Driving across Indianapolis through rainy late afternoon puddles, on the Tuesday of Holy Week, just prior to Easter, it wasn’t a huge surprise to hear Mat Kearney’s “Undeniable” playing on the radio.

In the days after I’d accepted this writing assignment, his music just seemed to show up everywhere. If it wasn’t “Undeniable,” it was “Nothing Left to Lose.” If it wasn’t pop radio, it was reruns of Grey’s Anatomy. Indeed, this guy does seem pretty undeniable.

If hearing an artist’s song hyped on mainstream pop radio while you’re on the way to meet up isn’t proof that he’s an emerging rock star about to break out in a big way, the fact that people in the sushi bar next door to the theater where he’s playing later recognize him—from the back—definitely is.

Whether it’s the warm, folksy sing-along quality of his songs, the everyman sensitivity, the smart spoken-word storytelling that shows up as leaven occasionally, or something more visceral but less specific, in the vague sense of yearning for meaning given expression in his lyrics, Mat Kearney’s music connects. With lots and lots of people.

After a hearty dinner of eel, tuna and yellowtail, Kearney performs his heart out, earnestly singing every song on his major label debut, Nothing Left to Lose (Aware/Columbia/Inpop), to a sold-out crowd at The Vogue, Indy’s classic live music theater.

Kearney is headlining the “VH1 You Oughta Know Tour,” after successful runs opening for Sheryl Crow and John Mayer. On this night he shares the stage with two other newcomers: English pop/rockers The Feeling and the Delta-blues vibe of Rocco Deluca & The Burden. But it’s pretty obvious that it’s Kearney’s TV soundtrack successes that have brought out most of the fans. Especially the woman wearing the “I ™ McSteamy” T-shirt who bought one of everything at the merch table with Mat’s name on it.

“To a kid from Oregon by way of California/All of this is more than I’ve ever known”

Earlier, the 28-year-old singer/songwriter—whose acoustic pop song craft has been compared to the likes of Mayer and Coldplay and his occasional import of rap to Beck (except the narratives make sense)—explains his journey from a skater kid/graffiti artist to his current life as a rising pop star between bites of seafood delicacies and packed rice.

“I’m a product of the Northwest,” admits the Eugene, Oregon-native, as the song says. It took eight years, he admits, but—when condensed—it sounds like the mythic tale of a classic overnight sensation. “I dropped out of college; I was going to school in Chico, California. That’s where I fell in love with writing in a real way. I was an English major and a soccer player. So I took that fateful trip to help a buddy drive across [the] country to Nashville. It was supposed to be a month, but we got busy recording and making demos, and by the end of the summer, I was getting all these offers [from recording companies]. So, I didn’t expect to move there and start a career, but it worked out that way.”

Growing up in a Christian home, where his mother was a pastor, Kearney is careful to explain he didn’t live in a setting that fostered a Christ vs. culture mentality. “My folks were really encouraging in music appreciation, and they were incredibly encouraging of creativity in writing and literature. All of my strong memories as a child involve music. On Sundays, to get us out of bed and get us going in the morning, my Dad would blast a Paul Simon record or Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.’