Rodney brings 'real songs about life' to the Fox

For all of his accolades, No. 1 hit country records and fan adoration, Rodney Atkins' defining moment may have come upon his return to the Tennessee orphanage where he was adopted, only to find it had a new name.

The Rodney Atkins Youth Home.

"It blew me away," said Atkins on the phone from his home in Tennessee. "To see all those kids in there, running around and laughing, and to know we had helped them out, that was an amazing feeling.

Atkins will perform Thursday at Fox Theater in Salinas. Pacific Grove singer Alli Clark will open. The show starts at 7 p.m.

Atkins has enjoyed a flurry of success the past three years, beginning with the release of his 2006 album "If You're Going Through Hell," which spawned four No. 1 singles. A fifth single from that album, "It's America," also hit No. 1 on the Billboard country charts and was released as the title track follow-up album in May.

The 2006 single "If You're Going Through Hell (Before The Devil Even Knows)" became the No. 1 Billboard country song of the year and summed up Atkins' songwriting style — part testimonial, part motivational tool.

"It can be about people facing the rough economy. It's a song that can be related to that," said Atkins. "People that first heard the song, even the publishers of the song, said 'Nobody wants to listen to that.' I said 'That's what people can connect to.' It was something that was real for folks."

Being real is all this Tennessee boy knows how to do on a record. Atkins wrote it after enduring disappointing sales for his debut album "Honesty."

Forced to re-consider his career, and out of financial necessity, he began recording at home and trying to figure out if he belonged in the music industry.

"We didn't know what was going to happen. I had to figure out a way to record inexpensively and off the radar of the record label," said Atkins. "At that time, you just had to keep believing that if you worked on the songs, something good will happen. You don't know what's going to happen, just keep working. Don't be focused on what isn't going to work."

That attitude helped shape the song's fearless hook:

If you're going through hell, Keep on going, don't slow down

If you're scared, don't show it

You might get out, Before the devil even knows you're there."

Atkins writes songs in the key of American life, sung with inspired wisdom from a Tennessee orphan who become a country superstar.

"That's what I love. It's just do life songs," said Atkins. "Not necessarily songs you hear and say 'That's a country song.' It will wind up being country because that's what I do."

He continued, "I sing about songs that are pretty family- and friend-oriented, I guess. There are songs I'm drawn to that I think are love songs, but it doesn't have to be a ballad"

To demonstrate his devotion to "life songs," he sings a verse from another of his No. 1 singles, "These Are My People."

"Well we grew up down by the railroad tracks, Shootin' BB's at old beer cans/

Chokin' on the smoke from a lucky strike, Somebody lifted off of his old man/

We were football flunkies, Southern rock junkies, Crankin' up the stereo/

Singin' loud and proud to gimme three steps, Simple Man, and Curtis Lowe, We were good you know ..."

"Yeah it's not perfect, but it's real," he said. "It's a real song about life."

Atkin's life has been real good lately, especially back home in Tennessee.

He performed Oct. 17 at the Foothill Falls Festival in Maryville, Tenn., not far from his hometown of Cumberland Gap.

It was a rollicking homecoming, with Atkins' childhood friends showing up to support, part of a crowd of more than 10,000 people in attendance.

Also among the audience was the man who perhaps had the most profound impact on Atkins' early life.

"The fella who took me into the orphanage, his name is Charles Hutchins, he was the guy that put me together with my family. He was at the show that night," said Atkins. "We get to work with him now."

That work resulted in more than $5million in fundraising for the Holston United Methodist Home for Children in Greeneville, where Atkins was first taken as a child shortly after his birth.

When he returned to a dedication ceremony earlier this month, he was surprised to find out the home had been re-named in his honor.

"It's a real dream come true, working with the National Adoption Council and hosting the home," he said. "We started out trying to get music instruments for the kids, just as a distraction for them. It's become something else completely."

Something just as important as recording music and inspiring others to see through the hard times. For Atkins, his American dream will continue on through the lives of the children that come out of the Rodney Atkins Youth Home.

"To see something like that come together and know so many people support the things you're working for, that's a very satisfying venture," he said. "We just hope it keeps growing."

If you go ·What: Rodney Atkins in concert ·When: Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29. ·Tickets: $37.50 general admission ·Information:, (888) 825-5484

Read the article from the Monterey Herald here.