California, Missouri Native Kassi Ashton Releases First Single On Country Radio
I first heard the debut single from Kassi Ashton, “California, Missouri”, not far from the actual town of California, Missouri.
I had to check my radio to see what station I was tuned into. While the town seems a bit off the country music highway, I was definitely hearing it on SiriusXM’s The Highway channel.
My journey to find out more about the song I was enjoying led me to search out more information on the singer’s journey.
Kassi Ashton sure has come a long way from California, Missouri.
There’s A California, Missouri?
Kassi Ashton grew up about 25 miles from Jefferson City in the small town of California, Missouri. The town traces its history back to 1845 and its name back to 1847. The only high school in town had a student body of 418 last we checked.
With a total area of under 3.5 miles, the town is home to fewer than 4,500 people according to the United States Census Bureau.
Kassi Ashton is not one of them anymore. Well, I guess Kassi Ashton never actually was. Ashton went by Kassi Meissenhamer growing up and attending California High School, where she medaled at the 2012 Missouri State High School Activities Association State Speech, Drama and Theater Championships.
Kassi Ashton Is Nashville-Bound
Ashton left mid-Missouri after audtioning and being accepted into the commercial voice program at Nashville’s Belmont University.
Graduates of Belmont that country music fans may have heard of include Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood, Chris Young and Josh Turner. Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard also formed Florida Georgia Line after meeting through a Belmont worship group.
Ashton excelled at Belmont and eventually won the 2016 Country Showcase, which is part of a series of shows Belmont students put on each year. The productions are run as professional concerts and performers have to make it throw several rounds of auditions before being selected to perform.
Kassi was a bit of a different person by 2016 when she was getting ready to graduate from Belmont. It might be accurate to say that she had added another element to her persona, that of a cancer survivor.
Growing up Kassi split time between living with her father on a farm and with her mother, who did not live on a farm. Dad worked at Burgers’ Smokehouse, one of California’s largest employers, while mom worked in Jefferson City. With mom it was classical ballet classes and beauty pageants. With dad it was shooting guns and riding dirt bikes.
The upbringing led to things like winning both the talent and evening gown competitions in the local county fair queen contest. Young Kassi would go from shooting guns on the farm to singing karaoke in Jefferson City. Or from riding dirt bikes to being active in theater.
That upbringing also led to Kassi wearing combat boots to school because the girls who were mean to her wore cowboys boots, Those experiences that eventually became lyrics to her first single at the time had her considering dropping out of high school in favor of homeschooling.
Where were you in 2014? Kassi had traveled a lot farther than The Outpost in Centertown by then. She was working as a karaoke hostess at Lonnie’s in downtown Nashville and going to school at Belmont.
That’s when the cancer struck.
As Kassi told Jefferson City’s Her magazine, she was just going to the campus clinic because she missed a lab and needed a note in 2014.
“I went to the school clinic for a note excusing me from a science lab I had missed,” she recalled.
“The doctor felt my throat and asked ‘if I knew that I had this golf-ball size lump?’ He told me ‘not to worry that it should go away on its own.’ Two weeks later, it was still there so I went back in for tests.”
The thyroid cancer diagnosis followed. Surgery and radioactive iodine treatment followed that. Kassi was forced to take a semester off of school while she recovered.
She would return to Belmont to resume her country music journey after that semester.
Exactly two years from the day she was diagnosed with cancer, Kassi Ashton took the stage at the Curb Event Center. It was the final concert in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business Showcase Series.
Ashton was one of four students that had earned the right to perform on stage that night with their bands. Of the three songs she performed, two were originals. She opened with “Tumbleweed” and followed with a song she had co-written about her bout with cancer, “Survivor.”
She’d finish with a cover of “Long Time Gone” by the Dixie Chicks and be declared the winner of the showcase.
After winning the country showcase, Kassi went on to perform with other showcase winners at the series’ Best of the Best Showcase. Her performance there was very well received, especially by the Belmont Vision.
“Kassi Ashton was Best of the Best’s only female fronted act this year, yet she proved to be the one everyone needed. The country superstar and vocal powerhouse’s edgy, energetic stage presence was unmatched by any of those who performed before or after her.
“If you’re not bopping you’re doing something wrong,” she yelled at one point during her performance.
The natural musicianship and inspired confidence displayed in her performance of dark, twangy original “Tumbleweed,” motivated questions of why there aren’t more like her in country today. If anyone thinks of an answer, let me know.”
From Belmont To Country Radio
While finishing up her senior year at Belmont Kassi performed around Nashville. For one of those performances came with the Song Suffragettes at The Listening Room Cafe. She performed “Tumbleweed,” the song she co-wrote and sang for the Belmont showcase.
Watch the video of the performance below.
Kassi Ashton “Tumbleweeds”
In December 2017, Ashton signed a recording deal with Interscope/UMG Nashville.
Her dream of being on country radio was even more realistic.
If Amy Winehouse & Adele Sang Country Music
The next chapter of Kassi Ashton’s journey has had a promising beginning.
SiriusXM’s The Highway named her its latest “Highway Find,” which led to my first hearing the song.
The Tennessean and The Huffington Post both included her in lists of artists to watch in 2018. Rolling Stone compared her voice to those of Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton, two country artists who have seen a bit of success lately, in writing about her before the CMA Music Festival.
“California, Missouri” isn’t your typical country hometown song. Kassi touched on that when promoting its release.
“If your hometown is really your haven, I think that’s beautiful. But mine was a little different, and I really wanted to get perspective, because I know a lot of kids in small towns feel the same way that I did.”
Allen Fennewald of the News Tribune in Jefferson City described the track better than most when he wrote that it is “part soulful lament, part unrequited love song for the community in which she was raised. ”
Aside from the aforementioned artists, Ashton has been compared to Carrie Underwood, Amy Winehouse, Adele (speaking of) and Tammy Wynette — among others.
Listen to “California, Missouri” from Kassi Ashton below.
“California, Missouri” Kassi Ashton