Ray Fulcher was onstage at Nashville club the Listening Room earlier this summer playing songs to an audience of tourists and a smattering of locals. They cheered for “Does to Me,” the Number One that Fulcher co-wrote for Luke Combs and Eric Church, and raised their bottles for fresh anthems like “Bucket List Beers” and his current single “Girl in It.” But the crowd sat silent when Fulcher began to talk about the reason he was onstage this particular June night — to raise awareness about mental health.
The songwriter had his work cut out for him. People come to Nashville to self-medicate their nagging thoughts into oblivion, not contemplate them. A few bearded guys in T-shirts and baseball hats glanced awkwardly. There was some chatter. Glasses clinked. But Fulcher stayed on his message, speaking disarmingly from personal experience about going to therapy to treat anxiety. While the native of Harlem, Georgia (Pop. 3,400), may not have persuaded someone to find a therapist that night, he at least introduced the idea of mental health to the conversation. For the longest time, Fulcher himself had dismissed such self-care as something you were expected to just power through.
“When somebody said, ‘mental health,’ I was like, ‘Well, that’s up to you to be tough or not,’” Fulcher says a few weeks after his Listening Room performance. “But two things can be true at once: You can be a badass and still go, ‘Something’s not right, I don’t know how to fix it, so I’m going to find someone who does.’”
With his new charitable initiative, the Pretty Good Ball Fund, Fulcher has made it his mission to help his peers take care of their psyches. Pretty Good Ball, named after a line in Fulcher’s song “Love Ya Son, Go Dawgs,” is a partnership with Nashville’s Music Health Alliance to provide access to mental health services for those in the music industry. Any money it raises — from events like golf tournaments to Fulcher’s Listening Room concert — is funneled to Music Health Alliance, a nonprofit that helps connect singers, songwriters, and musicians with health-care professionals.
Fulcher, who as a songwriter has had a string of big radio hits with Luke Combs and released a three-song EP of his songs in June, had the idea to launch Pretty Good Ball after having his own self-care epiphany during the worldwide isolation of last year.
“When the pandemic came around, it gave me a chance to really take stock. In a lot of areas of my life, I hadn’t done a good job of upkeep. In particular, some relationships that were important to me fell by the wayside. I realized that I’d been dealing with some anxiety. I looked into therapy and then I just went and did it. I went and did some counseling,” says Fulcher, who underwent experiential therapy at On Site, a bucolic retreat an hour outside of Nashville. “So many lightbulbs went off for me. I came away from that going, ‘This stuff is really important. And I can’t believe I lived 35 years not understanding that.’”
He also realized he was responsible for some of his strained or failed relationships (“That was the first time in my life that I thought, ‘You have been kind of the problem’”) and set about making improvements, however difficult. “They say to really make a change it takes some level of pain,” he says. “For me, it took some hurt in my life.”
It’s paid off. Fulcher made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry in June, shipped his first single, “Girl in It,” to country radio, and will join Combs’ arena tour this fall. He’s also opening for Ashley McBryde on select dates. “Anything she does is really cool,” Fulcher says.
Most importantly, he’s in a good head space, and his willingness to talk openly about his mental health has already been inspiring fellow artists.
“People have come up to me and are just getting real honest. I’ve had a few text me and go, ‘I’ve been watching your Pretty Good Ball stuff and I want to say how awesome it is — and I want to start therapy. Do you have anywhere I can start?’” Fulcher says. “I think it’s important to open the conversation and try to eliminate the stigma.”