The Durham Performing Arts Center stage will be packed with talent Friday night when eight of the most famous names in country music songwriting come together to support local charities.
The Nashville Songwriters at DPAC concert, presented by the Loud Lemon Foundation, promises to deliver great songs, stories, and laughter.
The scribes performing are responsible for some of the biggest hits in modern country music — 75 No. 1 songs and numerous awards — running the gamut from traditional (Rodney Clawson's "I Saw God Today," a hit for George Strait) to more pop friendly (Jessi Alexander's "The Climb," a chart topper for Miley Cyrus).
Proceeds from the show will benefit local charities Kidznotes, a youth orchestra program that uses music for social change; North Carolina Boy's Academy, a holistic Christian boarding school for teenage boys dealing with life-controlling issues; and Voyager Academy Friends of the Arts, a fundraising group for arts advocacy at Durham's Voyager Academy.
Jeff Outlaw, the coordinator and creator of the event, is a local songwriter (Phil Vassar's "She's On Her Way") with strong ties to the Triangle. He left the area for a few years to attend school and try his hand at songwriting in Nashville, but he and his wife, Amy, knew they wanted to return to their roots once their family began to grow.
Coming home to the Bahama area of northern Durham County, where the majority of both sides of their families live, Outlaw knew that he had reached a point in his career where he could safely travel to Nashville as needed for his songwriting to continue to flourish.
The contacts he has made during his time within the Music City led to the stacked lineup for this show.
"I've collaborated with all of the folks who are going to be onstage that night," Outlaw said during a call days before the event. "Typically, I'd send out seven or so invites, and we'd always get four or five who would have to politely decline due to other obligations. This year, every invite I sent out was accepted.
"These are all friends of mine, some of my best friends in the world, which makes the whole show work," he said. "If you were to book all of these people separately for one show, it would easily be six figures, so for them to give up the little bit of free time that they have means a lot to all of us here."
While the event may have started from humble beginnings, with the first performance being held in a school cafeteria, it has steadily grown each year that followed. First envisioned as a way to help their community more substantively than any check they could have reasonably given, Outlaw started to understand just how much the annual night of music meant to the area when he decided to skip it three years ago, due to both time constraints and venue availability issues in Durham.
"I'm not saying that we got a real 'backlash', but the calls and emails made us realize just how special this had become," he said. "My family realized it had really grown (in the past) when the show began to attract hundreds of people, and not just dozens, that it was no longer a 'closed' event. We were taking any theater that was available, never pursued corporate partners, and we realized that we had to open the show to more people than just those that lived within our immediate area.
"We've always held it on Tuesday nights in the past, but having it this year on a Friday has resulted in thousands of people buying tickets to attend, so we're going to be able to help these charities like never before."
And its helping those charities that drives Outlaw to continue the event each year. While the songwriter's family has a personal history with both the Boy's Academy and VAFOA, Kidznotes is a new beneficiary to the proceeds from the Songwriters night.
"Voyager Academy has had all of my kids (attend), with my youngest being a current sophomore and heavily involved in the chorus program," he said. "We began helping the Boys Academy last year, as they came into our lives when we had to seek outside help in the form of a faith-based boarding school, offering a much needed reset of sorts for one of our children. These people have come into so many others lives in similar situations, in key moments, and we viewed this as just a way to bless that group."
As the event grew, Outlaw said the evening is helping him reach his goal of raising money for multiple organizations that serve a variety of people. With the move to DPAC, he sought out a well-established charity that could use some financial support.
"A friend of mine recommended that we check out Kidznotes," he said. "I had never been as blown away by an organization as I was by Kidznotes, just with their ability to open more (music) schools in more areas of low income, where kids may not have the opportunities to take on extra curricular activities.
"We just want to benefit these charities that feel right to us."
Who: Nashville Songwriters at DPAC
When: 7:30 p.m., April 27
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Cost: $23.00 to $103
Info: 919-680-2787 or DPACNC.com
The songwriters behind the songs
The following are set to perform. Here are a sampling of their songs.
▪ Tim Nichols: “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw, “Heads Carolina, Tails California” by Jo Dee Messina
▪ Rodney Clawson: “I Saw God Today” by George Strait, “Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line
▪ Nicolle Galyon: “We Were Us” by Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert, “All the Pretty Girls” by Kenny Chesney
▪ Jimmy Yeary: “I Drive Your Truck” by Lee Brice, “Til It’s Gone” by Kenny Chesney
▪ Jessi Alexander: “Mine Would Be You” by Blake Shelton, “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus
▪ Wynn Varble: “I’m a Little More Country Than That” by Easton Corbin, “Waitin’ on a Woman” by Brad Paisley
▪ J.T. Harding: “Different For Girls” by Dierks Bentley, “Smile” by Uncle Kracker
▪ Jeff Outlaw: “She’s on Her Way” by Phil Vassar