Concert to generate water project funds

Sandusky River Watershed Coalition is to stage a new musical fundraising event, “Nashville Hitmakers.” The concert is to begin at 7 p.m. June 28 at The Ritz Theatre. The event is to feature eight of Nashville’s award-winning songwriters.

Most people have heard the expression “even Steven,” but one of the writers has adopted the expression as his stage name. Even Stevens, who originated the concert, has written a multitude of successful hits for dozens of artists, including George Jones, Julio Iglesias, Tim McGraw, Dolly Parton and more. His songs also have been featured on movie soundtracks and in television productions and commercials.

Cindy Brookes, SRWC coordinator, said the idea for a concert fundraiser presented itself when another Ohio watershed hosted a similar event.

Stevens grew up near Indian Lake in Logan County before finding professional success.

“Indian Lake has done this concert for two years, so … one of our board members went down with me and visited and thought this was something we’d like to offer up here. And they were looking to expand,” Brookes said.

Stevens said he had heard about the algae blooms at Grand Lake St. Marys, which might have been prevented if more funds had been available for appropriate watershed projects. Stevens and some friends in the business had organized and performed benefits for other charities, including St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

This cause hit close to home for Stevens.

“That’s why I got involved in this. … I didn’t want to see that happen to Indian Lake, because I grew up on it. I wanted to do what I could do,” he said.

Stevens’ most famous tunes are “When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman,” Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love a Rainy Night” and “Suspicions,” “Crazy In Love” and Kenny Rogers “Love Will Turn You Around.”

The names of these and other song titles are painted on a custom guitar Stevens carries with him for interviews. The titles on the guitar are those that have reached “millionaire status.” Stevens said it is the equivalent of a song being played continuously for 17 years.

The “Hitmakers” show is comprised of familiar hits that have remained popular long beyond their initial releases.

“The songwriters perform the songs they wrote that were big hits, and they also banter and talk with the audience and tell stories about how they were written and funny things that happened along the way. … This is more of an event than a concert,” Stevens said. “But we do play all the songs we’ve written for major artists. It will be all hits. Ninety-five percent will be songs people know.”

Before entering the music business, Stevens was planning to attend art school and become a graphic artist. After high school, he served four years in the Coast Guard.

“I was a Morse code operator, and when you send Morse code on the air, you’ve got to have a ‘handle.’ It’s usually your initials. My last name was Stevens, so my handle became ‘Even.’ When I got into the music business, I thought, ‘That’s a good name,'” Stevens said.

During that time, his career plans took a turn. He had come from a musical family with roots in vaudeville. Stevens’ father and one of his older sisters had done some touring to perform gospel music. As a kid, Stevens had learned some basic guitar chords.

During his off-time in the Coast Guard, he filled it with guitar.

“I didn’t start songwriting until I was in my 20s, actually, but I had done writing – poetry and stuff like that – in the Coast Guard, when I was on late-night radio watches. Then, I started putting it to music. Gradually, I kind of thought I could be a songwriter,”

After discharge from the Coast Guard, an uncle who lived in Nashville invited him to come down. The uncle was a drummer in a band.

The night Stevens arrived, he stopped at the club where his uncle was playing. At closing time, Stevens spotted a guitar in a back hallway and sang one of his compositions while waiting for his uncle.

The owner of the club, Webb Pierce, walked by and thought the song would be “perfect” for his daughter to record.

“I got a song published the very first night I was in town,” Stevens said. “I went to his office and sang the song into a recorder and signed a publishing contract on the song. … I got a song cut three years later, and it wasn’t that song. Nothing ever panned out with that song, but it kept me in Nashville.”

During the show, Stevens will be playing and singing the songs he wrote, just like the rest of the artists; however, he does not consider himself a serious guitar player, compared to the accomplished musicians in Nashville. One of them is Mike Loudermilk, who will be teaming with Stevens for a segment of the show.

“He just brings the house down with his guitar-playing,” Stevens said.

He had equally high marks for the other singer-songwriters on the bill.

A member of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, Richard Leigh is most famous for “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Beth Nielsen Chapman, a breast cancer survivor and author of “This Kiss,” does charity work for breast cancer and supports water-related projects worldwide.

“She’s a Christian artist, also, and she’s great musician and singer. She should be a star in her own right as a singer,” Stevens said.

Scott Emerick has penned multiple hits for Toby Keith. Wynn Varble is expected to share many humorous stories and jokes along with his hits. Stevens called Leslie Satcher “a force” on guitar, and he said Paul Overstreet has been named songwriter of the year five times.

“People say they could have listened longer. It’s not like watching one person do … the songs they’re famous for,” Stevens said. “This changes all the time. It’s always somebody different singing the songs. These are all the top songwriters in Nashville. They’re either (in the) Songwriter Hall of Fame, Grammy winners, BMI Songwriters of the Year – all the top people.”

The concert is expected to last three hours or more.

Stevens said the artists enjoy interacting with the crowd and playing and singing together for a few selections. The order of performances has not been set as yet. Stevens said he has a hard time deciding the lineup for the concert and has resorted to having his fellow performers pull numbers out of a hat.

“I don’t like anybody to start the show. When I ask them to, I feel like like they’re the openers – and none of these people are openers. They’re all fantastic. There’s no opening act,'” Stevens said.

“We do have an intermission, so we’ll have a guitar auction then,” Brookes said. “The guitar is being donated by Alt’s Music, and it will be signed by the songwriters themselves.”

Having attended last year’s concert at Indian Lake, Brookes said she found it a “very relaxing and entertaining” event at which the audience loses track of time.

Stevens’ sister, Sandy Helgeson, said the first concert at Indian Lake had a dinner scheduled for after the show, but by then, it was 11 p.m.

Now, the dinner is served before curtain time. Brookes said the pre-show meal is to feature entertainment by a Tiffin native, Mimi Lang Johnston, who now resides near Nashville.

With the funds from the benefit, Brookes said she hopes to expand educational programs and workshops related to the clean-up of the Sandusky River and Lake Erie.

“The watershed will be using the money to provide the local dollars that we have to have in order to obtain a lot of grants. It will allow us to do more grant-writing that requires local dollars,” she said.

Water, cover crop and storm water workshops are intended to help people to understand the issues and actions they can take as individuals to care for the environment.

“Everyone contributes to the problem,” Brookes said.