CHARLOTTE, NC (Tim Funk/The Charlotte Observer) - Legally blind since birth, Savannah Kasay could never really make out the details of what her famous father, John Kasay, was doing on the football field as he kicked his way to becoming the Carolina Panthers' all-time leading scorer. Sometimes, she'd even clap for the wrong team.
And though most everybody else in her family took to athletics, she couldn't — "seeing balls is pretty necessary in sports," she says.
So, early on, Savannah found and came to cherish an alternative: music. At 6, she was playing the piano. In seventh grade, her parents gave her a guitar. By ninth grade, she was writing songs.
And on Friday, the 18-year-old graduate of Charlotte Christian School is releasing her first album, "Friday Night Lights." It's a collection of mostly country/pop songs that were inspired by everything from a Robert Frost poem to a Bible story to a fight with her parents that turned into a loving reconciliation.
Writing and performing her songs is about "being able to express myself," she told the Observer. "I'm a pretty big extrovert and being able to funnel not only my energy but also my emotions and thoughts into one place was really satisfying. ... I just really fell in love with that."
Her dad, one of the original Carolina Panthers and a star who was with the team for 16 years, said watching his daughter has turned him into a cheerleader, rooting for Savannah from the sidelines.
"She's a lot better singer than I was a kicker, so it makes it easy to watch (her) doing what she's been doing since she was a little girl," he said about the third of his and wife Laura's four children. "Watching (her) grow and explore and mature ... it's like a flower — you watch it blossom and enjoy the beauty of it."
Savannah's CD — now available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and through savannahkasay.com — looks at first like a tribute to football. In the cover photo, she and her guitar are posing on the 50-yard line at Charlotte Christian's football field. And "Friday Night Lights," the title, is a phrase that has become shorthand for the big high school football game, thanks to the book, movie and TV series about a powerhouse team in Texas.
But Savannah's title song is less about her school's football games — she couldn't really see much of those on-the-field plays either — and more about treasured memories of her post-game experiences, when she and five friends would retire to the local IHOP and talk the rest of the night away.
In her song, she calls it her "Friday night tradition. ... We were talkin', we were wishin' ... What I remember the most/what happened after those Friday night lights."
Savannah's younger brother, Chip, plays for the Charlotte Christian team, and her dad, who retired last year as the school's athletic director, is still the squad's special teams coach.
But "the neat thing about the story (behind her song, 'Friday Night Lights')," John Kasay said, "is it's from her perspective ... not from the players' perspective."
The medical term for Savannah's visual impairment is oculocutaneous albinism. She has nystagmus, which causes wiggly eye movement, and foveal hypoplasia, which affects her ability to focus on objects.
She'll never be able to drive a car, but can get around, is pretty independent and can read and write just fine — she keeps all of her songs in a journal. In the fall, she's heading to UNC Chapel Hill, where she plans to study business journalism.
For now, though, Savannah Kasay is all about her music. She'll do a solo of "Lie to Survive," a song about a breakup, at an album release party Friday night.
On the CD itself, she's joined by a corps of studio musicians, including Marc McManeus, who heads SoundPost Productions in Charlotte. He co-produced the album with Savannah. McManeus said a few things set Savannah apart and above many other young wanna-be singer-songwriters.
"She's a wordsmith," he said, which enables her to "use words and evoke emotions" in ways that are unusual for someone her age.
And then there's her voice, which McManeus described as "youthfully energetic and endearing."
The nine songs on the album show various influences — from Willie Nelson to Seattle grunge — but Savannah said she's most attracted to country music.
"I love the truth that comes through in country music," she said. "Country artists write (about) the deep, raw emotions that they feel. That's the style that I go for. I just want my lyrics to be real."
In "Crazy," the song inspired by her fight and makeup with her parents, she writes: "I'm not easy/I make you lose your mind./You hate me and want me at the same time./I'm clumsy, I trip over air/The question is, when I fall will you be there?"
On "They Say," she plants a flag for down-to-earth authenticity: "They say 'Dream big and shoot for the stars.' But don't forget who you really are."
John Kasay said he's touched by his daughter's lyrics. And he gets choked up when talking about how good Charlotte has been to him and his family — including Savannah, the budding musical star.