LOS ANGELES — As she rehearsed Monday afternoon at the Universal Amphitheatre, Jo Dee Messina seemed to relish the chance to perform “That’s the Way,” a new song she’ll sing Wednesday night during the 35th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
After a run-through of the song, about rolling with the punches on the “merry-go-round we call life,” Messina asked the Amphitheatre technical crew, “Can I have more music in the monitors, but not more overall mix?” The little adjustments will be important Wednesday, when she debuts “That’s the Way” for a national audience on CBS. The next day, the song will go to country radio stations across the country, delivered by satellite.
“This is a song that was written especially for me by Annie Roboff and Holly Lamar, Messina told country.com following her rehearsal. “They said they had read about all the things I had gone through in life, where everything’s going great, then you crash, then you go back up again — just the roller coaster ride that I’ve had. I hope people can relate to it; everybody’s lives are filled with ups and downs.”
“That’s the Way” is the first single from her third album, Burn, set for release Aug. 1. The Holliston, Mass., native is nominated for Top Female Vocalist in the Academy of Country Music voting. Her rehearsal was part of a full day of run-throughs. Chely Wright was on hand early to get the settings right on “Single White Female.” Lonestar honed its harmonies again on “Amazed.” Montgomery Gentry hauled out “Hillbilly Shoes.” Also scheduled to rehearse were Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Collin Raye and a bevy of female vocalists, including host Dolly Parton, paying tribute to Pioneer Award winner Tammy Wynette.
But no one this year is performing anything as untried as Messina’s song. The new album, she promises, is a varied work that defies categorization, though “theme-wise, it’s all kind of the same. There’s a song called ‘These Are the Days,’ written by Holly Lamar and Stephanie Bentley. There’s a song called ‘Dare to Dream,’ another called ‘Burn.’”
Messina previewed some of the material at this year’s Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, but “That’s the Way,” which she’ll do Wednesday, was one of four sides she cut after the CRS show at the Ryman Auditorium.
Also nominated with Messina for Top Female Vocalist are Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Shania Twain and Chely Wright. “You always hope to win, but I kind of forgot about the nomination,” Messina said Monday. “When I heard about them two months ago, I said, ‘It’s not time for me, yet.’ I’ll just enjoy the performance.”
She pauses a moment to consider what she has said. Last year, the ACM named Messina its Top New Female Vocalist. “I’ll take it. Don’t get me wrong,” she squeals, feigning delight at the prospect of winning again. “If they call my name, I’m going up there, but if they don’t, I won’t be like ‘Awwww.’ I’ll be like, ‘Yeah Faith, there’s one more for you.’”