Phil Vassar Packs in Fans and Hits

Offers Stories Behind Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina Songs He Wrote

One of the first stories Phil Vassar told Sunday (Oct. 23) during his City Winery show in Chicago was about how his daughter Haley’s curiosity had inspired his hit song “American Child.”

She was even in the video, Vassar said, which brought back all the memories of that sweet little blonde 3-year-old in the video.

Then he casually mentioned to the sold-out crowd, “Haley’s 18 now.”

Wait. What? How is that even possible? That 15 years have passed since that song was on the radio. That when he and Craig Wiseman wrote that song, it was only 2002?

Vassar answered all the questions in my head with a 90-minute, all-request set list packed with the hits he’s had in his two decades in Nashville.

He played the ones he recorded for himself, like “Six-Pack Summer,” “Carlene,” “Just Another Day in Paradise,” “Joe & Rosalita,” “I’ll Take That as a Yes (The Hot Tub Song)” and “Last Day of My Life.”

But he also threw in some of the songs he wrote for other artists and the stories behind them.

When Vassar wrote “I’m Alright,” about a high school friend of his, he took it to his publisher and they hated it. “It has too many words,” they told Vassar. Jo Dee Messina disagreed, and when she cut that song, it promptly went to No. 1 in 1998.

Same story with Tim McGraw’s hit “My Next Thirty Years.”

“I used to play this little bar in Nashville,” Vassar said. “I wrote this song and played it on my birthday, and everyone just went crazy. They loved it. So I put a demo together and took it to my label. They hated it. They said, ‘Well, nobody cares about turning 30.'”

McGraw cared. He put the song on his 1999 A Place in the Sun album, and it hit the top of the charts in 2000 when he was 33 and just into his next thirty years.

Vassar ended the show with another crowd singalong on another massive Messina hit, “Bye, Bye.”

After a second Chicago show on Monday night, Vassar’s next stop will be Atlanta on Wednesday.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.