Country singer Rodney Atkins wowed the largest crowd ever at the Huron County Fair with two hours of music Monday night.
The concert, even with seating added to the track, was sold out for the first time that fair board members could remember.
It was obvious that Atkins' fans packed the stands as several times the singer turned his microphone to the crowd to let them sing the lyrics to his songs. Near the end of the concert, Atkins invited fans to come up to the stage and he spent several songs reaching out to the crowd to shake hands.
Shirley Smith, of Norwalk, got a special surprise as Atkins brought her in front of the stage and led the crowd in singing happy birthday in honor of her 57th birthday.
After the concert and an encore, Atkins spent time posing for pictures and signing everything from shirts to hats to guitars for fairgoers.
His summer tour combines smaller shows like the Huron County Fair with large venues such as Blossom Music Center and he said he enjoys the chance to play at county fairs because of "the intimacy of the show with the crowd."
Atkins said he hopes his songs bring a slice of real life to his listeners. "Songs that lift them up or let them know 'we're in this world together' going through the same things," he said.
He talked about his children during the concert. He wrote one of his most popular songs, "Watching You," about his young son Elijah. He said as he introduced the song that producers originally told him it wouldn't make it as a single, but he recorded the song anyway and it is now one of his favorite songs to perform. Atkins told the crowd, his son has "started kindergarten and started riding his bike."
"'Going Through Hell' is always a blast to do too because the crowds always pump their fists and sing along," the singer said.
Atkins also mentioned his teenage step-daughters Lindsay and Morgan as he introduced the song "Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)." He said the song was a fun way to look at meeting a girl's parents both from a teenage boy's point of view and from a father's.
Atkins writes some of his own songs and also sings lyrics written by others, but looks for lyrics that reflect real life. "I think I've gained a lot of drive from the things I've been through in my life," he said. "Not to give up and to not let negative influences have an affect on me."
Since he's become a huge success, Atkins said he has learned to balance his career with his family. "It's just made me even busier and made me cherish family time even more. I make sure I don't waste my time these days."
And he plans to keep his fans satisfied. "I want to do this for many years," the singer said. "I want the shows to get bigger and the songs to keep touching folks' lives."