Rodney in the South Bend Tribune!

 South Bend Tribune

Life’s ‘simple things’ fuel Atkins’ music
July 18, 2009

When Rodney Atkins performs Monday night at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds, it’ll be his second appearance at the fair. His first concert, in 2007, was a memorable experience for his fans and for the Academy of Country Music Top New Male Vocalist winner.

After a torrential downpour in the afternoon threatened to cancel the concert, the grandstand area was left a messy mud pit, with the reserved track seating left in disarray. The show went on and nearly 6,000 drenched, mud-soaked fans watched Atkins deliver a rollicking, fist-pumping set.

“The clouds cleared a way for us a little bit,” he says about arriving at the fairgrounds that day. “I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, man, nobody is going to be here.’ Didn’t they have the folks carry their chairs? They gave them chairs to take down there. It worked out great, because I love it when the folks don’t have to sit down. The energy is always different when you can get the folks to get up and rock and have a good time. I remember the energy was so cool. The energy of the crowd was just amazing.”

Atkins is a force in his own right with the success of his platinum-selling 2006 album, “If You’re Going Through Hell,” which contained four consecutive No. 1 country music singles — “Watching You,” “These Are My People,” “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)” and the title track.

Atkins unquestionably felt some pressure when he went into the studio to record his next album.

“The bar is set,” he says. “You want to evolve a little bit, but it is about the songs. You want to keep delivering those kinds of songs. We were very fortunate to put those hits together and have them be up-tempo songs that you can build a show around, so it is important for us to continue that.”

Atkins needn’t have worried: His new album, “It’s America,” debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Country Chart, and the title track became Atkins’ fifth No. 1 single.

The song, as with many of Atkins’ songs, steers clear of politics, focusing instead on the “simple things” of life in America, such as lemonade stands, Bruce Springsteen songs and Chevrolets.

“It hit me at the time when I got the song, with the economy and everything that was going on, I felt like a lot of people have been handed lemons out there,” he says. “They are trying to figure out what to do. What you got to do is make lemonade. Hope for the best and keep working. We are all in this together and it is a celebration of life.”

Atkins had already finished recording the album when his drummer played “It’s America” for him. Atkins knew immediately that he had to return to the studio.

“This song came in, and I knew it was something that I wanted to be on this album,” he says. “We could have said, ‘Yeah, we’ll cut it and use it for another album,’ but it seemed of the essence right now. I am very, very thankful that it worked out.”

His new single, “15 Minutes,” which received a strong, enthusiastic response when Atkins presented it at his 2007 fair concert, is another slice of everyday life that is easily relatable to his audience. Atkins sings, “I gave up smokin’, women and drinkin’ last night/And it was the worst 15 minutes of my life.”

“I am trying to sing about real life, about being human, growing up and making mistakes,” he says. “You try to do the best you can. You are living life. That is what I sing about. Somebody asked me, ‘How come you don’t have any love songs?’ I laughed. I think I do. A lot of these are love songs. They are about the things you love, the things you live for. ‘15 Minutes,’ that’s about friends. That’s about hanging out with your buddies, camaraderie.”

With his enormous success, Atkins is on the road about 175 days a year, so he makes every effort to make his family his main concern when he is home. He even had a studio built at his house where he recorded all of his vocal parts on “It’s America” just so he could spend more time with his wife, two teenage stepdaughters and his 7-year-old son.

“It is my number one priority,” he says. “Family and friends, that is what it all comes down to.”

Atkins says he is looking forward to performing again at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair.

“Rain or shine, we’ll be there,” he says. “We show up, and a party breaks out.”