Backroad Anthem still have a long way to go in recovering from the loss of their founder, Craig Strickland, but they want their fans to know that they are on the path to healing. The group, which has been mourning Strickland's death since he passed away following a boating accident shortly before the new year, are moving full-speed ahead with their music career, as a tribute to Strickland and a way to honor his memory.

"We're playing music and going forward, because we know that’s what Craig would want us to do," lead singer Toby Freeman tells The Boot. "I think that’s helped us a lot."

Adds bass player Brandon Robold, "I don’t think there was ever a time the five of us didn’t consider going forward as a band. We know that this is exactly what Craig would have wanted. He would be really ticked off if he knew that we were ending this. The band, it was kind of his idea. He’s the one who started it and started putting each guy together. He had such a passion and a drive for getting this to the top. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do."

Strickland's body was recovered on Jan. 4, after a boat carrying Strickland and his friend, Chase Morland, capsized in Kaw Lake in Oklahoma. The two men, who left on Dec. 26 to go duck hunting, were reported missing on Dec. 27, and Morland's body was recovered on Dec. 28. A month and a half later, Backroad Anthem are still coming to terms with their loss, admitting that Strickland's death took them all by surprise.

"That was right around the holidays, so none of us were together," fiddle player Eric Dysart recalls. "We were all in different parts in either the state of Arkansas, or I was in another state. When that happened, it wasn’t unusual for us not to be in contact with each other constantly. We didn’t want to get together without all of us together at the same time, so we actually got together on the day that we found out the outcome."

Craig had such a passion and a drive for getting this to the top. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Backroad Anthem began in the fall of 2012, with all of its members quickly forming a close bond. In spite of their unfathomable loss, each of the guys says that they have been doing well, thanks in large part to their faith.

"I don’t honestly think that we could have gotten through this without our faith in God," Freeman shares. "And that’s something we’re really happy about: From all the fans to all the news media, it really shined a light on Craig’s faith in God. I really feel like that’s helped all of us, seeing that stuff and getting the prayers and thoughts and love from the fans, even from outside of the country. It’s so crazy how much the story has spread."

While the band was all over the news while Morland and Strickland were missing, even after their bodies were found and the cameras went away, Backroad Anthem's fans have remained loyal to the group.

"After this tragedy happened, of course it’s not how we would have wanted it to happen, but our socials skyrocketed: We went from 27,000 fans on Facebook to 94,000, 25,000 on Twitter and 15,000 on Instagram, so the overwhelming support has been incredible," Robold notes. "Craig was obsessed with stuff like that, on social media. He was so good at it, so he was the one handling most of it. We joke because Craig would be freaking out right now, if he saw our social media numbers jump like that."

Adds Freeman, "I think country music as a whole, I think the fans are the best fans, of any genre of music, in my opinion. And that’s not just because of playing country music. We all come from different backgrounds of music, so we appreciate all the genres. I really feel like country music fans are the best, and they definitely stuck behind us. Sometimes the socials spike, and then they kind of fall off, but we haven’t gotten any of that from our socials. Everyone’s just kept following us."

The second show we played ... we were like, ‘Light bulb! I think this might be bigger than a country cover band.'

Backroad Anthem's five members fondly acknowledge that their band would not exist without Strickland, who was not only the group's creator, but their biggest supporter.

"He came to [drummer] Isaac [Senty] and I and was like, ‘Hey, you want to start a country cover band and make a little music on the weekend?’" Freeman recalls. "We all love country music, and you can’t say no to Craig either, so we said, ‘Let’s do it!’ So I called [guitarist] Josh [Bryant] up, Josh called Brandon, and I called Eric. We put it together and had a few rehearsals.

"The second show we played, we sold out the biggest venue in Arkansas and had to turn 300 people away," Freeman continues. "So we were like, ‘Light bulb! I think this might be bigger than a country cover band.’"

With Strickland gone, Backroad Anthem agree that they will have to work hard to fill the hole he left. But perhaps no one will have to compensate more for his loss than Freeman, who is now the group's sole lead vocalist.

"Both of us were singing a little bit of lead," Freeman explains. "It’s definitely so different now, stepping out on stage, the few times that we have, without him there.

"We do feel like, from the front band position, I know I definitely have a lot to learn, and I’m okay with that," Freeman adds. "I’m trying to do my best Craig onstage, because he’s just so good at touching the fans, and I think we all just kind of decided we’re going to step up and pull together, band together, and I think we’re all going to try to take care of that -- make the fans feel like we’re part of the family."

I think we all just kind of decided we’re going to step up and pull together, band together, and ... make the fans feel like we’re part of the family.

Strickland may be absent from the stage, but Backroad Anthem vow to keep his memory alive each time they perform.

"He’ll always be a part of our show in some capacity, but at least for this year, and maybe longer, we’re going to have his microphone stand and the acoustic guitar that he played out on stage, on the front of the stage," Robold reveals. "We want to show honor to him and tribute to him."

While Backroad Anthem keep their eyes on a potential record label deal and, eventually, a full album, they're pushing their single "Torn."

"When we released the single, "Torn," to radio, people were calling the radio stations and everything. It’s so cool to see," Freeman says. "We’re all so thankful, every day, in this business."

"Torn" is available for download on iTunes.

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