks will turn red with embarrassment thinking about clothes worn to fit a teen perspective of what a real band looks like, and there’s always a coming of age story that plays out on a talent show stage; it’s seldom pretty.

But the Brooke Danielle Band is a high-school band with a plan. The seven-piece country group formed around singer Brooke Danielle of Centre, after the release of her 2012 solo album. In the two years since, they’ve become a local touring force and recognized name, so much so they’re opening for country legend Merle Haggard on Thursday at Center Stage in Rainbow City — no small feat for any band, let alone one that’s not old enough to drink.

“To live up to that, it worries you a little,” said Danielle. “You just have to know what you’re doing is the right thing.”

Calling the group a teen band is technically accurate; the peak age is a stately 20 years old, and more members are in high school than out. But the “teen” label belies the group’s dogged pursuit of a big-time career in Nashville, their nightly practices after school and work, and the singular focus on reaching their next goal.

Danielle and her parents set forth what she calls “a five-course process” for the band in 2012:

Step 1: Record the solo album.

Step 2: Build a band and play anywhere that would have them. That meant shows nearby, in Nashville and at Flora-Bama, a honky-tonk Danielle describes as “the crankiest bar you’ll ever go to.”

The group is currently working on the third step of the plan, recording an EP at Nashville’s Rukkus Room, a studio known for serving high-profile acts like Sheryl Crow, Taylor Swift and Alan Jackson.

“We’re not that average band, the same old group that gets together in the garage to mess around,” said Garrett Bell, rhythm and steel guitarist. “We’re at a steady 200 mph trying to get this thing going.”

Once the EP is recorded, it will be available to fans and used as a demo reel for major labels based in Nashville, where the band hopes to move as soon as possible. Their dedication to the dream caught the attention of Jeremy Reeves, owner of Center Stage, the venue hosting Haggard.

“They do a good job, have a pretty good following and they’re talented kids,” said Reeves, who also owns the Gridiron, where he first saw the band. “They’re spirited and I saw it as an opportunity to give them a chance.”

If Step 4 is getting the attention of a record label, then Step 5 might be dominating country airwaves, or simply reveling in the rewards of having paid their dues. For Danielle, it’s too early to get caught up in those possibilities, and she prefers to stay on task.

“It’s crazy to think we’re at this point,” said Danielle. “There’s still a long way to go.”

How Merle Haggard became a living legend

Merle Haggard’s career would read like an example from the “Outlaw Country Guide to Life,” if such a manual ever existed.    

The 77-year-old musician was born in a home made from a remodeled boxcar in 1937, a Great Depression baby who grew into a troubled teen, wandering in and out of juvenile detention and working odd jobs.

It was his incarceration at San Quentin State Prison when he was 18 that turned his life around. A performance by Johnny Cash, the very first of Cash’s prison shows, inspired Haggard to focus on music and keep out of trouble, efforts rewarded by his release more than a decade ahead of schedule.

Through the next two decades, Haggard became a country music staple, known for songs like “Mama Tried,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “Okie From Muskogee.” He earned honors from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame and even a full pardon from President Ronald Reagan in 1972.

Now the country icon is coming to play at Center Stage in Rainbow City, bringing five decades of music and history to Etowah.

“It’s hard not to be a fan of a legend like that,” said Jeremy Reeves, owner of Center Stage, who decided to book Haggard as part of a series of concerts by country legends, starting with the raucous David Allen Coe in July and continuing with the Charlie Daniels Band in early August.

Garrett Bell, singer of opening act The Brooke Danielle Band, said he was speechless when told the band would be opening for Haggard.

“This is somebody that I thought about a whole lot in youth as an inspiration for my music,” said Bell, who traces his love of outlaw country music back to a trip with his grandparents to Nashville, listening to his grandfather’s favorite music.

According to Bell, it’s like living the dream. “It’s hard to wrap my head around doing it, but it’s not a fantasy anymore.”

— By Ben Nunnally, Special to The Star