Originally created 05/04/01

Piano player finds his voice



In the guitar-driven world of country music, singer/songwriter Phil Vassar stands apart.

He's a piano man.

Mr. Vassar, named ASCAP's 1999 songwriter of the year and a nominee for the Academy of Country Music's Best New Artist award last year, will perform Sunday at the 16th annual A Day in the Country festival.

Inspired by ivory ticklers as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Joel and Ronny Milsap, Mr. Vassar came to Nashville in the mid-1980s ready to make his mark as a performer. His first successes, however, were as a songwriter, penning hits for Alan Jackson (Right on the Money), Tim McGraw (For a Little While) and Jo Dee Messina (I'm Alright) and (Bye Bye,) all on his chosen instrument.

"I had moved to Nashville just to be a singer," the Lynchburg, Va., native said. "I didn't want to be known as a songwriter. And I do write on guitar sometimes, but the piano will always be my instrument. I know it makes people think of ballads, but there have always been guys who beat the heck out of a piano, and that's what I like. I want to be one of those guys."

As ardent a fan of the Eagles as he is of the Oak Ridge Boys, Mr. Vassar hesitates to label music as pop, rock or country, his own included. He said that the music he writes and sings, country or not, should always have a ring of authenticity. He's a fan of honest music.

"It should be real," he said. "That's the common thread. It's about life, and the lyrics are heartfelt. I know that's what attracted me to country music, but I think guys like Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen are country. It's about the soul."

Although a fixture in Nashville for years, Mr. Vassar finds himself in a new arena with the release and subsequent success of his self-titled album.

"It's been a little strange," he admitted. "I mean, I have been in Nashville longer than a lot of people, but that's just the way it works out, I guess. I just had to wait my turn. I'm probably lucky, in fact, that it didn't happen sooner. I'm much smarter than I was 10 years ago."

Appearing with Mr. Vassar on Sunday will be the Clark Family Experience, Sean Carter and local band Shiloh.

Events Saturday include dancing by the Country Kickers and the Rhythm & Class Cloggers as well as performances by Tony Howard and Elvis tribute artist Jeff Barnes. There will be arts and crafts, NASCAR racers, monster trucks, rides, puppet shows, food vendors and animal exhibits both days. Proceeds from the event go to area charities.

Country festival

What: A Day in the Country

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Augusta Exchange Club Fairgrounds off Hale Street

Admission: Saturday $3 in advance, $5 at the gate. Sunday $9.99 in advance, $15 at the gate. Special weekend passes $11.99 in advance, $20 at the gate. Advance tickets at Harmon Optical in Southgate Plaza on Gordon Highway, Aiken Motorcycle Sales & Service on Whiskey Road, and Web site www.tixonline.com, or charge by phone at (803) 278-4849. Phone (803) 819-0441 or visit online at www.adayinthecountry.org.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.