LEE ANN WOMACK FEATURE--SYNC MAGAZINE
Opening for royalty
Lee Ann Womack kicks things off in concert that includes George Strait, Reba.
by shea stewart
Excuse Lee Ann Womack if she gets a little awestruck sometimes. It happens to the best of us, even the best of us who have won two Grammys, been named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association and scored a No. 1 country hit with the crossover smash “I Hope You Dance.”
You see, Womack is the opener for a tour that includes the King of Country, Mr. George Strait, and, all apologies to Mrs. “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” Kitty Wells, the reigning Queen of Country, Reba McEntire, or, as she is known now, simply Reba.
“I have been a fan of both of theirs for years, and it’s really weird to think I get to go out there and open up for them,” said Womack by phone from Nashville during a weekday break from the mostly weekend tour. “Sometimes I’ll just sit there and watch and think, ‘You know? You done pretty well girl.’
“[The tour is] going great for all of us. We are having a great time on stage and off, and I think the fans are too. It’s a great package.”
The roots of the current tour, which kicked off in January and will visit North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Saturday, extend back to the late spring of 2009, when Strait and Reba co-headlined an event officially opening the new, billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Womack filled in for Julianne Hough, who was suffering from strep throat.
“I think it went well there, and I think that’s when George decided that he wanted to take it on the road,” Womack said.
But when asked if the tour came together after Strait’s people contacted her people, Womack laughs the gracious laugh of a Southerner, and notes, Strait’s “people are my people actually. We share a lot of the same people.”
It’s mostly true. The producer of Womack’s 2008 release Call Me Crazy and as-yet-to-be-titled summer 2010 release is none other than Tony Brown, a legendary Nashville producer who has worked with Strait on every one of the singer’s albums since 1992’s soundtrack to the Pure Country movie. Womack covered the Jim Lauderdale penned “The King of Broken Hearts” on Call Me Crazy, a tune that originally appeared on the soundtrack to Pure Country. The two have traded guest appearances on each other’s albums — Womack on “Good News, Bad News” from Strait’s Somewhere Down in Texas, and Strait on “Everything But Quits” from Call Me Crazy. And both Texans are signed to MCA Nashville Records.
But while Strait is known for his tastefully done, workingman’s country, Womack, minus a brief detour into pop country with 2000’s “I Hope You Dance,” is better known for her still smoldering torch songs and “coming-into-this-bar-to-hear-a-sad-song” anthems on her seven albums, starting with her self-titled debut in 1997. She’s an artist well-versed enough on the history of country music to realize, and, even better, appreciate the fact that it is more about cheating hearts, honky tonk angels and whiskey rivers, and less about the sugary pop overload of today’s country music with its microwaved classic rock guitar hooks.
Discussing her musical roots, it’s soon easy to spot the source of Womack’s treasuring of sad country songs: She cites George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s achingly sad ’70s tunes as an influence, songs she’d hear when cleaning the house with her mother on a Saturday or helping her father out at his disc jockey job at a Jacksonville, Texas, radio station.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what draws a young child to those kinds of lyrics,” Womack said. “I loved Tammy Wynette and George Jones, and when I heard them sing, it just made me feel something. I think I was intrigued by the fact that I didn’t just hear them sing, but I felt them sing. And I knew early on that there was another dimension to an artist like that.”
Since 1997, Womack has made an extremely successful career out of making listeners actually feel her words and music. Take 2004’s “I May Hate Myself in the Morning,” from There’s More Where That Came From, a weeping pedal steel and acoustic guitar sad waltz about a woman realizing the consequences of spending the night with a man from a snuffed-out relationship.
But when pressed, Womack can’t quite finger the root of her love of the sad ones.
“Maybe it’s sort of therapy,” she said. “When you sit down to write that is what comes out. So I’m not really sure why I’m drawn to that particular kind of thing. It’s not all that I do, but it is most of what I do.”
And it’s the classic women of country music, artists such as Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Womack is often compared to when discussing her neo-traditional country music. Still, it’s less about those particular artists, and more about the emotions they spill out while singing that drew Womack to their music and why she sings straight from the heart, either beautifully vulnerable or heartbreakingly sad.
“It needs to make you feel something,” Said Womack of a good country song (or any song for that matter). “It doesn’t just need to be something that doesn’t turn people on or off. I think the best songs people either love or hate. They have some passion about them.” It’s tunes about drunken, late-night phone calls and extinguished love affairs that has helped the 43-year-old Jacksonville, Texas, native sell more than 6 million records and score two Grammys, including a Best Vocal Collaboration (Country) for her duet with Willie Nelson on “Mendocino County Line.”
Allotted 30 minutes on a star-studded bill Saturday night, Womack will power her way through a collection of her hits, both sad and joyful, including her current single “There Is a God.”
“I’m only up there for 30 minutes so I try to get as many in there as I can,” Womack said.
And although Womack won’t get a chance to join Strait for one of their duets (“George has so many No. 1 hits that his fans want to hear those so it’s hard to get to those things that weren’t even singles,” she said.), Womack will join Reba for the singer’s “Does He Love You.”
“As I’m walking up on stage, and I hear the intro to that song I just always think I cannot believe [it],” Womack said. “In fact, a couple of nights I’ve been kind of late getting onto stage because I’m standing there with my mouth open.”
Awed? A little. But then she’ll settle into a tune about a man whose face she won’t see in the early morning light, and she’ll be right at home.
Why go see George Strait?
Because George Strait is not called the King of Country for nothing. Strait started crank-ing out country hits back when the Commodore 64 was at the top of the computing-world food chain, starting with his first No. 1 country hit “Fool Hearted Memory” in 1982. His most recent No. 1 country hit? 2008’s “River of Love.” Backed by the Ace in the Hole Band (his backing band named after another No. 1 hit), Strait will run through the hits, and nothing but the hits during a nearly two-hour set of more than 20 tunes. Also of note, Strait has been playing “Arkansas Dave,” a tune written by his son Bubba Strait from his latest release, 2009’s Twang.
P.S. Strait also holds the all-time attendance record at Verizon Arena, playing to 18,004 fans when the arena was named Alltel Arena.
Why go see Reba? George Strait has 57 No. 1 country hits; Reba has 33 No. 1 country hits, from “Can’t Even Get the Blues” to “Consider Me Gone.” Expect an hour and a half of those hits from country music’s all-time biggest female hitmaker. And for the encore? There’s a little ditty written by Bobbie Gentry that Reba is known for about an 18-year-old girl living in a rundown shack on the outskirts of New Orleans who’s not going to let her mama down. And “Fancy” was her name.
Why go see Lee Ann Womack?
See The Show:
As of March 1, upper-level tickets were still available for the George Strait, Reba and Lee Ann Womack country extravaganza at Verizon Arena on Saturday. Tickets are on sale at the Verizon Arena Box Office for $81.25 and $91.25, or through all Ticketmaster outlets, charge by phone at (800) 745-3000 or online at ticketmaster.com for $93.45 and $104.75. Doors open at 6 p.m. with Womack kicking the music off at 7 p.m. followed by Reba and then Strait.