Meridian native to perform July 5

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2003

Singer-songwriter Steve Forbert, a native of Meridian, Mississippi, will perform at 4 p.m. on July 5 on the lawn of the Gaineswood Mansion. The concert is sponsored by the Two Rivers Arts Council of Demopolis and the Friends of Gaineswood.

The bluegrass ensemble Backwoods Travelers from Tuscaloosa will be the opening act.

Admission for the picnic concert is $5 and entitles the purchaser to a tour of the Gaineswood mansion. Those age 12 and under admitted free.

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Gates open for tours of Gaineswood at 9 a.m. Those paying admission will be allowed back in for the 4 p.m. concert.

Forbert is an accomplished singer and songwriter who had a top 40 hit with the song "Romeo’s Tune" in 1980. While he has not been able to repeat that chart success, he has produced some 22 albums, and he is constantly touring to the delight of faithful fans and new audiences.

After his outstanding 1978 debut album,

"Alive on Arrival," he has created a wealth of great albums despite working with numerous record producers and being signed to various record labels. And the majority of his albums are still in print.

The true nature of his songwriting gift has survived through the ups and downs of dealing with the recording industry. "I just like what I do," he said. His performance in Demopolis should feature a mixture of his work through the years.

What were his experiences in West Alabama? "We played a lot of dates there when I was a kid. We used to play…Butler, Demopolis. We got as far as Dothan…Tuscaloosa. We played some fraternity houses there with various (rock ‘n roll) bands."

There were some bands in Meridian that got him interested in music. He also cited Paul Davis as a Meridian native who had a few soft rock hits such as "Ride ‘Em Cowboy" and the ballad "I Go Crazy" in the 1970’s.

Forbert has recently been paid tribute to one Meridian musical legend, Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933), with the 2002 album "Any Old Time." The album was co-produced by Garry Tallent, the bass player in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band who has worked with Forbert on previous albums. Forbert can be expected to play a few Rodgers tunes when he performs at Gaineswood.

Forbert’s musical style is a mixture of country, folk and rock ‘n roll. He is often lumped in a folk-rock category, but his music exhibits a bevy of influences.

Is he concerned that classic musical artists are being lost with a new generation? "It’s become a sort of thing where the chain is broken. It (the music) is still out there….There isn’t so much of a tradition that goes on – not in country music and not in pop music. There’s a lot more accent on the money now."

The baby boomers grew up to top 40 that featured a variety of styles. "There for a while you might have Louis Armstrong on the charts with the Beatles. It was kind of extreme but very interesting."

If music fans want to see a variety of music there are still a lot of festivals available, he said. "A lot of the older artists are appreciated. (Bluegrass legend) Ralph Stanley has never done better (thanks to the success of the film "Oh Brother."

Good music just can’t be buried, Forbert said. "It just takes a more intelligent kid to be looking around and trying to find something that appeals to them more than a manufactured pop or rap group."

He sees a lot of new singer-songwriters coming up today and he’s optimistic they will be heard, maybe not on MTV, but through distributing their own product. "You’ve got a ton of them," he said.

Forbert loves touring and performing live. He has recorded six live albums through the years, which also featured spirited performances. "It’s kind of fun to get in the car and get around and keep moving. I relate to these people." He appreciates his fans who have stuck with him through the years. "It’s a pretty select group. It’s by and large people who want to be there and are on the same page."

Forbert fans tend to be very respectful of his songs. His fans range "from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, from Tampa, Florida to San Antonio," he said.

He can get the obscure song request. Does the fan feedback influence his songwriting? "I play new songs that I think are finished and work on them when the reaction is not what I want. It’s fun to try out new material on them." His web site also gets pretty good E-mails, he said.

With his music, Forbert said "it’s as much about the words as the music….It’s a element of storytelling perhaps. It’s (also) a matter of the audience with me. That’s why every show is different. That’s why it’s never really boring."

With most of his career being under the radar of major record company promotion, the internet has helped let his fans know what albums are available and where he’s playing live. "That helps the attendance a lot."