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Madison’s Rusty Bladen has seen his share of singer-songwriters softly crooning tunes in laid-back fashion from a static post on an obligatory stool behind the mic.
But Bladen would sooner sing a sour note than perform his original songs and impressive collection of cover tunes sitting down. In his 29 years in the music business, he’s made a name as a standup guy and standout artist, often backed by the bulk of Seymour native John Mellencamp’s band.
“I don’t know exactly what people are expecting there, but they’re not going to get anything calm and laid-back,” said the 53-year-old pop-rock singer and guitarist. “I’ve never sat during a show. Ever. I learned that lesson a long time ago.”
Bladen, who last played in Columbus in May, will headline the season-closing JCB NeighborFEST concert at 5:30 p.m. today on Fourth Street downtown. He will be all over the stage, reaching his audience with energy and presence, with the help of band members Greg Hedges on bass, Richard Owens on guitar and drummer Derick Carnes.
Come out and play
Who: Madison singer-songwriter Rusty Bladen and his band performing at the season-closing JCB NeighborFEST concert
When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Fourth Street near Washington Street in downtown Columbus
Food and drink: Available for purchase, including alcohol
Information: 376-2539 or artsincolumbus.org
“You really have to live, eat and breathe music to be successful,” said the man’s whose song, “Ride That River,” was featured in the 2001 MGM movie, “Madison.” “It’s gotta come from the soul.”
His latest guitar-driven rock tune, “Brand New Bridge,” highlights Madison’s new span over the Ohio River linking to Milton, Ky. The song is expected to be included on Bladen’s eighth and latest disc, tentatively set for an end-of-the-year release. Indianapolis’ Thom Daugherty, former guitarist for country act The Band Perry and pop-rock’s The Elms before that, is producing.
“Rusty’s a great storyteller,” Daugherty said, “so his lyrics feel very personable and conversational. And there are few things that will develop and refine an artist more than experience, so the many years he’s spent doing this give him a perspective that not many other artists will ever have.”
Bladen’s tenure translates to more than 400 cover tunes in his repertoire — and he’s still adding.
The latest is the Peter Wolf and Shelby Lynn duet, “Tragedy,” which he performs with his wife when she’s available for a show.
His song list includes such variety as those recorded by Willie Nelson, Cat Stevens, Cyndi Lauper and Warren Zevon.
Even though he may be singing someone else’s words, Bladen can’t recall ever forgetting lyrics.
Maybe that’s because he puts such a premium on his appearances in a world marked by free music downloads.
“It’s gotten to the point that recorded music has less value,” he said. “But what has more value is the live show.”
Producer Daugherty sees Bladen as being in a better spot than most artists these days.
“For years, if you were completely independent, it was seen as a bit of a liability,” Daugherty said. “But now? Now that the music industry has become so decentralized, everybody wants to be do-it-yourself, and they’re trying to crack the code. I’m guessing Rusty finds it all a little funny since he already figured out how to do it years ago before everybody else.”
Bladen is uncertain of his set list here, since he likes to read the mood of his audience. The only thing he knows for sure is he is likely to aim for half covers and half originals.
“People know that I cater to the crowd,” he said.
But remember that he won’t be sitting. In fact, he figures if he does his job well, neither will his listeners.
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