Burn-ing up the Highway

Jo Dee Messina Embarks on First Headlining Tour

“Hi, everybody!” Jo Dee Messina makes the rounds, greeting reporters gathered to hear details of her upcoming concert tour. Smiling and laughing, the Grammy-nominated singer is wearing skin-tight leather pants and a light blue T-shirt that reads “Rock Til You Drop.”

As it turns out, she nearly has. After six months of planning and three weeks of non-stop rehearsals, doing 10 shows in four days, Messina is ready to begin her first tour as a headliner, with Rascal Flatts as supporting act. The tour kicks off tonight (Feb. 8) in South Bend, Ind., stopping in over 75 cities before the end of the year. The undertaking has been exhilarating and exhausting for the 30-year-old Massachusetts native. She has overseen the development of the tour from the initial design drawings right up through deciding the shape of the confetti used on stage.

“On your own tour, it all falls on your shoulders,” she says. “The first day of rehearsal, there were so many new crew guys. My old crew guys were like, ’There’s a lot of people here,’ and I turned around and said, ’And every single one of them gets a salary.’ It’s amazing how much goes into it — the lights, the confetti, the backdrops, the color of the curtains, everything, from drawing the set. What do I want this to be — do I want to have steps or not, lights or not? It takes months, because you have to order things, and plan and design, then see what the design looks like, then change the design.”

Messina has spent the last five years opening shows for acts including Brooks & Dunn and The Judds. She feels like it’s time to take the plunge as a headliner.

“When we were looking at all the opening slots on tours this year, we saw that I either have to break out now, or not,” she asserts. “We had sponsors coming to the table, so it was like ’If I don’t do it now, I won’t know what it’s like.'”

The tour is sponsored by Jerzees sportswear and CMT. The CMT truck will be on hand to stoke the enthusiasm of concert-goers by offering free giveaways and surprises outside each venue and during intermission. CMT’s young, energetic image seems a natural match for the bubbly Messina.

“CMT believed in me and played my videos when there weren’t any of my songs on the radio,” she says. “They’ve always been very supportive.”

CMT will support the tour on air as well. To kick off “Burn Tour 2001,” Messina becomes CMT’s first-ever celebrity VJ on Sunday (Feb. 11) from 2 – 8:30 p.m. ET. “Jo Dee Day” will include a 90-minute countdown special, Jo Dee’s Countdown, in which she will introduce her 12 favorite CMT videos. The afternoon also will include exclusive interview footage of Messina talking about her new tour. Viewers will get a backstage peek at her rehearsals and a glimpse of bloopers from her tour commercials. To top off “Jo Dee Day,” the network will rebroadcast her one-hour New York City CMT Hit Trip episode, her CMT All Access concert and a one-hour edition of CMT Showcase. CMT also will air a newly assembled installment of Face the Music Videos devoted entirely to Messina.

The singer admits that her baptism as a headlining act has been a learning experience.

“I didn’t know what a ’rigger’ was,” she giggles. “But the rigger is a very important person. They handle the planning of how to hang everything from the ceiling, so it doesn’t all come crashing down in the middle of the show. Our rigger spent 10 years on the road with Reba McEntire, so this is a walk in the park for him — he’s only got a few trusses to hang.

“It’s amazing how much technical stuff I’ve learned — compression, fire codes, different fire extinguishers, I’ve even met the Fire Marshal. It’s worth it, though. As corny as it sounds, doing the shows, seeing the audience and sharing the music with the fans makes it worthwhile.”

Fans who attend Messina’s concert can expect high energy and excitement. Music lovers will hear songs from her three hit albums including “That’s the Way,” “Bye Bye” and the current “Burn.” Messina also will sing selected cover songs by artists who influenced her musical development. Multi-colored lights, vivid backdrops and a small troupe of dancers, grooving with Messina onstage, will provide visual eye candy. Messina first used dancers last year when she shared a bill with The Judds.

“For years I danced and worked across the stage by myself and I think I must have looked like a little ant to the people in the back,” she says. “I thought, ’If I could just make my movements bigger or run faster it would help reach everyone in the audience better.’ So I thought it might be easier to do that if I had some people up there with me. Plus, it’s fun to have the dancers on stage.”

People will not see Messina make numerous wardrobe changes like McEntire. Messina thought about incorporating several changes of clothing into the show, but she ultimately decided against it.

“It ain’t happenin’,” she laughs. “When clothing begins to interfere with the performance of the show, that’s a problem for me. I just can’t be thinking about that all the time. When it gets down to it, all I can be is me. If I’m nervous about what I’m going to wear or how I’m going to act, the audience will see that. The person I’m most comfortable being is me.”