If you attended RTO World 2022 last summer in Indianapolis, Indiana – specifically, the Indianapolis Experience party at the historic Indiana Roof Ballroom – then you likely remember Brian Eckleberry.
Eckleberry took the stage later in the evening, as the party transitioned to “Rent-to-Own’s Got Talent” – a chance for APRO members to show off their musical skills. And Eckleberry did just that – he strode up to the piano and began belting out covers of Queen, Elton John, and other pop classics with the confidence of a professional.
That’s because he is one.
By day, Brian Eckleberry earns his living as Director of Marketing and Merchandising at Ace Furniture & TV Inc. dba Ace Rent-To-Own, with 23 stores across Nebraska and Iowa.
By night, Eckleberry entertains as a musician – mostly with his wife Annette in their Top 40 cover band, ECKO. And late last year, he added another musical act to his portfolio, debuting a brand-new band named Southern Nights.
“Southern rock has not been done in the Midwest, so it was a niche that needed to be filled,” Eckleberry says of the new group. “There’s a large sea of tribute bands nationwide and locally, so you’ll have a Pink Floyd tribute band, or yacht rock or smooth rock tribute band, but Southern rock was a niche that had not been filled locally.”
The core of the band, he says, are some of the top musicians in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
“Some I already played with, others are premier musicians in town,” explains Eckleberry. “Some were in my Top 40 group, and others I handpicked to fill niches – like we needed a second guitarist who could also play banjo and mandolin.
“It’s that Southern rock of the 1970s and ’80s, the stuff I grew up on [in Savannah, Georgia],” Eckleberry says. “Every time I’d go to the river races, a fireworks show, July Fourth, those bands would be there – Wet Willie, the Allman Brothers. When you’re close to Statesboro and Macon [Georgia], there’s always good music.”
Eckleberry developed his love of music early and has been performing since childhood.
“I first got up on stage and played piano in 1972,” he recalls. “My father said, ‘Brian, you’re going to sing tonight in front of the congregation.’ I didn’t even blink; I just did what he told me to do.”
Eckleberry’s first experience as a professional musician came in 1986 while he was in the U.S. Air Force and put together a band with other service members.
“I was in intelligence and reconnaissance, and I continually got into trouble because the generals would hire our band and fly us over to places like Greece and Germany,” he remembers. “My work had to be reassigned all the time because I’d be gone and no intelligence was being collected. It really annoyed my colonels.”
Comparatively, Eckleberry is a newcomer to rent-to-own, having joined the industry in the summer of 2018.
“I was a radio marketing director for Journal Broadcast Group in Omaha, and Ace was one of our clients,” he says. “Lyn [Leach, Ace’s President] asked me to come work for him, and I jumped at the chance. I’m glad I did, because I love it.”
But after five enjoyable years, Eckleberry last month announced his retirement from Ace for other pursuits. He hasn’t decided exactly how he’ll spend his newly found free time, but he’ll devote much of it to spreading Southern rock across the heartland of America with his new group.
If you live in the Omaha area, keep your eyes open for a Southern Nights gig near you. Eckleberry says the best source of show information is the band’s Facebook page, where you can soon sample the group’s groove via some upcoming performance videos.
The Association of Progressive Rental Organizations (APRO) is America’s only national trade association for the rental-purchase industry. Our mission is to provide valuable member benefits, maintain a benevolent business climate, and promote professionalism with responsibility and integrity throughout our industry. For more information, reach out to APRO at firstname.lastname@example.org.