NEW ORLEANS — Rising country singer Hunter Hayes knows a thing or two about hurricanes.
The south Louisiana native has seen his share and even named his breakout single "Storm Warning" —about a beautiful girl he compares to a "Cat 5" hurricane, the strongest category of tropical storm.
On Friday, the accordion-playing, harmonica-blowing singer from the Cajun town of Breaux Bridge returns, as Louisiana cleans up from Hurricane Isaac, for a concert benefiting a New Orleans hospital. He's also scheduled to sing the national anthem at the New Orleans Saints' football game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, his 21st birthday.
"This is going to be like a huge homecoming celebration for me," said Hayes, who has just been named one of the CMA Award's new-artist nominees, along with Lee Brice, Brantley Gilbert, Love and Theft and Thompson Square.
The 46th annual CMA Awards will air live Nov. 1 on ABC from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.
Hayes toured last year with Taylor Swift for part of her "Speak Now" tour and earlier this year with Rascal Flatts for its "Thaw Out" tour. Hayes hits the road again later this year as the opening act on Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away" tour.
"I'm living my dream," he said. "Music is my life. It's what I live for."
Though Hayes moved to Nashville about five years ago, he said he still considers Louisiana home. It's where he spent his childhood playing "every instrument I could get my hands on." That included the harmonica, accordion, drums and guitar, he said.
He frequently performed at Louisiana's Cajun, zydeco and seafood festivals but said he found his niche writing and performing country songs.
"Even as a little kid, I just related to country music," he said. "When listening to a country song, I felt like I was listening to somebody telling a story, and I really connected to that. I picked up on that and started writing, and it grew from there."
Hayes broke onto the country music scene last year with "Storm Warning." His other hits include "Wanted," ''Somebody's Heartbreak," ''Love Makes Me" and "Where We Left Off."
It's been a while since Hayes has performed in New Orleans. He said he hopes he can bring a little pick-me-up to an area still recovering from Isaac, which blew ashore Aug. 28, toppling trees and power lines across the state and leaving many without electricity. The storm also swamped much of south Louisiana with a tidal surge and dayslong heavy rains.
"That's one of the things New Orleans is famous for, a little music and a good time to get you through," Hayes said.
Hayes performs Friday night at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in New Orleans to benefit Ochsner Medical Center's pediatric unit. He said he has friends who work in the hospital's child care unit and "I love what they do." He's also looking forward to spending his 21st birthday at the Superdome for the Saints season opener, he said.
"I don't know how you can be from south Louisiana and not be a Saints fan," he said