Well that escalated quickly. What started as a joke between friends turned into “Parked Out By The Lake,” a viral sensation that made its way around Music Row over the past few weeks.
“I started getting texts from people with screenshots saying like, George Strait heard it, Willie Nelson heard it, Alison Krauss heard it, Dave Matthews — the laundry list goes on and on,” says Dustin Christensen, the genius behind the alter ego ‘Dean Summerwind,’ who technically released the tune. “It’s like, ‘What in the world? This is crazy.'”
Before we go any further, do yourself a favor and listen to the song.
Even the single artwork is a masterpiece. The reason it’s making its way around Nashville’s famed hub of songwriting is pretty apparent, but the story behind the song is even better.
Christensen actually splits his time between Nashville and Utah. The gifted vocalist and writer earned a finance degree and MBA before deciding to follow his writing passions. “I started making trips to Nashville and writing with people who eventually ended up with publishing deals,” Christensen tells Wide Open Country. “And I didn’t even know if I wanted a deal.”
But one night, while playing a set of live music out on the town, fortune struck. Miranda Lambert was in the crowd during Christensen’s performance. “She was kind enough to sit and listen for a few hours, and then I hung out with her and her manager,” he says.
It just so happens a senior Vice President of CMT was also in the audience. He called Christensen and set him up with Leslie Fram at CMT. Between those various contacts, Christensen earned intros to several publishers around town and eventually signed with Frank Liddell’s Carnival Music.
At one point, a casting director found Christensen’s 2011 album Highway Lines and invited him to audition on The Voice. “I went and got four chairs, then joined Team Blake,” he says. “I did that for a few rounds, and I was sick on the show, but I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, which is get a little exposure and social media stuff.”
After he left the show, Christensen returned to work on his new collection of songs that eventually made up his 2016 album Sad Songs Mixes 1 / 2. And that’s ultimately where “Parked Out By The Lake” was born.
“I’ve always had this joke with my buddy — we did it on my first record with a song called ‘Caroline’ too,” Christensen says. “You say the very first line of the song, and then you repeat it as you can differently.”
So the legendary opening line is actually from his song “Vacant Motel Heart,” which he co-wrote with Paul Jacobsen. But Christensen just went into the vocal booth to do one take of ad-libbing of the song’s ubiquitous lake line. Then they spent about 30 minutes adding three-part harmonies, and a hit was born.
The thing is, they knew it was funny to them, but then again, a lot of things start to be pretty funny when you’re in the recording studio for hours on end, deprived of naturally light and slipping into delirium. So he shared it via a private SoundCloud link under the name “DCideas” with his publisher Frank Liddell (who also produced much of Lambert’s material). “He thought it was hilarious,” Christensen says.
Christensen also shared the link with a few other people, and then left it alone for awhile. Eight months later, he started getting texts from friends asking if it was him. When it started picking up, he briefly thought about deleting the link. “Then I was like, ‘Nah, who cares,'” laughs Christensen.
The private link racked up more than 20,000 SoundCloud streams, and only a few people knew who it was. So Christensen started directing people to his other music. It didn’t take long for people to realize he’s actually an accomplished songwriter who is just now getting some cuts from major label artists.
In fact, Dustin Lynch sang his song “Love Me Or Leave Me Alone” and Frankie Ballard cut “You Could’ve Loved Me,” both of which appear on the same album as “Vacant Motel Heart.”
Eventually Bobby Bones played the song on his morning show and invited Christensen to phone in. Now they’re in talks for Christensen to actually go on the show (and maybe even play with Sheryl Crow, who tweeted her love for the song).
It’s quite the whirlwind for Christensen, who now has the song on YouTube, iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify. Of course, he kept the moniker Dean Summerwind as the artist because he doesn’t want the top downloaded song under his profile to be “Parked Out By The Lake,” which is completely understandable.
But Summerwind is a high school alter ego for Christensen, comprised of his middle name and the street he grew up on. But he doesn’t really “write” songs so much as he does silly vocal takes, which is why people should be careful to interpret “Parked Out By The Lake” as a criticism of modern radio songwriting. “I’ll let people take from it what they want to take from it, but it really just came about as a joke,” Christensen says.
And the best part? It’s brining a lot of joy to peoples’ lives. “I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people, like their family member was diagnosed with cancer and this song gave them a moment to laugh together,” Christensen says. “It’s really cool to know something like this can make somebody’s day a little better.”
Christensen says he’ll be heading into the studio to record new music soon. In the meantime, listen to his album Sad Songs Mixes 1 / 2 and support a truly talented writer and artist.