Getting our Phil

Phil Vassar

RIDIN’ HIGH Phil Vassar gets the show off the ground at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds.

RIDIN’ HIGH Phil Vassar gets the show off the ground at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds.

Photo By Tom Angel

You might expect that, having been a presenter at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas the previous evening, Phil Vassar might not give a small county-fair show his all. You’d be wrong.

Vassar gave the corndog-eating Silver Dollar Fair crowd a high-energy performance that got them clapping, dancing and singing along to a powerful set that commanded our full attention.

A longtime songwriter (he’s penned hits for the likes of Tim McGraw and Jo Dee Messina), Vassar finally turned hit singer with the 2000 release of his first album. His latest came out in January to rave reviews.

While clean-cut Vassar looked more like a lounge act on the cover of his first CD, he’s adopted a more countrified bad-boy look for American Child. At the Silver Dollar show, he came out wearing ragged jeans and a T-shirt. He’s even grown a scruffy goatee and cowboy hat.

He offered up his mellower hits like “Rose Bouquet” (a breakup song, he said, “but I’m happy now") but had the most fun with the upbeat numbers. During the course of the show, Vassar turned the mike over to his band members, each of whom did an admirable job with classic rock songs such as “Hard to Handle” and “Life in the Fast Lane.” For Vassar’s part, the genre-bending number was a jazz interlude followed by a perfect and unexpected rendition of “Piano Man.” He even changed the lyrics a bit for Chico: “It’s a pretty good crowd for a Thursday, and the Silver Dollar Fair Board gives us a smile.” (Probably a reference to the show’s introduction, which included a too-long-for-eager-fans honoring of the hard-working volunteers.)

It was a treat to hear Vassar perform songs he wrote but that are attributed to the artists who first recorded them: “My Next 30 Years” and “Bye Bye.” Of course, he included hits from his first album, including “Carlene” and show-closer “Just Another Day in Paradise.”

Vassar leapt onto the piano—his instrument of choice and one he’s completely mastered—and then off again, finally hopping off stage into the audience, where he sang from atop a folding chair. He gave the free grandstand almost as much attention as the $20 ticket-holders. The security guards, who at first hovered around Vassar as he made his way through the audience, finally shook their heads in defeat and let the fans have their fun. Later, Vassar borrowed someone’s bicycle and rode it around the stage.

No one budged after he said “good-bye,” so an encore was in order.

Leaving the fair, the mechanical bull-riding and "state-certified" body piercing seemed tame. As I waited outside the fair grounds for my ride, a Cabriolet full of girls blasted the new Vassar album. Yeah. We like that.