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Rodney Atkins Sings Songs About Real Life

Tennessee-native Rodney Atkins will be performing at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., on Saturday night. But it won't be his first visit to the nation's capitol.

Aside from public concerts, he's performed for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at former Vice President Cheney's home for a backyard barbecue that included wounded soldiers as guests. Two years ago, he performed at the White House as part of National Adoption Awareness Day. Atkins is the national spokesman for the National Council for Adoption. Most people know Atkins as a singer and songwriter. That's what he does for a living. But his involvement with the NCA stems from the love of his parents who adopted him as a baby. That love, he says, saved his life.

Sick with a severe respiratory infection, baby Rodney was returned to the Holston Methodist Home for Children in Tennessee (an organization he now supports) by two couples before his adoptive parents, Allan and Margaret Atkins, took him home to Cumberland Gap, Tenn. "I'm so thankful for my parents," Atkins said in a phone interview en route to Texas from Colorado for a concert. "I found out later on that at that time the staph infection I had was not completely understood and anyone who handled me wore gloves. Lots of times, babies that aren't touched don't thrive." Those growing up years playing baseball, doing chores, shooting BBs down by the railroad tracks and playing church league softball are the things the 40-year-old now sings of. He didn't write all the songs on his sophomore CD, "If You're Going Through Hell," but Atkins says they are songs "you can see yourself in even if you didn't write them. "They're songs that make you laugh, or cry or pump your fist," Atkins said, written by songwriters that write around great ideas. That album produced hits including the title track, "These Are My People," "Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)" and "Watching You," a song Atkins co-wrote about his 7-year-old son, Elijah. At the time, Elijah was in pre-kindergarten and when Atkins picked him up after school one day, his teacher told him Elijah had been singing his latest song, "If You're Going Through Hell." "My 4-year-old son said a four-letter word," Atkins writes in the CD liner notes for "Watching You," about a son telling his dad he's learned to do the things he does from watching him. "He's said every word of it at some point," Atkins said. "I just made it all rhyme and put it to a melody." Atkins' yet-to-be-titled third album is set for release in late March. The title track, "It's America," is on Billboard's Top 25 country songs. He wrote about half the tracks on the new album, including another song inspired by Elijah. "We were hanging out behind the house at the creek. I was caught up with all I needed to do and Elijah wanted to go to the creek," Atkins said. "I wound up watching him chasing tadpoles. He was soaking wet and we were laughing. It hit me that it's the simple things that matter the most. "I like taking my boy to the river on Sunday, hunting tadpoles and Indian money," Atkins sang the lyrics to the song, then explained Indian money refers to the fossilized stems of plants found in area creeks. "We call them Indian money. It looks like a stack of coins." Another new song, "The River Knows," is written by Sam and Ann Tate and Dave Berg, who also wrote "If You're Going Through Hell." "It's one of those magical songs, like 'A Man on a Tractor.' This song has it. They're singing songs. I can shut up and play and let the people sing it for me. "Every song I sing is about the world as I know it. Every word is real. I'm not going to sing it if it isn't," he said. On tour this year, Atkins has a new stage set and he's looking forward to getting that under way. He's out on the road with his wife, Tammy Jo, and son. His stepdaughters, ages 18 and 19, are both in college. For Elijah, he said it's like camping. "He loves hanging out with the band."

Atkins said some artists are cutting back on tour dates because of the economy and fuel prices. "My goal is to go out and play. It's the first time we're headlining with a full stage," he said.

"You have to give people their money's worth, but we're going to keep it intimate," playing a lot of 2,000-seat or less venues and keeping ticket prices down.

"It'll be fun. We've been out with Brooks and Dunn and ZZ Top playing huge venues," Atkins said. "It was a blast, but there's something special about smaller, more intimate venues."