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Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 01:32 pm

Country festival at the Prairie Capital

With 14 acts in two days, Y’allapalooza brings stars, newcomers and in-betweeners to Springfield

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Trent Tomlinson

efore deciding to take the plunge and go to a Y’allapalooza, informed readers may be wondering, “What exactly is a Y’allapalooza?” Those up on the contemporary country music scene could likely recognize the moniker from outdoor concerts mostly happening around the Midwest during the last several years. Rockers will get the “palooza” part as a takeoff from Lollapalooza, the popular alternative rock road show of the early 90s started by Jane’s Addiction main man, Perry Ferrell.

The “palooza” term is much like people use the term “gate” these days — if it’s a political scandal just add “gate” as in Watergate, if it’s a big party concert, just add “palooza” for immediate understanding.

Now we’re getting somewhere in our search for a definition of a Y’allapalooza. It appears some bright guy or gal somewhere, took “y’all,” the rural sounding, definitely Southern dialect contraction of “you all,” attached it to the aforementioned “palooza” and created a title for an instant modern country concert event. The first shows were held sometime around nine or ten years ago – the history of the naming is rather vague, but the idea caught on and continued in various venues with an assortment of acts.

When Prairie Capital Convention Center General Manager Brian Oaks began developing a plan to bring a group of country stars to Springfield for a midwinter event, he knew what he wanted but still didn’t have a name for it.

“We wanted to do something different, something that was a first-time event for Springfield,” Oaks said. “Working with WFMB (a local FM country station) we held a naming rights contest and got over 1,500 entries — a great response — way better than we expected and Y’allapalooza was the overwhelming choice for a name.”

Oaks visited Nashville last October, attending a convention of booking agents showcasing artists in Music City USA to pursue the plan. He approached different promoters with his concert idea and a major booking agent took right to it, setting the PCCC up with 14 acts over two days. The artists ranged from hit-making stars to fresh newcomers and several in betweeners.

“I asked them what they thought about doing an indoor show as a festival,” he said. “They liked the idea so much they used this concept in Chicago.”

Indeed, during the usually slow time right after the holidays, booking a two-day event would seem like a great idea. The Friday acts in Springfield play in St. Charles, near Chicago, on Saturday and vice versa. In one of those often talked of win-win situations, the bands have a nice run not far from their Tennessee base, fans get extra treatment from the festival-like atmosphere, and promoters and venues receive a subtle boost in a usually down time of the touring season. In fact, if things go well the event is to be continued, making Y’allapalooza at the PCCC an annual event.

“We love the concept of taking two or three headliners on one night and being able to showcase up-and-coming stars as well,” said Oaks. “We’ll have established artists and the stars of tomorrow on the same stage, then available for fans to meet.”

The event aims at capturing the feel of the highly successful Fan Fair held annually in Nashville, where artists perform showcases and hold meet-’n-greets allowing fans to mix with the stars beyond what normally occurs during a standard concert outing. From the beginning Oaks believed his concept to be more than your average stage show, and sold the notion as an event that reached out to fans and performers alike, creating a festival atmosphere indoors, purposefully bringing together the artist and the audience.

LeAnn Rimes

“The idea is to be more than a concert. We’ll have food areas, caterers, prizes, giveaways, meet-’n-greets, WFMB charity raffle and, of course the live music,” Oaks said. “It’s going to be one big two-day party and a first for Springfield.” Now, meet the artists who will appear.

LeAnn Rimes

LeAnn Rimes first hit the big time in a big way when at age 13 she scored a major national hit with Blue, and instantly became the cute little girl with the mature, huge voice. To most listeners of country music that is who she is and always shall be, but Rimes moved on in her career. She’s written children’s books, acted in films, had a successful pop album in Europe, recorded a duet with Jon Bon Jovi, sold over 37 million records, had numerous hit singles, and won many music industry awards including two Grammys. She managed to accomplish this without the typical problems associated with other teenage stars.

Rimes certainly blossomed since the early teenage years both as an artist and a star. Her recent music videos show a more adult side of LeAnn, one designed for mature-audiences, cashing in on the risqué direction in popular country music culture. On Family, her most recent CD, Rimes takes a definite autobiographical turn, writing or co-writing nearly all the songs, stepping out as an artist with an intent vision rather than just a pretty girl with great voice.

