Tom Jordan and Mitchell Thompson, aka the duo Seaforth, stood at the edge of the Grand Ole Opry’s center-stage circle and each raised one knee. Then simultaneously they plunged their feet onto the most sacred ground in country music.
Tonight they would take temporary ownership of it during their Opry debut. But that was still three hours away, so the duo’s first giddy step inside the circle actually arrived at soundcheck. Of course they had to take it together.
“One small step for man,” Jordan, 26, ceremoniously announced as his foot descended on the well-worn boards, and Thompson, 25, joined him to finish: “One giant leap for Seaforth!”
The private moment, at Nashville’s Opry House, was sweet and funny — and perfectly fitting. Six years ago, when Jordan and Thompson came to the Opry together for the first time, that circle might as well have been the moon. They were in the nosebleed seats in the upper balcony then, two Aussie mates on short-term visas trying to figure out how to even start a music career in the United States. And yet they stared down at that circle — smoothed by the soles of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash, carved 45 years ago out of “mother church” Ryman Auditorium, the Opry’s previous home — and they dared to dream that big.
“You always had these moments along the way where it’s just like this little fire burning in you,” Thompson told PEOPLE. “You’re like, we have to do this. We have to be here one day.”
That day finally arrived on Friday, after years of back and forth between Australia and Nashville, scraping by with wedding and party gigs, and then, beating all the Nashville odds, auditioning at Sony Music and getting handed a recording contract. With their debut single, “Love That,” released to radio in May and gaining airplay, the duo received the coveted invitation only a few weeks ago.
“We’re still new artists, and so for them to have us here is a true, true honor,” Jordan (the bearded one) said. “It’s just crazy.”
Even crazier: The Opry, known for its family atmosphere, took pains to schedule the debut when Jordan’s and Thompson’s mothers would be visiting from Australia. And so Tracey Jordan and Tracey Thompson — yes, two Traceys — were stageside, tearfully watching their sons as they stepped into the circle for the first time.
“Our moms have played such a huge role in where we are today and to have them here, it’s super-special,” said Thompson.
They were there, too, when Thompson and Jordan first met at age 3 in pre-school. Sitting in their backstage Opry dressing room after soundcheck, the two marvel at what is actually their 23-year journey, which began with play dates, school pageants (there’s existing video of Thompson dressed as a pig and Jordan as a duck) and their separate discoveries of their love for country music. For each, it all came down to the fellow Down Under artist they call “Uncle Keith.”
“It’s the truth,” says Thompson. “Keith Urban is the reason we got into country music and fell in love with it and even discovered Nashville.”
“We’ve looked up to him, essentially, our whole lives,” Jordan says. “The obvious reason is because he’s Australian, but from his earliest records, that was just the stuff that opened Mitch’s and my eyes to country music.”
Urban’s music fueled both men through their adolescence, but each had his sights set on a solo career. Though they were known as their high school’s “singers,” neither ever considered teaming up. Then one songwriting session, when both were out of school and on their own, changed everything.
“It was like — boom! — lightbulb moment,” Thompson remembers.
“Immediate,” Jordan affirms. “We’d been writing our own songs, but the songs we were writing together were just better than anything we were writing by ourselves.”
After that, deciding to become a duo was easy, both say. Naming themselves? Not so much. Country fans everywhere can thank the guys for finally letting go of their original idea, the “Swamp Goats.” What they finally settled on is the name of their hometown, a Sydney suburb.
“The cool thing about it now is that we get to take a piece of Australia with us,” Thompson says. “That’s where we grew up. It’s part of the story.”
That story now features a steady accumulation of career milestones since their label signing last November. Their first big splash came days later when they opened for Kane Brown before a sell-out crowd at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater.
More recently, they’ve been playing festivals and been on a radio tour, offering them a chance to see more of the adopted country they love. Then there was this singular moment: A fateful first encounter with Urban backstage at the CMT Awards. To their delight, he said he’d already heard of the duo, though that shouldn’t have come as a surprise. They share Urban’s go-to producer Dan Huff.
“He said, ‘Dan’s told me all about you guys,’” Thompson recalls. “We just had a brief conversation, but he was very genuine and humble. And that’s the most Australian I’ve ever heard him sound talking. It was a cool moment.”
Still, on this night, both Thompson and Jordan know an even greater moment awaits.
“Tonight’s the biggest night of our life musically thus far,” Jordan says. “I’d say there’s nothing that comes close to our debut here.”
The three hours between soundcheck and performance race by, filled with Opry tasks and hugs and greetings from the friends, colleagues and Sony team members who stream in.
The duo film an Opry-debut interview and then have some Facebook Live fun — with their moms’ help — playing a version of the “Newlywed Game” to test how well they know each other. (Not surprisingly, pretty well. Bonus gem: Jordan has a celebrity crush on Hailee Steinfeld.)
After changing into their stagewear — both choose designer suits — the two men head to a practice space for a quick run-through with members of the Opry’s house band. By now, their entourage of supporters has grown to more than 30, including producer Huff, who’s there to support the duo, as well as his son Elliott, the Seaforth drummer.
Huff gives Thompson a bearhug and offers his best advice. “Don’t screw it up!” he says with a wide grin.
They don’t. At 8:20 p.m., Opry member Connie Smith introduces the duo. Thompson and Jordan take the circle, launching into an acoustic opening of “Taken Your Picture,” a song off their new EP, before the band joins in. The applause has hardly died down when the two surprise their moms and call them out on stage. The Traceys shyly emerge from the backstage shadows, wiping tears from their faces, as the crowd cheers.
“We wouldn’t be here without them, for obvious reasons, but without their support every day, we would not be able to follow our career and our dreams, so thank you all so much,” Thompson says.
He and Jordan then rehearse the cooperative crowd for the “aw, yeah, yeah, yeah” refrain of “Love That,” and they joyfully belt out their new single. From start to finish, the two-song set takes less than 11 minutes, and then they’re headed back offstage for waiting hugs, congratulations and enough picture-taking to fill a couple of photo albums.
High on the moment, Thompson struggles to even absorb what has just happened. “I had a smile [onstage] that I think I’m going to have to get facial reconstruction surgery for,” he says.
Jordan is relishing the mom surprise. “They had no idea,” he says. “As soon as we knew they were coming, it’s like, we have to get them onstage. They really didn’t expect it, and so they were crying. I nearly cried.”
Everything about the evening has turned out to be special, which is exactly what they’d hoped for, planned for and worked for. A few days prior, Thompson had made a pilgrimage to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and he’d been struck by seeing stagewear worn by legends at their Opry debuts. Who knows? Maybe Seaforth had just made some more history on this stage.
And who knows? Maybe, on this night, there were a couple more dreamers up in the nosebleed seats, watching Seaforth and believing they could reach that circle, too.
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