Friday, June 12, 2009

TIMC: "World’s Strongest Redneck works over CMA festival"

(This story appeared Friday, June 12 on

Steve McGranahan stands out.

At six feet tall and 375 pounds, the North Carolina native gets his fair share of requests for pictures. His favorite pose? Lining up his 22-inch biceps alongside somebody’s thigh. McGranahan’s arms are usually bigger.

The photo requests are merely part of the gig of being the “World’s Strongest Redneck,” the moniker McGranahan has used through stand-up comedy, motivational speaking and, most famously, appearances on CMT’s “Country Fried Home Videos” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” showcasing his feats.

McGranahan’s fame has literally been built by hand, using his prodigious hand strength to rend, morph or otherwise obliterate objects into shreds — or works of art. One of McGranahan’s favorite tricks is to twist — by hand — a horseshoe into the shape of a heart.

He did it back stage Thursday at Cadillac Ranch for an appreciative and awed Bo Bice as part of the hectic schedule McGranahan was keeping during CMA Music Festival.

In-between the A-list superstars and the street-level performers just trying to get noticed during the Country Music Association’s festival is a galaxy of potential stars with a story, a gimmick and some professional experience trying to make that next step. McGranahan knows that even 10 years into this kind of career, there are logical progressions to that step.

“The goal here is getting sponsors, growing the brand out there, hopefully getting some more support,” McGranahan says. “There’s strategy behind it, sure, but a lot of it is just going through the doors as they open. We did more in the first day of my visit this year than we did the whole time last year. Each year, we build upon what we did last year and it just keeps getting bigger and better.”

In the short term, McGranahan hopes to shift his act to a touring support role for artists who love what he does while continuing to hone his feature performances. “It’s all about getting out there, getting that 15 minutes of glory every night, get the crowd fired up, laughin’, happy and exuding endorphins, then boom, let main act hit.”

Meanwhile, McGranahan is more than willing to methodically work at elevating his profile, much the same as he is methodical about honing and performing his tricks. He prays aloud before hand rolling a frying pan into what he called a “redneck hot dog cooker or blow dryer,” an object that fetched $200 during the live auction at Andy Griggs’ celebrity poker tournament.

McGranahan is careful to wrap the ends of a 60d nail (more a spike, really… 6 inches long and one gauge thick) with cowhide straps before bending it in half…one of his favorite greetings. When he hands you the nail, you can feel the heat emanating at the bend point.

And McGranahan knows what he does is unique, so much so that he offers anyone who can bend the 60d nail in half a free “World’s Strongest Redneck” T-shirt. He hasn’t parted with much clothing over the years.

“In the 10 years I’ve done this, I’ve had six guys get free shirts,” McGranahan says. “And three of ’em were from Pennsylvania. There are some strong dudes there.”

So how far can the really strong ones who don’t make it, but give it their all, bend the nail? “Usually about 10 degrees,” he says. “Beer muscles show up with these guys sometimes, too. And they wake up the next day wondering why every muscle in their bodies hurt.”

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