Phil Vassar and Friends

Like many stars of the Nashville hit machine, Phil Vassar began in the business as a songwriter and worked his success as a tunesmith into stardom. After years of writing hits for others, he crashed onto the charts with his self-titled debut in 2000. He continues to make chart-topping records and he tours constantly. Vassar performs an energetic live show, careening around the stage, pounding the piano and squeezing every last bit of energy out of his songs and the audience.

After a recent record label switch from Arista to Universal South, Vassar released Prayers of the Common Man, to relate his vision of the American working class family man to the world at large. If sales and popularity are a measure, and by all contemporary music standards they are, he’s accomplished his mission. With song titles that say it all, like Six-Pack Summer, My Chevrolet, Just Another Day in Paradise, Love is a Beautiful Thing, This is God, and the recent hit, Last Day of My Life, Vassar found the handle to pump the water from the well of the modern country music market and people drink it up.

No word on who Phil’s friends are (could it be a play on Phil (Lesh) and Friends?), but by leaving the door open, all kinds of potential players could emerge. Then again it might just be his band name, but reports are hazy on just what encompasses a friend of Phil Vassar when it concerns a stage performance.

Trent Tomlinson

Trent Tomlinson comes off as the most rock-oriented of all the country performers at Y’allapalooza at the PCCC. His debut record, Country is my Rock, tells his story well. He began playing in rock bands during high school years spent near St. Louis, then turned the very gradual corner to country music with a rock edge. He moved to Nashville and quickly made his mark penning songs for rocking country band Emerson Drive, then spent years playing Nashville-style publishing deal roulette. After heartbreaking encounters with near signings to major record deals, Tomlinson landed with Lyric Street, a company that seemed to understand his vision of country music, which according to him entails, “open a beer, sit in a lawn chair, let’s have a party” kind of country. He also adds in references to heaven, Mama, Daddy, drinkin’, and not drinkin,’ to round out the complete country demographics.

Jonathan Singleton

After two years of the Nashville life of publishing and production deals, songwriting and song plugging, Jonathan Singleton hit the jackpot with Watching Airplanes, a major single for superstar Gary Allan in 2007. Singleton, a Jackson, Tenn., native, spent his high school and early college years playing in his own bands, recording, touring and otherwise preparing for his Nashville move. The success of Watching Airplanes vaulted him into a record deal with Universal South and an album produced by Dann Huff, a big-time Nashville player responsible for top-selling recordings by superstars Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Keith Urban, Bon Jovi, Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes, just to name a few.

While waiting for the debut record to be made ready for release, Singleton and his band hit the road, opening for big stars and playing little places plus doing events like Y’allapalooza at the PCCC. With a nod to his songwriting prowess, the budding young star appeared on the original PBS series Legends and Lyrics in December of 2008 with Patty Griffin, Kris Kristofferson and Randy Owen, three luminaries of the country songwriting and performing world. Things are looking good for the country-rocking singer-songwriter in 2009.

Jason Aldean

A prototype of a contemporary male country music artist, Jason Aldean wears and endorses Wrangler Jeans, Justin Boots and Resistol Hats, makes videos with models dressed like hillbilly girls and calls his music “aggressive country.” The system works, as Aldean continues his run up the chart with his latest set of market-written songs like Johnny Cash and I Use What I Got. He first broke onto the scene in 2006 with Hicktown and by 2009 he’s a force in the business, headlining shows and watching the new record race up the charts.

The Macon, Ga., native earned his share of career knocks playing the Southeastern U.S. club scene, before landing a record deal and the Hicktown hit. After that he’s never looked back and continues the ongoing work of touring and recording, promoting and playing, sensing the really big payoff just ahead. Known for his Southern rock style, Aldean turned up the grittiness in his latest CD, Relentless, and really cut loose with a sound more related to his guitar-oriented live show.

Joe Nichols

The most traditional-styled country artist on the Y’allapalooza bill, Joe Nichols is likely best remembered for the modern country novelty classic, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Come Off of 2005. Nichols comes from Rogers, Ark., and maintains a baritone voice paired with classic country instrumentation along the lines of Randy Travis or Alan Jackson.

