Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 24, 2004

Winstock preview, part 1

By Ryan Gueningsman

It’s only two weeks until the 11th annual Winstock Country Music festival in Winsted, which takes place Friday, June 4 and Saturday, June 5.

The line-up is booked, preparations have begun at the Winstock site, located south of Winsted on McLeod County Road 5, and organizers are gearing up for another good year.

Headlining the stage this year is Keith Urban and Montgomery Gentry, both of whom have been receiving plenty of air play on country radio.

Urban’s hits “You’ll Think of Me,” “But For the Grace of God,” “Rainin’ on Sunday,” and “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me,” along with Montgomery Gentry’s recent “If You Ever Stopped Loving Me,” as well as favorites “Hell Yeah,” “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm,” and “Hillbilly Shoes” are all commonly heard on the radio.

This week we’ll take a look at Friday’s entertainment, which starts with North Dakota based White Creek, followed by Canadian cutie Carolyn Dawn Johnson, who called last week for a pre-Winstock chat.

Also set to take the stage Friday is Winstock alumni Sawyer Brown, who played at Winstock in 2000, and Urban. Kicking off the fun Saturday morning is local favorite Prairie Rose, followed by “Stay Gone” hit maker Jimmy Wayne.

Next week, look for profiles and photos of the rest of the bands booked for Winstock 2004 – including long-time favorite The Oak Ridge Boys, Phil Vassar, Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, as well as an interview with “Truth About Men” singer Tracy Byrd.

Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Friday, 6:30 p.m.

Exclusive interview

It’s a good thing gas prices weren’t what they are now several years ago.

For Carolyn Dawn Johnson, who made several 60-plus hour road trips from her home of Alberta, Canada to Nashville to attempt a career in country music, she may not be where she is today.

“It’s really crazy, when you think about it, that I did that,” Johnson said. “You sleep in the car some nights, crank the music, and make it as good of a time as you can. My boyfriend at the time helped me get down there, and my parents were thankful to him for doing that. He was committed to helping me with my dream, too.”

Because of border barriers, once Johnson reached Nashville, she was unable to stay there for an extended period of time, which meant another 60-hour road trip.

“Because I was Canadian, I couldn’t stay down there,” she said. “I had to keep coming back, and that was not easy because my family was on the west coast. It’s extremely tiring, and you wonder if it’s worth it or not, but you just go and you do it ‘cause you don’t feel like you have another choice.”

Once Johnson established residence in Nashville, she hoped to achieve a publishing deal with Patrick Joseph Music. Her goal came to life in 1997, following a period of waitressing and bartending, along with continually writing songs.

“Once I was signed, I was a writing freak,” she recalled. “I was just obsessed about it anyway, but I didn’t have to waitress as much and could focus completely on music and I started getting some cuts.”

Several of the most notable songs she has written for other artists include Winstock alumni Chely Wright’s number one hit “Single White Female,” as well as fellow Winstock alumni Jo Dee Messina’s “Downtime.” Johnson has also had hits recorded by Pam Tillis, Kathy Mattea, and SHeDAISY.

“The publishing deal really did change my life,” Johnson said. “I will never have that same energy and joy that I did at that point. I was just so overjoyed that I was a published writer.”

Johnson said that her favorite songs that she has written have all come from personal experiences. One of her first hit songs, “Complicated,” tells her tale of falling in love with a best friend, and the different emotions she went through, trying to decide if she should tell her friend how she really felt, or not tell him for fear of losing the friendship.

“‘Complicated’ was a song written in the thick of me falling in love with a best friend. Every note and every word in that song rings true,” she said. “You still make up lines to go with the song, but they come from personal experiences.”

As Johnson was working on her first album, last year’s Winstock headliner Martina McBride took Johnson under her wing and asked Johnson to sing background vocals and also come out on the road with McBride.

“She took a leap of faith and put me out on the road with her,” Johnson said. “I was petrified . . . she was amazing, and I learned a lot about her professionalism. She’s great.”

Also on Johnson’s first album, she wrote a song titled “Room With a View,” which also became the title of that album.

“‘Room With a View,’ was written after I lost someone in my family to an illness, and it was just horrific and painful,” Johnson said. “When he actually passed away, I wrote this song for his funeral. I don’t think death can be anything but extremely painful and hard. I believe in heaven, I believe in God, and I believe I’m going to see him again, but I still have a hard time with it.”

“It touches a lot of people. Almost anybody can put it in their life to someone they know,” she said. Johnson is also a part of Children’s Miracle Network, and feels that “children should not have to suffer. They have not had a chance to live yet. I feel that God gave me that song for a reason, so it could help people.”

“Room With a View” became the title because the CD was her ‘room with a view,’ and “my expression of me as a person,” she said.

Her second album, the recently released “Dress Rehearsal,” followed with the theme that “life is not a dress rehearsal. You have to make the most of it, and chase your dreams if you got some ‘cause you only got one time around.”

Her first song from “Dress Rehearsal” was the hit single “Simple Life,” which made it up the charts to number 13. Johnson’s new song is called “Die of a Broken Heart,” which Keith Urban sings background vocals on. From road trips to Canada, to hitting the tops of the charts, Johnson is an artist that has always known her goal, and has worked harder than most to achieve it.

