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Bleeding hearts for hire

Greg Marshall, Of the Record Staff

Park City may not be Nashville, but more out-of-town songwriters from the country scene are starting to find gigs in town.

Venues such as the Mountain Town Stages Home Concert Series and the Bluebird Café Series at Zoom Restaurant on Main Street have brought in the brains behind some of the country music’s most popular songs for intimate in-the-round concerts.

Recent talent includes the songwriters who penned chart-topping hits for Martina McBride, Keith Urban, Kenny Rogers, Jewel, George Strait and Heartland.

"Being a songwriter, it’s a tough life," Rebecca Eaton, chairwoman of the Mountain Stages Home Concert Series, said. "There’s not a lot of money. They can go to festivals, play concerts, but if they don’t want to do that, where do they go?"

Where they go, often, is Eaton’s own home. Since 2001, Eaton, the wife of Utah Jazz basketball legend Mark Eaton, has schlepped couches and coffee tables into her garage to clear the living room for concerts in her home.

The eight concerts she has hosted in the past seven years have attracted prestigious songwriters and more than 100 spectators.

Eaton became the chair of the home concert committee in February. Mountain Town Stages, a nonprofit, asks for a $20 donation per person. Most of that money, $15, goes to the singer/songwriter. The rest of the money goes to help program free stages in Peoa, Main Street, Deer Valley, The Canyons and other locations.

"The whole idea is that when an artist comes into the Park City or Salt Lake area they’ll have two or three gigs to play," she said.

Eaton hosts Rex Foster Friday for a potluck concert that starts at 6 p.m. Music begins at 7 p.m.

Foster, a folk singer with an acoustic guitar, was the first performer Eaton ever hosted. She remembers telling visitors to bring their own chairs. "It wasn’t just B.Y.O.B," she said. "It was B.Y.O.C." She said concert goers brought camping chairs, folding chairs, and seats made of plastic. The event was so enjoyable, she said, that she made hosting concerts a habit.

"It’s friendly for songwriters because they may be doing concerts for 100 or 200 people, but there’s usually a stage that separates them. Here, the front row is three to five feet away. You are with them."

Three chords and the truth

Steven Dale Jones starts most conversation with the truth. "I grew up wanting to be a songwriter," he said. "I was the one interested in who wrote the song on the radio. I’m an every day songwriter. I never cut an individual album. I sing so I can write."

Jones performed with fellow Nashville singer/songwriters Walt Aldridge and Lisa Carver July 31 and Aug. 1 as part of the Bluebird Café Concert Series held at Zoom Restaurant and Sundance Resort.

The performance was the final concert in the summer series that brought nine singer/songwriters to Summit County since the middle of July.

Jones said he doesn’t sit down to write a song for a particular vocalist. He just wants to write a good song. "I just sit down and write a song I would like," he said. "I don’t try to make it country or not."

Jones has had songs recorded by George Strait, Alabama, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Eddy Arnold, Dobie Gray, Diamond Rio, Kenny Rogers and Jo Dee Messina, among others.

Aldridge said his favorite part of performing at more intimate venues, and with other songwriters, is the banter and jokes that come between songs. "It’s not just the song," he offered. "It’s the story behind the song. What’s most interesting to me is hearing where the song came from."

Aldridge writes two songs a week totaling more than 100 songs a year. If five or six of those songs get recorded, he said, his time has been well spent. He said it’s sometimes difficult to predict which songs will garner commercial success. "You write a flop the same way you write a hit," he said. "Maybe some people have a crystal ball and can see it from the front end. I don’t. You just never know."

Georgia Middleman, who performed at Zoom July 17, moved to Nashville from San Antonio 17 years ago to be a singer. "I started realizing how nice it is to be anonymous and not famous," she said. "It’s not about fame and fortune."

Singer/songwriter Rex Foster plays a house concert Friday, Aug. 8. Mollie O’Brien plays at a home in Glenwild Aug. 15. For tickets and more information call Rebecca Eaton at 640-7829.


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