James Otto performs fundraising concert Aug. 10 in Kennewick

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldAugust 1, 2013 

Country musician James Otto will perform a concert Aug. 10 at Columbia Park in Kennewick.

COURTESY GRACE CLINIC

Five years ago, Benton City native James Otto was on the fast track of country music fame when his hit single, Just Got Started Lovin' You, was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts.

The song also was named the No. 1 country single for 2008, according to Billboard magazine.

Otto, a 1991 Kiona-Benton City High graduate, returns home to the Tri-Cities from Nashville on Aug. 10 to perform a concert at Columbia Park in Kennewick. Showtime is 6 p.m. at the east end of the park.

This 6-foot-5 hometown boy is still making powerful noise in country music but at a slower pace so he can spend a little more time with his wife, Amy, and 3-year-old daughter Ava Katherine.

"It was crazy after (Sunset Man) was released," Otto said in a telephone interview with the Herald. "I did 300 shows that year, which almost burned me out."

A couple of years later, Ava was born, and he decided to tone down the wild and hectic life of a musician so he wouldn't miss his daughter's growing-up years.

"I really enjoy being a dad, and I want my daughter to know who I am," he said. "I can't do that if I'm constantly touring."

But that doesn't mean he's giving up touring altogether, he added. He still writes songs every day and chooses his tours carefully so he can be home frequently.

The Columbia Park concert will benefit the Grace Clinic in Kennewick, a cause Otto supports. The clinic provides free medical care to low-income families who have no health insurance.

"The Grace Clinic does fantastic work, the community needs it and I'm more than happy to help," he said. "Plus , it gives me an excuse to come home (with his wife and daughter) and visit with my family and friends. That's also why I'm calling this my homecoming tour. We're gonna have a lot of fun at this show."

Bill Burke, a longtime friend of Otto's, remembers the days when Otto would hang out at his store, Ted Brown Music in Richland.

"I think James coming back to support the Grace Clinic is another example of him being a real person willing to help out his hometown," Burke said. "I know him as a mountain of a man who used to come in to the store all the time and play guitar and talk music. He's still that same down-home friendly guy."

Mark Brault, board chairman for the Grace Clinic, said Ken Olson from Radio Tri-Cities was instrumental in helping the clinic secure Otto for the fundraiser.

"This is the first time we have done something like this, and we intend it to be an annual event," Brault said. "We are expecting to net the clinic about $45,000 after expenses."

Otto says most of his shows are performed acoustically these days, and he continues to add an edge of soul to the country rock sound.

As a prolific songwriter, Otto also lends his talent to other country music artists. His song In Color, which was recorded by Jamey Johnson, won song of the year at the 2008 Academy of Country Music Awards. Otto also was nominated for a Grammy for best country song for Just Got Started Lovin' You.

Otto, the son of Jerry and Laurie Otto of Richland, said his love of music started as a youngster when he got his first guitar.

Jerry Otto told the Herald he had to lock up his son's guitar for a while when he was in high school because his grades suffered because of his obsession with music.

The grades improved, but what his father didn't know at the time was that his son borrowed a friend's guitar and kept right on playing.

James Otto landed in Nashville after a two-year stint in the Navy in 1998. He wrote songs for other singers and performed at Nashville nightclubs for a decade before he caught a break with Sunset Man.

In a recent interview on the Great American Country website, Otto shared five things no one knows about him: He loves carrot cake, he's a grill master on the home barbecue, he calls himself a "gear head" because he loves anything that has to do with cars, his favorite movie of all time is Lonesome Dove and Greece is where he'd love to retire to some day.

"I have gas in my veins, which is why I love everything about cars," he told the Herald. "And my wife and I spent our honeymoon on one of the Greek islands. It's so beautiful there. But it's a pipe dream to ever be able to live there."

Naturally, Otto's parents are looking forward to their son's homecoming.

"We are excited to see James, but more so to see our granddaughter Ava," Jerry Otto said in an email to the Herald.

Tickets to the concert cost $20 for general admission or $50 for preferred seats. Tickets are available at www.justhelpsomeone.org or at the gate.

Opening for Otto will be the Tri-City band Flashmob.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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