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Sat, Jul. 13th – Randy Houser and Rodney Atkins at CountryFest
July 13 @ 4:00 pm - 10:00 pm$20 - $45
Randy Houser is a man refreshed. “I don’t know how it happened, but everything in my life has started lining up,” says the Lake, Mississippi native. “I must have done somebody right in the past.”
Those positive vibes of renewal ripple through Houser’s three consecutive No. 1 hits, “How Country Feels,” “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” and “Goodnight Kiss,” which recently became Houser’s first No. 1 as a songwriter though he has written numerous hits for artists over the years. “How Country Feels” was his first-ever No. 1 at radio, and both it and “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” earned RIAA Platinum certifications. All three songs are from Houser’s Stoney Creek Records debut, How Country Feels, which was released in early 2013. Upon release, the title track and lead single sparked a wildfire of accolades and media appearances including: CONAN, NBC Nightly News, NBC Weekend Today, CBS’s “On The Couch,” FOX & Friends, Better TV and many more. It also gave Houser his first American Country Award for Most Played Radio Track: Male in 2013.
Houser cut How Country Feels with producer Derek George, a long-time friend and fellow Mississippian he had wanted to work with for over a decade. It’s been called “a buoyant, hook-filled outing” (Washington Post) that’s infused with “a balance of revelry and introspection” (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) and shows off Randy’s powerhouse voice, hailed “one of the best in Nashville” by Great American Country (GAC) and numerous other critics.
Houser’s past contains no shortage of achievement, as it includes multiple nominations for ACM and CMA Awards, a No. 2 single in the form of “Boots On,” and songwriting credits for major names such as Trace Adkins, Justin Moore and Chris Young. In 2008—mere months after the release of his debut single, “Anything Goes”—Houser was even asked by David Letterman himself to appear on The Late Show. The singer’s first full-length album, Anything Goes, came out later that year, followed in 2010 by They Call Me Cadillac which spawned hit “Whistlin’ Dixie,” and fan-favorite “A Man Like Me.”
But despite this early success, Houser now admits that he wasn’t truly happy. “It seemed like professionally things weren’t as great as they could be, and that was part of it,” he says. “But the biggest thing was not having a home base.” Shortly after, Houser signed with new label home Stoney Creek Records based in Nashville, Tenn.
“Everybody there feels like part of my family,” Houser says of the independent imprint, where he happily signed following a long stretch of intensive touring. (How intensive? Think 150 shows a year.) “You walk in the door and everybody seems really happy with their job; there’s no strife in the air. That’s really important for me to have right now. It’s comforting.”
New tracks on How Country Feels echo the title single’s sunny self-assurance, including “We’re Just Growing Younger” and “Along for the Ride,” which Houser co-wrote with Zac Brown. “We were playing a festival and I just had this song rolling around in my head,” Houser remembers of the latter. “I stayed up till about 5 in the morning but then got stuck. So I called up Zac and we went on his bus and knocked it out of the park.”
There is contemplation, too: “Like a Cowboy,” which is Houser’s latest single, is about “me coming home for a few days, then having to leave again,” Houser says. “Route 3 Box 250D” provides an intimate snapshot of the singer’s upbringing. “That one’s kind of hard to listen to,” he admits. “It hits almost too close to home.” Billboard calls the song “stunning,” and The New York Times writes, “His voice here is almost wholly different, thicker and more throbbing, a caldron bubbling over. For a few minutes he’s the singer Nashville won’t let him be.”
As for the sound of How Country Feels, Houser says it’s his most expansive outing yet, with more bells and whistles than he’s used in the past; it also showcases the remarkable voice that led Vince Gill to call Houser “one of the best in the new crop of country singer-songwriters” and pal Jamey Johnson to say, “I watched a blind man jump to his feet and drop his crutches the first time he heard Randy Houser sing.”
And since the release of How Country Feels, critics have echoed those claims in reviews, with MSN writing “Houser is hands down one of the best male vocalists in Nashville,” and quoting Dierks Bentley as saying, “It’s kind of ridiculous how good of a singer he is.”
