By Dacey Orr
It’s not unusual to hear musicians talk about the gift of music, but singer-songwriter Krystal Keith has quite literally given her music as a gift to her father, country music star Toby Keith, since a young age.
“I think I was nine the first time he saw any creative writing potential,” Krystal tells CountryMusicIsLove. “I had written a song poem as a gift for him and my mom, and from that point on he kind of took the liberty of making sure that I knew how important songwriting was if I wanted to be a musician.”
Having a famous dad has certainly shaped Krystal’s perception of the music industry, but it’s her ever-growing appreciation for songwriting and performing that has also given her not only a taste of the spotlight, but a tight-knit relationship with her father.
“We’ve always been incredibly close: I’ve always been a daddy’s girl,” confesses Krystal. “I don’t know if it’s because we’ve always had that same passion for music. He’ll tell my mom, wake her up in the middle of the night and try to sing her a song that he wrote, and she’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s great’ and goes right back to sleep. He knows he can call me at 3 in the morning, and I’m going to get as excited about it as he does.”
It’s a shared excitement that continues to bring the two closer: they just kicked off a summer tour together, with Krystal as an opening performer.
“It’s kind of a rare situation in that I grew up on this stage,” Krystal says of the tour. “From early teenage years on, I really grew up on his stage with these fans. So whereas a lot of new artists have to get comfortable on this stage with this big venue setting, I had to get comfortable with the smaller bar and smaller club venue setting. Because this is what was home, my comfort zone for me.”
It’s not just the fans that have watched Krystal grow up—everyone from the production crew to the band on Toby’s tour have been a part of Krystal’s life since she was a little girl.
“I’ve always said that I have 68 big brothers,” she laughs. “All the guys that actually travel from show to show, the actual crew that follows my dad’s tour and all the people from the production to the band I’ve known pretty much my whole life. It’s like a big family and I’m well taken care of: I’ve got eyes on me everywhere I go out here.”
Krystal is all smiles about touring now, but she admits that in her younger (way younger) days on the road with dad, it was hard to understand why she had to share him with such a big crowd of clamoring fans.
“Growing up, I went on the road with him a lot,” she remembers. “I have so many pictures of me by his side, with my feet on top of his feet or my hand holding his shirt as he’s signing autographs for fans. I didn’t like having to share him with fans, I didn’t really understand it. His first song came out when I was 7, so between 7 and 10 those first few years, I was really uncomfortable with fans coming up and sort of taking him away, making him spend so much time signing things.”
Although it was an adjustment to make when Toby was in the spotlight, as Krystal’s gotten older she’s grown more and more appreciative of her parents’ effort to give her a normal childhood. Sure, she had a spot on the tour at any time, but Mom had the final say on what wouldn’t interfere with school, sports and daily life.
“We were always welcome on the road, but he and my mom worked really hard to make sure that we had a normal childhood,” said Krystal. “Now, as an adult who’s married who will hopefully someday have my own kids, I respect that a lot. That he didn’t just let us go whenever we wanted, we did have to make sure that it didn’t interfere with the normal childhood things. Just getting to spend that time was pretty special for us.”
Krystal has continued to make music a special gift between her and her father, particularly off-stage: just last year, she wrote and recorded the song “Daddy Dance with Me” as a special surprise for Toby, playing the song at her wedding as her father-daughter dance.
“He talked all the way through it,” she laughs. “I think he was trying to keep himself composed… He wanted to know who I wrote it with, and how I got it recorded and and everything without him knowing about it, because I did it all behind his back. We hadn’t even had a discussion about a father-daughter dance. It was an incredibly special moment.”
Krystal is far from finished sharing her gift of music. She’s in the process of writing and recording a new album, the follow-up to 2013′s Whiskey & Lace, which she hopes to release in the fall. And although she’s co-written with plenty of Nashville’s notable voices, there’s one name noticeably lacking: her father’s.
“I think we’ll write together eventually,” she laughs. “Since I’ve started doing music full-time, we’ve both just been on completely different schedules. We might have more time to write together this summer than we’ve ever had before.”