His latest release, Real Things, produced by Brent Rowan with expert aid from Universal South president and acclaimed producer Mark Wright, leans somewhat away from this format. For a few songs the record moves to capture more of the middle-of-the-road crowd like on the rocker, It Ain’t No Crime, and a mushy, Another Side of You. But overall with songs like, The Whiskey Years, Let’s Get Drunk and Fight, and a version of the Blaze Foley classic, If I Could Only Fly, Nichols is staying put in the tried and true territory of trad country where he first forged his trail into the marketplace.

Joe Nichols

Keith Anderson

When your break in the country music business comes from a song called Beer Run (“B double-e double are you in?”) cut by Garth Brooks and George Jones, it just doesn’t get much better than that. Keith Anderson was one of four co-writers on the novelty tune that opened the doors for the Oklahoma resident and paved the way for a career of songwriting hits that culminated in a performance career. The former body builder scored a number one hit for Big & Rich (Lost in the Moment) then launched into his own world with his debut album Three Chord Country and American Rock and Roll containing the singles Pickin’ Wildflowers and XXL. Anderson continues to chart regularly with songs like I Still Miss You, Sunday Morning in America and his latest release, She Could’ve Been Mine, off the 2008 record C’mon.

Julianne Hough

There seem to be endless ways to make it into the music biz, but the route of Julianne Hough is quite unusual. The triple threat performer as a singer, dancer and actor came to national attention through her appearances on “Dancing with the Stars,” the hit show on ABC. Hough, who grew up in Utah and spent years studying dance in London, really always had her heart set on singing country music. The success of her star dancing gig propelled her into a limelight where she could live out her dream of country music stardom.

Her debut contained the hits, The Song in My Head, Help Me, Help You, and Hide the Matches. Working her way through catchy pop, message songs and sensual ballads, Hough managed to get herself heard with an evocative young voice and seen with a dancer’s appearance, which all makes for a decent package for an aspiring starlet.

The Lost Trailers

The Lost Trailers are a rare breed in country music. The five-piece combo actually played together as a performing group for years, building a cohesive live show and fan base as only a traveling band can do. Recognizable to modern country fans as the group that opened many shows for Kenny Chesney and Sugarland, the band actually got its first break in show business when Willie Nelson heard their demo and invited them to perform at his annual Fourth of July Picnic in Austin in 2004. After that the Lost Trailers were on the road again and again, performing around 300 dates a year honing that sound and building an audience.

After getting a good major label deal with Sony/BMG, they released the instantly recognizable song, Holler Back, and the wrenching ballad, How ’Bout You Don’t, putting them on the charts and into the hearts of country fans across the nation. As a real live band, they’ll be fun ones to check out at Y’allapalooza at the PCCC.

Chris Young

Some people are just born to be a star and Chris Young seems to be one of the lucky few. During his youth in Murfreesboro, Tenn., just south of Nashville, Young spent his days finding ways to make it in the country music business. He managed to play prominent Nashville clubs while still in high school and studied music business in college. After an appearance on “Nashville Star,” the Music City USA version of “American Idol,” Young got a record deal with RCA and went for the gold, literally. The 21-year-old with a voice of a much older singer knocked out the crowds with the single Drinkin’ Me Lonely, from his debut record produced by Kenny Chesney ace, Buddy Cannon.

Now Young just needs to follow through with his talents to fulfill his lifelong ambition of being on the radio alongside legends of country music like George Strait and Brooks and Dunn.

One Flew South

For listeners nostalgic for genuine three-part harmony and performers actually performing together, One Flew South is the act to catch at Y’allapalooza. Royal Reed, Chris Roberts and Eddie Bush really play and more importantly sing together as an organic trio of voices and music. After years of searching to find a music combination that fit their concept of harmony, the three musicians landed an audition at a record label in New York City. There the powers that be blessed this idea of three guys singing as a group without the aid of electronic help, following in the very large and lonely footsteps of well-known groups from the past such as Poco, the Eagles, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

J. D. Souther, who wrote a couple hits with the Eagles and knows about harmony groups, helped out with some songs for One Flew South’s first record and gave them a nice quote for the promo pack. The debut album, Last of the Good Guys, is a virtual wonder of good songs sung well, played without hype or hysteria. Cuts out on the radio looking for chart time include Sara and Makin’ it Rain. One Flew South makes a special stop at Y’allapalooza, bringing singing to the forefront of the music offering.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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