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Our Castle is Your Home

A man in a newsboy cap checks the tuning on his acoustic guitar. He stands on stage beneath a blue awning and rows of darkened lights. To his right is a slide guitar player. To his left a percussionist. A dozen children entertain themselves by playing in the grass. In a few hours, after the gates open, after the crowd of 15,000 streams in and after the sun goes down, the same children will form a choir around that same man who will play the same guitar and strum the same cords that only a month ago were first heard in a Nashville recording studio.

Inspired Star

Steve Azar is no stranger to Nashville. He lives just outside of it in Franklin, TN, and has graced studios for major label releases since 1996. His #1 hit “I Don’t Have to Be Me (‘Til Monday)” and his Breakthrough Video of the Year nominated “Waitin’ on Joe” have him familiar with success. And his recent top 20 hit and #1 video for "Sunshine (Everybody Need a Little)” had Taylor Swift raving in People magazine it was her favorite song.

“I left small town life after growing up in the Mississippi Delta where I learned the blues from the musicians who hung outside my father’s liquor store,” Azar says. “That story sounds so country that Nashville was the obvious place to try and make a name for myself.” With the worry of making it behind him, Azar continues to focus on making it real—digging for the truth in his lyrics, plucking out the delta soul in his music and writing a catchy refrain. But most good songs need inspiration.

To find an inspired story, Azar knew he had Nashville gold at Sanford Children’s.

“Caring for sick kids is work dear to my heart, but I rarely have seen a rival to the Sanford Children’s Castle,” says Azar. “So when I heard of the gift Sanford made to the YMCA Middle School After School Program, I knew I needed to do something to say thanks.”

Azar’s thanks found him and seven musicians at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios in July to record the song “Our Castle is Your Home.”

Welcome to Nashville

Blackbird Studio lives up to the Nashville hype. The list of artists who recorded there. The near perfect acoustics in the mixing room. The buzz of studio musicians as they learn a new song.

Azar sings and plays the song for a group of musicians who jot notes on their sheet music. The opening is eight bars, not four. The bridge should crescendo here. The kids chorus will join in during the final chorus:

Our castle is your home.

And every piece of stone

was laid and built on love.

Enchanted, full of hope,

to heal the hurt you know,

sweet child, king and queen of the throne,

our castle is your home.

The song’s lyrics came easy. “It almost wrote itself,” Azar says. “The size and awe of the castle, the loving staff, the miracles and mastery… and the tiles on the ceilings—those really moved me.”

After laying down tracks with drums, guitars, bass, dobro, organ, trumpet, percussion and vocals, Azar packed up a mic from the studio and jetted off to the Sanford Children’s Castle to record the kids.

Nearly 30 kids showed up for the chance to sing backup. In a conference room in the castle, Azar taught them the part and then sat at the mixing board to capture their voices—some bold, some chirpy and some off-key, but all focused on and committed to the task.

Listen to a piece of the song here.

Sioux Falls Debut

“It sounds like a cliché, but to play here tonight is the cherry on the banana split,” Azar says.

Tonight is the Sanford Summer Spectacular, an evening of entertainment on the Great Lawn, a new outdoor performance space at the Sanford Center.

So when the lights dim and the band takes the stage, the 15,000 spectators wait with wonder. President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft alongside philanthropist and namesake T. Denny Sanford have introduced the moment. The children take their places around Azar. The eight bar opening sets the tone. Soon a trumpet is blasting its proclamation, Azar is melting hearts and the children are projecting their collective voice.

“Kids going through their own personal trials are the best at putting life into perspective,” Azar says. “This song, the kids and the experience at the castle have made this one of the best recordings of my life. It’s good to know that everyone at Sanford and everyone at that castle are taking care of business and doing it with so much heart. This song and this place are going to stand for a long time.”

Posted Date: August 2011