Rockin’ Rodney

Red-hot country singer and authentic American success story Rodney Atkins will “cut loose and have fun” at the Pumper & Cleaner Expo

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Rodney Atkins rose from a hardscrabble beginning as a sickly orphan to the heights of country music stardom, producing back-to-back Billboard top country songs for 2006 and 2007 and continuing to churn out popular anthems of real life and love.

Atkins’ compelling American success story continues with his next musical challenge: Entertaining the throngs at the 2012 Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International. Atkins will bring a bushel basket of heartfelt hits when he arrives on the stage on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the grand ballroom of the JW Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis.

Atkins’ 7 p.m. performance will follow the ever-popular Industry Appreciation Party — with its festive atmosphere and 25-cent tap beers — which begins at 5 p.m. The evening of fun caps off the opening day of the Expo exhibits at the adjacent Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indy. The Industry Appreciation Party and Atkins’ live performance are included with full Expo registration.

Atkins is well-known for a string of top 10 hits that started in 2003 with “Honesty (Write Me a List)” from his first album entitled Honesty. A familiar voice on country radio for almost a decade, Atkins struck gold in 2006 and 2007, when his singles, “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” and “Watching You,” hit No. 1 and were named the top country songs of the year by Billboard magazine.

 

Rags to riches

While country music fans can hum along with Atkins’ many hits, they might not be so familiar with his inspiring personal story.

After being born in Knoxville, Tenn., in March 1969, he was put up for adoption and was twice returned to the Holston Methodist Home for Children by prospective parents who couldn’t deal with his numerous illnesses. Though his ailments worsened, Margaret and Allan Atkins, from Cumberland Gap, Tenn., adopted the boy.

With his dedicated adoptive parents, Atkins thrived and became interested in music during high school. After school, he eventually signed a recording contract, but didn’t release his first album until Honesty. The string of hits has never stopped, with the album If You’re Going Through Hell gaining platinum status and producing additional No. 1 hits in “These Are My People” and “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy).”

Atkins followed with his third album It’s America, with a single of the same title, then “15 Minutes,” and “Chasin’ Girls” heading up the charts. In 2010, Atkins hit with “Farmer’s Daughter,” and he’s currently touring with the lead-off single of his fourth album, the title cut “Take a Back Road,” which hit No. 1 just a few months ago.

While he’s built a solid career in Nashville, Atkins is proud of the family he’s built, including his wife, Tammy Jo, and his son, Elijah. Along the way, he’s found it important to give back to others. He is a spokesperson for the National Council for Adoption and often returns to the orphanage that helped him find a loving family. In 2011, Atkins headlined the Nashville Give Back Concert to support tornado-ravaged communities through the American Red Cross.

 

A helping hand

“It is important for us to give to all of those in need. As an artist, I have performed in just about every town that has been hit by the many storms and I feel that this concert is a great way to reach out and help as many people as we can,” he told the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, which helped promote the relief effort. “We wanted to … call people to action to continue to support the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund in any way that they can.”

While Atkins is devoted to family and causes he finds important, he hasn’t taken his foot off the accelerator, musically, either. According to his website, Atkins has sold four million singles in the past five years, and the sales have been going viral for “Take a Back Road.” He credits the easy, heartfelt lyrics and laid-back, identifiable message of the song.

“‘Farmer’s Daughter’ was one of the craziest download songs we had. It was peaking at 15,000 to 16,000 a week,” Atkins says. “And now ‘Back Road’ is knocking on 40,000 a week. That was a validation for me to follow my heart … It’s one of those songs that, the first time I heard it I thought, ‘Boy, that feels good.’ And then it’s catchy and something you want to just crank it up. But then, the more you hear it, you realize it’s not just a ditty; it’s about … getting right with your soul, coming down to earth.”

“Back Road” is about discovery … both literally — exploring the beauty found in your backyard countryside, and symbolically — the simple joys of family and life. The emotional tune and the album in general present a winning formula for the thoughtful Atkins.

“I’ve had some success with my songs, and you’ve got to sit back and ask yourself, ‘Why did these songs connect?’ With a lot of songs, the approach is about how perfect things are, or how messed up things are — It’s one or the other,” he explains. “But for me, real life is there are ups and downs, and if you can, get both sides of that in a song.”

And he’s taken a reality check when it comes to love songs, too. Atkins says he was never interested in recording conventional love songs until he found several tunes that scratch beneath the surface of complex relationships. He includes several of these on the latest album. And they’re songs hardworking family business owners who attend the Pumper & Cleaner Expo can surely relate to.

“Love is not all blue skies and no bills,” he says. “It’s gutters leaking and the cat messed in the fireplace. It’s not convenient at all, and you’ve got to make time for it — that’s the toughest part of it.”

 

A treat on stage

Love songs, simple slice-of-life songs, or just about anything Atkins performs, he promises an energetic live show. He likes to change up the set list night after night to keep the audience and band in tune and engaged. Expo attendees can expect an edgy and fun time with Atkins and his band.

“Sometimes you just want to cut loose and have fun, and you have to do something unexpected … You just have to kind of roll with it,” Atkins explains. “That’s how I try to be on stage, and the shows get better the more spontaneous they are, the less the band knows what’s going to happen.

“I’m low-key, but I get excited on stage. I think that if I didn’t have that outlet of playing live, I’d be frustrated a lot,” he says. “Music was definitely my savior. It’s a way of saying things that, hopefully, because it’s in the form of music, will stay around awhile.”



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