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On the big stage





Jessica Carreira grew up watching artists perform at the Wild West Festival. Max Walker always knew he wanted to be the one on stage.

Now, Carreira, 18, and Walker, 20, will be opening for Brett Eldredge at the 20th annual Wild West Festival at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Municipal Park in Hays.

"It's kind of scaring me a little bit," said Carreira, a 2013 graduate of Hays High School. "I grew up watching all these artists come through. Some are so big now. I always had that in the back of my mind, but I never thought it was something I would be doing."

A 2012 graduate of Hays High, Walker began playing the drums in sixth grade. He began singing his junior year in high school and taught himself guitar after graduating. He wrote songs along the way.

"My mom made me join band," Walker said. "I really didn't think much of it, but she told me to go ahead and do drums just to experience it. She said, 'If you like it, keep doing it.' And that's what I did. That's really all I knew throughout high school."

After deciding to pursue his career in music, Walker moved to Nashville to explore more opportunities.

"I knew I didn't want to pursue schooling," he said. "I was never really good at it, so I thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I liked writing songs; I liked performing, so I might as well take it and go as far as I can with it."

Carreira was finishing up her first semester at Kansas State, studying fashion design.

"I was so excited and thought that's absolutely what I wanted to do with my life," she said. "I ended up not liking it as much as I thought I would. I was discouraged and lost, and didn't know the next steps to take. Then, (Walker) comes along and said he needs a roommate to go to Nashville. That sparked this whole opportunity I didn't even think would be an opportunity."

Carreira also grew up around music.

"I've sang for as long as I can remember," she said. "It's something I've always done for fun, and I never really gave it a second thought as a career. Writing and singing have always made me happy -- an escape, whether I had a bad day or just needed to get something off my chest. I would either write or go to my shower and just sing."

Before Walker made the decision to move to Nashville, he called the coordinators of the festival to see if he could have the opportunity to perform.

"I wanted to see if I could get a few bigger gigs before I head out there," he said. "I just casually asked if there's any opening slots. They told me they were packed and didn't have any room for me this year. I wrote it off, didn't think much of it."

He was contacted to perform a few months ago because the festival had a cancellation.

"I'm so excited to be back in my hometown," Walker said. "It's where I started (performing). The music programs throughout the schools really kept me going. I just loved the way they handled the program, so I continued doing music and made it my whole high-school career. I've done a lot of shows, but never anything this big in Hays."

Although nervous, Carreira said she is looking forward to the upcoming possibilities.

"It's so exciting to be opening for Brett Eldredge," Carreira said. "He's already so far on the rise. It's incredible he's coming here and doing this with Hays, and I can be a part of it now."