“Straight up, I should be dead,” Kurt Van Meter once cheerfully told a reporter. At 1:30 pm Friday, November 21, 2009, then police officer Van Meter responded to a call from his sergeant saying that shots had been fired in downtown Hillsboro. When the high-speed car chase through the busiest stretch of Portland’s sprawling suburb ended, Van Meter stood only a few paces from the deranged gunman.
“He jumped out of the Honda with the silver .50 caliber Desert Eagle in one hand and a black .45 caliber Desert Eagle in the other,” Van Meter told a reporter from Police One shortly after the incident. Van Meter remembers the man leveling one of the pistols directly at him before two officers from neighboring Cornelius opened fire and killed the gunman.
Van Meter’s brush with death gave way to a moment of clarity in which he decided to pursue his life-long dream and follow in the footsteps of his country music hero, Garth Brooks.
Van Meter can remember the moment he knew he wanted to be a singer.
“My brother was giving me a ride to school – I think I was a freshman or sophomore – and he put in this CD and told me that I had to hear this song,” Van Meter said. “It was ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Garth Brooks. I was instantly hooked. I was like, I don’t know what this is, but whatever it is, I want to be a part of it.”
But life seemed to take him in every direction but the music. Van Meter played football and became a bull rider at Oregon State University before entering the police force. There, he would sing in the office – but his coworkers didn’t seem to share in the joy.
“My first gig was marine patrol and they give you a partner. He told me one day, ‘Kurt have I ever told you how much I love your singing?’ I said no and he goes, ‘then shut up.’” Van Meter figured maybe he wasn’t that good of a singer, after all. The first person who told him he had a good voice was an ex-girlfriend. But music seemed to be an out-of-reach dream.
The shooting changed all of that and about a year later Van Meter decided to chase his dream. He hoped on Youtube and started to learn how to play the guitar. He also began attending local jam sessions in Hillsboro. The next challenge was finding a way to get his music heard. Van Meter was put in contact with Scott Mahalick and told him, “If you believe in me, I can be the next Garth Brooks.” Van Meter had no songs, no band, and nothing to offer but his voice. Despite that, Garth Brooks and Scott attempted to contact Van Meter. A missed phone call that he still cringes about.
Van Meter’s career took off relatively quickly and he opened for country stars like Montgomery Gentry. In 2013, he committed to music full-time and played the Bi-Mart Country Music Festival in 2014, alongside artists Eric Church and Blake Shelton. When he started, Van Meter said his songs had a couple hundred streams and downloads per month. By 2015, those numbers were up to more than 100,000.
As Van Meter has seen his popularity rise, he’s quick to point to his bandmates as reasons for his success. “When you have a team as strong as this one, it’s in your best interest to get the hell out of the way,” he said. “My role is to not forget the lyrics and not suck.”
Van Meter hopes his kids and others can see his journey and decide to follow their passion and to not be afraid of failure. “Two things are important, one is don’t wait until you’re ready to do something. If you want to do it, just go for it. I didn’t know what I was doing. Sometimes, you just gotta go for it. The second thing is you’re never too old. I was 33 when I learned how to play the guitar.”
Van Meter will be performing tomorrow night at Sounds of Summer kicking off the summer series. Come join us, and enjoy good music, food, and drinks. Vendors will start serving at 6 pm and the fun will begin at 6:30 pm. His CDs will be on sale both at the info booth, as well as after the concert at the Chamber of Commerce.
“Kurt, you are obviously doing something right. Stay with what works.” – Garth Brooks