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Music sets you Free
May. 03, 2014 @ 12:00 AM


HUNTINGTON -- Camden Park opens for its 111th season today, May 3 and in the past decade or so an opening weekend wouldn't be the same without the migration of Southern Ohio songbird Steve Free.

Come Sunday afternoon, Free, the nationally-traveling Americana artist and his band will bring their breezy Ohio River folk, rock and gospel to the Midway stage with fresh cut songs off of Free's latest Fraternity Records CD, "Ship of Dreams."

Free plays at 1 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 4 at the family-owned park, which is now open Saturdays and Sundays in May.

Admission is $19.99, although Camden Park sells all-ages web tickets for $13.99 (go online at http://www.camdenpark.com/buy-tickets/).
Free, who is equally grounded by his Christian and Native American spiritual beliefs, said there's a thread of faith and light that runs through many of the songs on the 14-song CD that was just released.

"I loved the 1970s concept albums where they had a theme behind them," said Free, whose song, "Shine Your Light," is based off of Matthew 5:12. "I did my share of protest songs back in the day, and these days I am so tired of everything doom and gloom that I said I would love to do an album with spiritual songs, not to be too deep but I wanted everything to be spiritual with a positive message. I see all of these songs on the Ship of Dreams and you are riding the ship."

Free, who has chalked up a half dozen all-original CDs, recorded "Ship of Dreams," in October and November in Wheelersburg, Ohio at Dan Ward's Hitmaker Studios.

His band (his wife Susan Sammons, John Starkey, Wyatt Bates and John Craig) all play with him on the CD as do studio musicians, Bobby Burmette, Craig Nobles, David Johnson and Dan and Debbie Ward, who added vocals.

"I'm always trying to raise the bar on myself," Free said. "After the Christmas album, I didn't know what to do so I came up with this thing and all of these different ideas. It's kind of all genres, country and American and gospel and all of this stuff."

For Free, who grew up listening to the radio when just about any genre would get played on the same station, he feels comfortable with the wide-angled lens label that is Americana.

"I remember 10 years ago my promoter Bill Wence, a big Americana promoter said, 'we finally found a category for you' and he said 'they call it Americana and it's basically a category for people they don't have a category for but it is mostly storytellers like Neil Young and Willie Nelson,'" Free said. "That fits me as a storyteller. People will ask me why I have so many kinds of styles and I say well if I am telling a story and it is about a guy in the islands I can't make that a bluegrass song or if I am telling a song about the Ohio River I have to go to with that music and go to the source of what the song is all about."

That breezy folk-feel and penchant for writing heart-felt songs (he's got one about his mama, "A Million Years," and his dog, "Old Blue") on this CD, has once again garnered Free air-play around the world.

"Find Me a Job," a blues song he wrote with his son Dakota, has gone Top 5 at a station in Hong Kong and his song, "Mary Don't You Weep," was the No. 1 song played at The Eagle, a country station in the Netherlands, one of the top countries for airplay of his songs.

"It's probably a tie between Australia and New Zealand and Netherlands and Germany, and then I'll get play in just off-the-wall countries," Free said with a laugh. "In Portsmouth, Steve Hayes plays a lot of my music and he always says stuff like 'Steve Free the number one artist in Yuckistan.'"

Although Free plays coffeehouses all over the Eastern U.S., with the warmer weather, it's time to start his annual gigs at area festivals and, of course, Camden Park, where like Billy "Crash" Craddock of years past, Free anchors such holidays as Mother's Day and the park's Children's Fest series.

"Over the years like any business you learn where your best clients are and as I get older probably 75 percent of my gigs are in those states along the river," Free said of gigs from Pittsburgh to St. Louis. "I close my eyes and the only thing that changes is the accent."