Best Bets: Vassar bringing country hits to Harrington

County singer-songwriter Phil Vassar will perform at Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall March 14 at 8 p.m. (Submitted photo)

After a Christmas tour with Lonestar and a string of acoustic shows, Phil Vassar is getting the band back together and taking it to Harrington.

“I’m going back out with the band and it’s going to be really fun. We haven’t played together since November. We may have forgotten the songs and have to get back together just to rehearse,” the country music star said about his upcoming, aptly named, Hitsteria Tour.

He will play Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall March 14 as part of the Live On Stage series.

Although joking that he may have forgotten his songs, his fans sure haven’t.

This year, he is celebrating 20 years of chart-topping country hits, that include 10 No. 1 singles, 15 Top 10s and 27 Top 40 hits.

His tunes include “Carlene,” “Just Another Day in Paradise,” “Six-Pack Summer,” “When I Love You,” “I’m Alright” and “I’m Already Gone.”

Before he began his own recording career, Mr. Vassar was racking up hits, co-writing singles for several country artists. Mr. Vassar’s songwriting career blossomed in the mid-1990s when he landed a publishing contract with EMI and wrote hits for Collin Raye (“Little Red Rodeo”), Alan Jackson (“Right on the Money”), Tim McGraw (“For a Little While”), Jo Dee Messina (“Bye Bye, “I’m Alright”) and Blackhawk (“Postmarked Birmingham”).

He signed a record deal of his own with Arista in 1998 and was named ASCAP’s Country Songwriter of the Year in 1999.

He went on to garner another ASCAP Songwriter of the Year trophy and was named ACM’s Top New Male Vocalist.

As a hit singer and songwriter, Mr. Vassar said it all comes down to the song itself and a little bit of luck.

“A lot of people have their two cents in after the song is written but a good song can stand on its own merits,” he said this week by phone from his home in Nashville.

“I’ve had songs that I really loved but the labels hated them. And I’ve had hit songs that I never thought would be hits. So you can never tell.”

He points to two songs — “Bye Bye” and “Little Red Rodeo” as cases in point.

“Jo Dee really wanted to record ‘Bye Bye’ and it went to number one to my surprise. When I wrote ‘Little Red Rodeo,’ I never thought it would be as big as it was after I wrote it. But after I heard Colin sing it, I thought ‘That sounds like a hit to me,’” he said.

“You just got to keep your fingers crossed and hope it finds its way to the radio world. A lot goes on behind the scenes.”

Although first known as a songwriter, Mr. Vassar always had dreams of being an artist.

“I was always a performer first. I played bars. I wrote a lot of crappy songs and then I began to write better songs,” he said.

“But I do love it all. The performing part is kind of the payoff. You get to stand up there and watch the crowd as you sing your songs. I’ve been doing this a long time. But I’m having more fun than I ever had. And I think that’s because I don’t have the same reasons to get out there as I once did.”

Getting to the point where he can now perform for fun rather than worrying about how to pay the rent, took a lot of years and frustration for him. But looking back, he’s glad for all of it.

“For over 10 years, I couldn’t get anything going. But that’s probably a good thing,” said the affable 55-year-old.

“If I was young, say 23 or 24, and thrust into this, I don’t think the outcome would have been very good. You see so many people who come to this town (Nashville) and burn bright and then just crash and burn and they say ‘What do I do now?’ Timing is everything.”

He is now able to impart his wisdom on his daughter Haley, who is embarking on a pop music career.

The two co-wrote and sang on the song “Where the End Starts” on Mr. Vassar’s latest album “Stripped Down,” which includes songs that he has written over the last 20 years but never recorded and also songs he has written for other artists, all done with minimal production.

“I love writing with her. She’s 21 now and a junior at Belmont (University). She just a talented little thing and it’s been fun to watch her grow into this,” he said.

“She’s always been a talented writer and she’s growing up and starting to do her own thing. It’s really special to me. Probably more special to me than it is to her.”

