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Phil Vassar

Phil Vassar is among the headliners for the debut of Country Boom, a new music festival to be held July 13-14 on the grounds of the former Maple Grove Country Club. He performs Saturday, just before Chase Rice.

These days, Phil Vassar might be the most comfortable he’s ever felt throughout his long career.

“It’s fun to be able to do whatever you want to do,” Vassar said. “(We) don’t have to worry about the label anymore; we are our label. It’s very freeing, and I like it. We can make a record every six months if we want to, and no one can tell me I can’t.”

Vassar takes the stage Saturday as part of the second day of music at this year’s inaugural Country Boom music festival at Maple Grove Venues near West Salem. Others on the main stage for Saturday include Chase Rice, Michael Tyler, Faren Rachels, Josh Phillips, Jake Rose and Brushville, while Friday’s main-stage acts include Randy Houser, Aaron Lewis, Tyler Farr, Riley Green and Ben Johnson.

A 30-year-plus veteran of the music industry, Vassar has released nine full-length albums; won two American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards; been named Billboard Country Songwriter of the Year; and launched his own Rodeowave Entertainment label.

But you won’t find Vassar singing about the tired topics.

“I’ve never really tried to write songs about anything or for any genre; I just write what I want to write and I’ve been lucky to have people record them,” he said. “I don’t have to write a song about trucks and tailgates like everybody is writing about right now. I don’t care. ... Everyone is trying to write the same song. I don’t want to write like that. I want to write something different.”

Vassar co-produced his 11-song 2016 album, “American Soul,” with longtime collaborator Jeffrey Smith. It was his first release since 2009’s “Traveling Circus.”

The album finds Vassar singing lines like “No I won’t ever hurt you, after all I’ve been through” on “I’m Not Made That Way” and “Take me and roll me in flowers, hold me for hours and don’t let me go,” in “Voice In My Head.” “American Soul” has lyrical themes that touch on the power of strong relationships and a passion for the United States, specifically found in the title track.

“It’s about doing what I like and being happy doing it,” Vassar said. “Once you get to that point it’s very free and liberating, and I don’t have labels breathing down my neck telling me I need to do this and do that. It’s hard to be an artist and desecrate that. It’s not conducive to good art.”

Believe it or not, Vassar still finds time for other projects besides touring and writing songs.

A few years ago, he converted his home’s storm cellar into a wine cellar where he invites musicians and athletes to have a conversation over drinks.

He turns those meetings into a video series called “Songs from the Cellar.”

“Wine and music just kind of go together. A lot of my songwriter friends tell me (how they wrote their songs), and I thought, ‘Good God, if there was a camera rolling right now.’ So I went and bought the camera,” Vassar said with a laugh.

The “Songs from the Cellar” entries have included everyone from Peter Frampton to Mike Tyson, and he hopes to begin filming the series at a vineyard on the West Coast in the near future.

“It’s kind of taken on a life of its own, and I like being the guy that interviews everyone,” he said. “I’ve had the best songwriters in the world in the cellar.”

Asked how he finds motivation to write new songs after three decades as a songwriter, Vassar said writer’s block is something he doesn’t think exists.

“There’s a million ideas thrown at you every day coming from your friends and family or something on the news,” he said. “You see things differently. You just try to write something different, or funny, or serious. (Some) people get too political. I want to have a good time, and I want people to come to my show and have fun.”

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Entertainment and county government reporter

Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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