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John Lamb, Published June 09 2011

RibFest performer Rodney Atkins balances real life and touring

Rodney Atkins’ life is like a country song.

Reached a few weeks ago, the star was at home in Nashville, Tenn., mowing the lawn and planting shrubs before taking time to talk about his appearance tonight at RibFest.

“That’s my yoga, getting out and doing that stuff,” Atkins says of the yard work, noting that his wife wanted to call a landscaper.

It was a bit of a rush job for the singer, as he had to finish the “honey do” list one day, go to his son’s baseball game the next, then play a concert in northern Kentucky that night.

Atkins’ road trip brings him back to Fargo and RibFest tonight. The singer/guitarist previously played the meaty festival in 2009.

“It’s a blast. Everybody is so nice,” Atkins says. “The hospitality is like none other. Some of the best home-cooked meals. It’s good for the soul.”

High praise from someone from Nashville.

“You know you’re going to go up there and have a good time and people are going to come out,” he says. “My job is to be a distraction. An opportunity for people to come and have fun. There’s not a better job than that. It’s not a job.”

It may not be a job, but he’s had to work hard at it.

Atkins moved to Music City and signed a record deal in 1997. But it was six years before his label debut, “Honesty,” came out. In the meantime, he split wood, mowed lawns and wrote music, which may explain why he finds yard work therapeutic today.

He followed that with his chart-topping “If You’re Going Through Hell,” which landed four No. 1 singles including the title track, “Watching You,” “These Are My People” and “Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy).”

With a new single, “Take a Back Road,” out now, summer is a busy time with a steady stream of festivals, fairs and fundraisers. This past Tuesday, he helped kick off CMA Week in Nashville headlining “Music City Gives Back,” a concert to raise money for tornado victims. Next Tuesday, he plays Bama Rising in Birmingham, Ala., to raise funds for that area’s tornado relief efforts.

Considering his past, Atkins’ charity work feels genuine, rather than just another way to plug his new song. Placed for adoption at birth, it took three families before someone agreed to take in the sickly child.

Now 42 and healthy enough to do yard work and long tours, Atkins feels a need to give something back to his fans and others.

“I think it’s in the back of my mind how lucky I am to be here. I’m just grateful,” he says. “I tend to count my blessings more than my problems.”

“He seems to be more of an everyday, down-to-earth country singer,” says Jeremiah Bullfrog from the “Froggy Gang Morning Show” on Froggy 99.9 FM. He saw Atkins’ ’09 RibFest appearance and says, “He always puts on a great show.”

The DJ says the singer covers a range of emotions, from the father who realizes his son isn’t always learning the right lessons from his old man in “Watching You,” to the more free-wheeling “Take a Back Road.”

Atkins says he’s drawn to songs that are about realizing what’s really important in life, and says “Take a Back Road” is no exception.

“It’s a summer song, but it’s important it says something a little different,” he says. “It’s about getting away from the grind. It’s a grounding song, and I think we all need that from time to time.

“I want to give (listeners) meat and potatoes and something that really says something. If they listen to a song the first time and go, ‘That’s cool,’ I hope the third or fourth time they hear something else inside of it. That’s when you know you’ve got (a good) one.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533