By now, Eric Paslay has become accustomed to just about any size and type of performance. Earlier this year, he was opening arena shows for the likes of Brad Paisley and Toby Keith. This fall, he headed out on his own headlining tour, playing full 90-minute sets in theaters and clubs. On Tuesday, he comes to the Opera House for Acoustic Jam, the annual stripped-down, multi-act concert presented by Variety Live and WBUL-FM, benefiting Kentucky Children’s Hospital.
Paslay knows these kinds of shows well. He calls them “family reunions,” where artists leave the lights, staging and most — if not all — of their bands at home to play songs round-robin style (usually in groups of four) in an acoustic format.
“You wind up approaching the music like you did from the beginning,” said the country star, known for the radio friendly hits “Friday Night” and “High Class” “The cool thing about these shows is that this is how all musicians and all music starts, with an acoustic guitar, or just a piano, and you singing it.
“It’s not about a bunch of bells and whistles and laser lights and all that. That can sometimes distract from the music. Sure, that’s always fun to watch. We love our bigger shows with all the lights and everything. But these shows are really cool, too. Plus we get to see so many artists playing a show together. That’s always fun. They really are like family reunions. I get to see what these people are up to and then play great songs. Hopefully the songs you have recorded work as well here as they do with a big ol’ band and all kinds of stuff going on in the background.”
Being a songwriter and a singer, I realize that there is so much that goes into a song just for it to be heard.
For Paslay, his songs made a bigger initial impact on audiences than his performances did. Before the release of his self-titled major-label debut album in 2014, Paslay’s songs were topping the country charts — through other artists’ recordings of them. Among the No. 1 singles he wrote or co-wrote were “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” (for the Eli Young Band), “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” (Jake Owen) and “Rewind” (Rascal Flatts).
“It’s so cool that other artists have recorded my songs and had success with them,” Paslay said “Being a songwriter and a singer, I realize that there is so much that goes into a song just for it to be heard. You learn to understand just how grateful you should be every time you have a big hit.”
The tune that’s becoming a theme song of sorts this fall for Paslay is “Angels in This Town.” The second single from the songwriter’s not-yet-released sophomore album, “Dressed in Black,” the song tell of common miracles, be they simple kindnesses or averted near-tragedies. Paslay has put such thoughts into action through what he calls “angel visits:” stops at schools, hospitals, fire departments, most anywhere where everyday “angels” work to better the community around them.
“The coolest thing is just to get to thank people for doing really good jobs, doing good things with their lives. It could be saying thanks to an EMS team that came to help a family. We go to fire departments and police departments and thank them. Just before speaking with you, I was in an elementary school, getting to thank the teachers for doing what they’re doing. It reminded me of my childhood.
“We don’t really do this to look all famous and get a lot of attention. But there are a lot of places to stop by. It’s just awesome to get to thank these people for being angels and doing good with their lives by helping people and kids and their community.”
The morning school visit came with a bonus: classes of children who were more than eager to display their love of music.
“The kids in the music and art classes were just having a blast,” Paslay said. “I could see the nervous look in their eyes. I know that look really well. I’ve had it, too. It’s just always cool to say hey and hopefully give kids a positive outlook on the future — you know, just give them some good vibes. Maybe that will encourage them to chase their dreams, but not for the fame. We want to them follow through on something just because they love to do it.”
If you go
Performing: Multi-artist acoustic show in a round-robin format featuring Darius Rucker, John Michael Montgomery, Eric Paslay, Billy Ray Cyrus and others.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 6
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.