Still, the heart of the album—of Houser’s entire outlook right now—remains the story of a man who’s moved through darkness into light. “I feel like I’ve reached such a special moment,” he says, and it’s a true pleasure to hear him inside it.
“I love the grit,” says Rodney Atkins. “I love getting sawdust on me. I love getting under the hood and getting grease all over: working hard, until your knuckles are busted.”
After more than two decades in country music, it’s hard to imagine that the Tennessee-born Atkins could still treasure the difficult moments and the arduous process of creating a song from the ground up. But he’s just the kind of artist who loves the roots as much as the tree. With six No. 1 hits under his belt, four studio LP’s and over 13 million units sold, Atkins is more invested than ever in making honest, authentic records that tell a story and showcase his unique place in the world, which is exactly what he does on his forthcoming fifth LP. But it took a moment, about three years ago, for him to take stock not just of where he’d been, but where he was going.
“I equated it to my bow and arrow moment,” Atkins says. “I felt like I needed to stop, take a few steps back. Re-aim. Re-adjust. Get back on target, and to the level I wanted to operate on.”
It was a logical moment – in the wake of his first greatest hits compilation, Rodney Atkins Greatest Hits, in 2015, he wanted his next sonic offering to not only push country music forward but stay connected to what had always made it great to begin with. And, in Atkins’ eyes, that’s songs about the highways of life, family and love. And one true love, in particular. For Atkins, that’s his wife Rose Falcon Atkins, to whom he owes so much of his creative reinvention. He credits Rose, a singer and artist herself, with helping him to find his voice again – to re-embracing melodies and the art of singing itself. Her fingerprints, whether lyrically, in a duet or just in spirit, are all over his forthcoming record.
“When I met Rose, the world made sense,” Atkins says. And he started to see music in a whole new way, writing songs and searching for ones that explored that beloved grit but were tender, too; songs that could be blasted while driving down the road or after hunting in the field but tailor-made for first kisses and first dances — songs that will live with his fans at every moment, because they lived with him, too.
“I’m a song mechanic,” he says. “I just love working on songs.” Whether writing with Rose or a stable of other revered co-writers, digging for the best jewels on Music Row or offering up his own versions of new classics like Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” his forthcoming record explores the many sides of an artist who is only moving forward and never too proud to do what makes him a little uncomfortable. From the southern swagger of “What Lonely Looks Like” or the timeless twang of “Caught Up in the Country,” that pushes boundaries through a thunderous beat and vocals from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, they all paint a picture of a man who isn’t afraid to show what he loves – be it the country lifestyle or the woman by his side – because that’s just who Atkins is. And that, he thinks, is what’s most important.
“Authenticity is everything to me,” says Atkins, who created much of the album from his own home studio in the hills of Nashville. “It’s being honest, being real. Not being afraid to reveal that piece of you. It’s about being willing to put it out there.” Indeed, there are songs about fitting in and finding a place, about our weaknesses and joys, about watching children grow and about simply letting go. Known for his numerous hits including six chart-topping tracks: “Take A Back Road,” “It’s America,” “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy),” “These Are My People,” “Watching You” and “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” – it’s a sonic progression that will excite and captivate both new fans and ones who have been on the ride all along.
And that road, for Atkins, has been an enviable one. His last studio LP, Take A Back Road (produced by Ted Hewitt), yielded his sixth career No. 1 hit and his fastest – rising single to date with the title track. And his 2006 single, “Watching You,” was named the Number One Song of the Decade by Country Aircheck, an accolade that even found Atkins himself surprised. But it’s on this newest record where Atkins sees the most accurate reflection of who he is as a man, and as a singer. This time, he focused on whether or not a song had staying power – beyond just the radio dials. But that’s certainly where they’ll be, too. “I believe in these songs,” he says. “And that they are epic.”
What lies ahead in 2018 for Rodney Atkins will be more than just new music and a new record. It will be about watching his newborn baby grow – Rose recently gave birth to their son, Ryder – and being a father to his teenager, Elijah, as well. And it will be about playing music for his fans, about continuing his avid support for the military and for always staying connected to what keeps him caught up in the country. Getting grease and dirt all over: working hard, until his knuckles are busted, and cherishing every single second.