Gretchen Wilson reminded a roomful of radio programmers this week why they fell in love with her in 2004.
While scarcely any multi-platinum stars were hanging around Country Radio Seminar (CRS), the self-proclaimed Redneck Woman squeezed in two high-octane performances into the hectic week of interviews and schmoozing. She also previewed three new songs from her next album, probably coming later this year.
On Wednesday night (March 2), the very extroverted MuzikMafia collective -- which includes Wilson and Big & Rich -- crowded onto the main stage for an energetic, two-hour spectacle. Two-Foot Fred and another midget dressed like Big & Rich to kick things off until the actual duo hopped around for a few songs, testifying about love and music. After their tunes, they introduced soulful singers Jon Nicholson and James Otto, who each delivered knockout performances of new material. Cowboy Troy -- the "hick-hop" black country rapper who is working on his own album for Warner Bros. Records -- even got some face time. His duet with Sarah Buxton, "If You Won't Love Me, I'll Find Somebody Else Who Will," sounded as though Loretta Lynn had found a new duet partner in pop star Shaggy.
In this context, it was unusual to think of Wilson as the star of the show. While everybody else was performing, she could be spotted hanging out on stage, drinking beer and singing along with her buddies. But when she stepped up for her own set, she proved that her star-making CRS performance last year was no fluke.
She recalled last year's showcase as "one of the scariest days of my life." However, this year she said she felt at home, adding, "I've got half as many nerves, and that's because you have been a friend to me."
That relationship is destined to continue with "All Jacked Up," the title track of her sophomore effort. It's easy to picture her writing from experience: Drinking irresponsibly, girl fights in the bar, busting out the window of her truck with her elbow and so on. It's similar in spirit to Montgomery Gentry's "All Night Long," and because it's so catchy, it will certainly launch a thousand bad karaoke versions.
After closing her set with Heart's passionate "Straight On," everybody on stage -- about 30 folks -- launched into the national anthem. Wilson blended into the background. As the massive flag waved, a good chunk of the audience headed for the exit. The collective closed out with "Free Fall Under the Disco Ball" and "Limo Larry." More drinking ensued elsewhere.
The next afternoon, Wilson returned to the same room for a showcase sponsored by her record label. "How many of you were here last night?" she asked. After the applause, she said, "So, you know I had too much to drink!" She had already sung "Homewrecker" and "When It Rains, I Pour," so she launched into "When I Think About Cheatin'." As soon as the last note rang, Sony Music Nashville chief John Grady stepped onto the stage to present her with an enormous plaque commemorating 4 million copies shipped of Here for the Party.
"This woman has been thanking everybody for the last year," Grady said. "I thought I'd take 30 seconds so we can show our appreciation to her."
Overwhelmed, Wilson responded, "It's all because of you guys. We all work together, and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart." She also joked that she needed more wall space in her home. "Wow, it just keeps getting better," she whispered.
After composing herself, she laid out two new songs, "Ain't You Glad They Ain't All California Girls?" and "Politically Uncorrect." The first one celebrates being yourself, even if you've had plastic surgery. (She's got nothing against it, she says in the song.) She's hoping Merle Haggard will add his vocals to "Politically Uncorrect," in which she sticks up for the underdog, including farmers and single mothers. Both are the sort of rowdy kickers that have endeared her to country listeners.
During a rousing "Redneck Woman," she couldn't manage to get the industry crowd to shout back "hell, yeah" -- not surprising when you consider this is perhaps the toughest audience to engage. They've seen it all over the years. However, despite being relatively somber (or maybe hung over), they still rewarded Wilson with a standing ovation.