'Champion' tour comes to Albany

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- There are times in the careers of artists that a piece of their work takes on a life all its own and elevates the artist along with it.

"Heart of a Champion" is becoming such a work for Georgia singer/songwriters Corbette Jackson and Stokes Nielson.

Written by the pair as a tribute to Newnan firefighter Chris Landreau, a young father who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, "Heart of a Champion" has become something of a phenomenon, touching lives everywhere it's played.

The initial outpouring of fan response to the song and to its inspirational subject led Nielson to book a "Heart of a Champion" tour, which will make its way to the State Theatre in Albany Saturday. The Albany show follows successful runs in Carrollton and at Georgia Tech and Six Flags Over Georgia in Atlanta.

"The tour has been a huge success so far," Nielson said Monday before heading to Nashville and Vanderbilt University for a show. "It's taken off so much, I've pretty much backburnered my work on the latest Lost Trailers project.

"The response from country music fans to 'Heart of a Champion' has been really fantastic. Corbette's doing a benefit show with Jeff Foxworthy (Tuesday), and iTunes sales of the song have remained in the Top 100 and were bumped up this week to 'noteworthy.' So this song is there among all the the biggest country stars."

Jackson, who called on Nielson to help him write "Heart" as a tribute to Landreau after the firefighter's sister asked for his help, said the song has been a career-starter for him.

"I have no problem at all saying that without this song, who knows what would be happening in my life right now," Jackson said. "This has jump-started my career, and no matter where I am 10 years from now, I will still say that this song was the start for me.

"A lot of people say their hometown and their spiritual faithfulness is what got them where they are, but look at 'Heart of a Champion' and its impact on my life. It's about a guy from my hometown, and the Lord certainly has had a hand in it. When you put all that together, it's just been unstoppable."

Nielson, who said working with Jackson and others who have signed on for the "Heart of a Champion" tour has reinvigorated his career after a rough patch with the Trailers, is excited about bringing the show to his hometown.

"This song and this tour are part of a gigantic rebirth for me," Nielson said. "It's renovated everything I love about music, and it's come at a time when I really needed it. I don't know that I've ever looked forward to playing in Albany more.

"I feel my music now is closer to home than it's ever been. There's a reason some of today's greatest country songs come out of Georgia, and South Georgia in particular with what Luke (Bryan) and Dallas Davidson are doing. These are real stories, and Corbette has that same thing."

In addition to Jackson and Nielson -- who will be backed by such talented musicians as drummer David Sutton and keyboardist Jason Friedman -- Saturday's show will feature opening act Bobby Compton and rising Lubbock, Texas, vocalist Jason Wyatt.

"Fans will get a mix of everything," Nielson said. "They'll get some of the early Trailers stuff -- like 'Dougherty County,' 'Going Back' and 'The Battery' -- mixed in with some of our Top 20 stuff like 'Holler Back.' The new Trailers songs are kind of a blend of the two, and I plan to make the new music that I'm working on (for the upcoming album 'The Dollhouse') available to everybody who comes to the show."

Jackson, meanwhile, said fans can expect a fresh show at each leg along the tour, which also includes a stop in Columbus May 11 at The Loft.

"People who see me play will never get the same show twice," Jackson said. "I don't want to downgrade any other artist, but I don't believe in choreographed shows. If a song hits Stokes and me while we're on the way to a show or even on stage, then we'll play that song."

One of the songs fans can expect to hear, obviously, is "Heart of a Champion," which is getting great response on local country radio. Brian "Smokey" Burns, who is program director for B-100 in Albany and South 106.1 in Columbus, called local reaction to "Heart" remarkable.

"I think it says a lot about the Southwest Georgia community that we're getting so many phone calls (requesting the song)," Burns said Tuesday. "People are responding to the song, and they're responding to the story behind it. It's definitely put these guys on the map.

"Radio has an emotional attachment to its audience, and songs like this strengthen that attachment. Songs like 'Heart of a Champion' are few and far between, but the outpouring of emotion (locally) has certainly been genuine. Once people hear the song and the story, it touches them. It's just had a remarkable impact."

The doors of the State will open Saturday at 7:30 p.m. All tickets, which are $10, will be sold at the door on the day of the show. Proceeds will go to a fund established by Nielson and Jackson to help the Landreau family.

"I spoke with Chris today, and he's doing very well," Jackson said of Landreau. "He's very tired from the chemo, but fans will be glad to hear that he's hanging in there."