Rodney Atkins Joins Pittsburgh Premiere of CMA Songwriters Series

Millions have come to know and appreciate Rodney Atkins as an entertainer. He connects with his audiences personally and directly; they are, to paraphrase one of his hit songs, his people, cut from the same cloth and guided by the values he celebrates in song.

But before embracing the role of performer, the East Tennessee native was drawn to a less public side of Country Music. “My dream was always to be a songwriter,” he said. “When I was about 5 years old, I heard Charlie Daniels come over the radio, and I actually asked my parents, ‘How do you get to be Charlie Daniels?’”

Atkins never achieved that goal — Charlie already had the gig sewed up — but he did take his first steps into the business as a writer. Some college friends of his essentially dragged him to a writer-in-the-round event in Nashville. There, Atkins found himself sitting onstage next to Casey Beathard, whose track record includes hits for a long line of artists; Atkins himself would top the Country charts in 2007 with the Beathard/Marla Cannon-Goodman co-write “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy).”

These events helped usher Atkins into the Nashville musical whirl. It’s understandable, then, why getting together and swapping songs with a group of fellow writers remains a fundamental pleasure for him. His performer side also finds it appealing to share that format with music lovers beyond Nashville. He did so in November by participating in the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub in New York City. And now he returns for a special installment as the Series debuts in Pittsburgh.

The Hard Rock Cafe Pittsburgh will host the event on Wednesday, Sept. 12, in a 200-seat space whose exposed brick walls and industrial ceiling create a comfortable urban vibe. (Other participants will include Nashville songwriting giants Bob DiPiero and Luke Laird.) Roy Smith, the venue’s Sales & Marketing Manager, is pleased that Atkins will be onboard. More than that, he’s excited to be among the many other enthusiasts who will be on hand for this milestone occasion.

“I personally have always been a fan of the singer/songwriter shows,” he said. “Most people don’t pay attention all the time to who writes the songs. But when somebody writes a song, they’re coming from a certain place. When the singer hears the demo and picks that song to be on their record, they might have a different take on the lyrics. It could be translated in a different way. They might have gone a little faster or emphasized different words. It’s a much more intimate and enlightening experience when you see this live at one of these ‘unplugged’ shows where people talk about their motivations behind writing songs. They’re more personal and entertaining.”

Atkins agrees with Smith on the Songwriters Series’ fan appeal. But, he adds, taking part in songwriter circles continues to polish his craft, even now. “I get to sing ‘If You’re Going through Hell’ typically two or three times a week in front of thousands of people,” he said, referencing his No. 1 hit from 2006, which Dave Berg wrote with Sam and Annie Tate. “It always blows me away to stand there and hear the crowd sing it back to you. Well, one time Dave and some friends and I did a benefit guitar pull for a school. Dave was singing that song, and when he came to the line ‘You step off the straight and narrow and you don’t know where you are,’ for some reason that line hit me completely differently. You’re never really on the straight and narrow; none of us is. It’s God’s grace that it’s impossible to completely walk the straight and narrow. That’s what the song is about: faith, hope and ‘keep on going.’ What Dave did was make me completely relook at that song. Every line is amazing; it’s so simple but deep at the same time.”

The audience in Pittsburgh, like all who have experienced the CMA Songwriters Series, may gain similar insights into songs they’ve known and loved for years. “If folks do come in Pittsburgh because they’ve heard of me, I guarantee they’ll walk away with whole new perspectives of where songs come from,” Atkins predicted. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s a new single by Rodney Atkins.’ It’s stories of, ‘Somebody said this to me at this point in their lives. I started thinking about it and wrote this song.’ God bless the folks that come because they’re fans of mine, but they’ll walk away being completely fans of these songwriters too.

“I came to Nashville to write songs,” he concluded. “I never thought I could get in front of people and sing. I’m not good with that, ‘Look at me up here!’ But when you get out and play in front of people, the audiences lift you up with that feeling of ‘we’re in this together.’ It’s for them you want to give the best show you can, and then you fall in love with that aspect of it. It’s such a blessing. But first, I’m proud to say I’m a songwriter.” By Bob Doerschuk

On the Web:;

On Twitter: @RodneyAtkins

About Kimberly Michele Durham


Posted on September 5, 2012, in Country Music Association, K*Chele Magazine and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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