Mr. Vassar said he was happy but apprehensive when she told him of her future ambitions.

“I thought ‘Are you kidding me? We sent you to private school for this?’” he said with a laugh.

“The music business is all about dreams and she is as dreamer like her dad. She sees all of the fruits of the business. But .001 percent of us can really make a living doing this. You can try to protect them as much as you can. But in the end, you just have to send them out there and have them experience the pitfalls and the failures that are many and well documented. But she has a good head on her shoulders.”

Along with a new album and new tour, Mr. Vassar also has a TV show called “Songs from the Cellar” on the Circle network. On the show, he opens the doors to his expansive wine cellar to musical guests as diverse as Tommy Shaw of Styx, legendary singer Brenda Lee and artist Hunter Hayes.

“That’s been blowing up and been really cool. It’s all about something you love. I have this cool wine cellar and we started bringing guys and gals in. We have a blast. We talk about this and that. We sing a little. We laugh a little. It’s really been fun,” he said.

Another passion are his beloved Baltimore Orioles. Although they haven’t enjoyed much success recently, he is a devout follower of the baseball team.

“I grew up in Virginia. i went to (James Madison University) and always liked the Orioles,” he said.

“It’s been interesting being an Orioles fan. I’ll say that. But I always will be a fan. I try to get to Camden Yards at least once a season. They are a lot of fun to watch and they are something I enjoy watching on the tour bus.”

Tickets for the 8 p.m. Harrington show are $49 and can be purchased online at www.harringtonraceway.com, by calling 888-887-5687, Ext. 5246 or by stopping by the Casino Gift Shop. All ages are welcome.

Veterans comedy fundraiser

Zenneth Nevers, a nationally recognized touring comedian and motivational speaker, will entertain audiences at the historic Smyrna Opera House at 7 W. South St., today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. to benefit the Delaware Veterans Trust Fund.

Tickets are $35 and available online at the Smyrna Opera House website at www.smyrnaoperahouse.org and clicking on the events link for March, or by emailing admin@smyrnaoperahouse.org or calling 302-653-4236.

‘Steel Magnolias’ ending

The Kent County Theatre Guild will end its successful run of “Steel Magnolias” this weekend.

Limited tickets remain for tonight’s and Saturday’s show at 8.

The action is set in Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where all the ladies who are “anybody” come to have their hair done. Helped by her eager new assistant, Annelle, the outspoken, wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and free advice.

Tickets are $20 for general admission and can be found at kctg.org.

Patchwork Playhouse is at 140 Roosevelt Ave., Dover.

‘Cinderella’ this weekend

Caesar Rodney High School will bring the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” to life in the Rider Theatre on Old North Road in Camden this weekend.

The show, which started Thursday night, will again be staged tonight at 7 and Saturday at 6 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $10.

St. Patrick’s Day in Milton

The Milton Theatre will be adding fun outdoor activities, live music, food, and bar options to downtown Milton as an addition to the town’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations Sunday.

Hosted by Irish Eyes Pub & Restaurant and now on its 13th year, the Milton St. Patrick’s Day Parade has evolved to one of the most anticipated events in the town’s annual calendar. And with the new Quayside outdoor area, the Milton Theatre adds to the lineup of festivities.

Local musical favorites Hot Sauce Band (noon-2 p.m.) and lower case blues (3:30-5:30 p.m.) will be entertaining the crowd outdoors with a break at 2 p.m. to give the opportunity for everyone to view the parade. The day will cap off with The Janglebachs inside the Milton Theatre at 7 p.m. for a ticketed performance.

The Milton Theatre Quayside will also feature a “beer garden” serving beer, wine, and slushie spiked drinks, and kids will enjoy the bouncy house and face painting station.

Now Showing

New this weekend in theaters is the animated film “Onward” and Ben Affleck in the sports drama “The Way Back.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the animated “Spies in Disguise,” Adam Sandler in the acclaimed drama “Uncut Gems,” the Fox News saga “Bombshell” and a reboot of “Charlie’s Angels.”