“You have to educate yourself and you gotta do something every day to get yourself closer to your goal. You can’t just decide to do it, then every five months do something about it, and then forget about it for a while,” Johnson said. “It’s a commitment, and there’s a lot of sacrifices you need to make. If you don’t know anything about this business, you can get eaten up alive. It’s very rewarding when you have some good stuff happen.”

Sawyer Brown, Friday, 8 p.m.

One of the most energetic shows ever brought to the Winstock stage, Winstock is pleased to bring Sawyer Brown back to Winsted for what is sure to be another memorable show.

With close to 20 albums under their belts, countless hit songs and awards, vocalist Mark Miller, keyboardist Greg “Hobie” Hubbard, drummer Joe Smyth, lead guitarist Duncan Cameron, and bassist Jim Scholton are back and better than ever.

They’ve been called the Rolling Stones of country music, and really, that’s no exaggeration. For 20 years, Sawyer Brown has set the pace and continues to go the distance with fresh, fun and relevant songs that challenge themselves as musicians while creating personal experiences for their listeners. Their live shows are legendary for the excitement, energy and emotion they generate.

Sawyer Brown marks this phenomenal two-decade milestone by signing with a new record label, Lyric Street Records. Sawyer Brown’s debut release on Lyric Street will be the group’s 20th album. Other impressive career highlights include 13 gold and platinum albums in the United States and Canada, 19 top five singles at country radio, more than 3,000 tour dates and numerous awards.

Keith Urban, Friday, 10 p.m.

Australian hit maker Keith Urban will be co-headlining Winstock 2004 to the delight of many. Urban is one of the most popular country music artists of today, charting many favorite hits, and recently touring with Kenny Chesney.

In 1990, he signed with EMI in Australia and recorded his first solo album, which charted four number one country hits. Buoyed by that success, he decided to move to Nashville in 1992.

After the move, he formed a three-piece group called The Ranch, and landed a record deal with Capitol after their live shows generated tremendous excitement. Although critics loved The Ranch’s innovative sound, The group broke up after one album. So Urban returned to his solo career, proving immediately that this was what he was destined to do.

Urban, headed for success, returned to Capitol Records and released his first solo album, which produced several hits.

“I don’t want it labeled in any way other than it’s just me,” Urban said. “People say there are only two types of music – good and bad – but that’s not true. There’s only stuff you like and stuff you don’t. That’s really all that matters.”

Winstock fans are sure to enjoy Urban’s brand of country as he performs hits off his albums and entertains the crowd.

Jimmy Wayne, Saturday, 2 p.m.

Exclusive interview

If there is anyone in country music qualified to be in the business – it is newcomer Jimmy Wayne.

Wayne has dealt with issues like sleeping outside, working to earn money while his mother was in jail, not having a permanent home during his childhood, and being raised by a foster family, and a surrogate “Aunt Bea.”

Growing up in North Carolina, Wayne said he was inspired to sing not really by anybody, but just by the fact that it was in him.

“They’re from personal experiences,” Wayne said. “I’m inspired to write things I know about. It’s hard to write something I don’t know about.”

Several songs that he has co-written and sang himself, “Stay Gone,” and his second single “I Love You This Much,” have been inspirational to a lot of people, and instrumental in getting Wayne a strong fan base.

“You get letters and stuff, and it really lets you know you’re doing what you're supposed to do,” he said. His current single “You Are,” which he describes as a love song, or a wedding type song, is currently making its way up the charts; however, Wayne pays little attention to charts.

“I don’t keep up with the charts cause it makes you go crazy,” he said with a laugh. Wayne has been on the road touring with Winstock alumni Lonestar, and has been writing songs for his second album. He is set to begin recording this month.

When Wayne moved to Nashville, he took an unconventional approach to getting himself a record deal.

“I tried to sit back and look at it like a military strategy,” Wayne said about his move to Nashville. “You go in and set up your operation and do your observation. You get your supplies, plan your attack, so to speak, and you execute it and make sure it works. The way you do that is you make sure every link is equally strong, because your chain is as strong as your weakest link.

“If your guitar playin’ doesn’t compliment your singing, which doesn’t compliment your writing, which doesn’t compliment your image, which doesn’t compliment your timing . . . it’s all gotta be there, and I felt very comfortable when I went into the office and played for producer Scott Borchetta. When I did, I played one song, just me and the guitar, and he offered me a record deal,” he said. “Golly, it was almost like the next day, everyone was wanting to come see him. They heard that I had gotten a record deal.”

Now, on the heels of his first album, and songs in the works for the second, Wayne is making waves in the music industry, and showing that dreams can come true.

“To all the dreamers, man, it comes true, just keep on doing it,” he said. “You don’t have to do it the same way that everybody else did it.”

With his recent success has also come several appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, which is a great achievement for a new country artist.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Wayne said about playing the Opry. “The analogy I give is that I graduated high school, I graduated college, and now I played the Opry.

“It’s like the third graduation, so to speak. It’s an awesome experience to be able to play where you know other people have been.”

Wayne is excited about more tour dates leading into the summer, and is ready to follow his career where it takes him.

“I’m looking forward to coming to Winsted,” he said.

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