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Country with an edge

Lee Ann Womack joins BMI Maui Songwriters Festival with headliner Eric Church

Country stars Lee Ann Womack and Eric Church (second photo) will perform Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. JOHN SCARPATI photo

Grammy-winning country star Lee Ann Womack has been praised for helping keep traditional country music alive.

“I’m trying,” says Womack, who will perform at this week’s second annual BMI Maui Songwriters Festival. “I love that kind of music, it’s so American and really a treasure. Real country music, roots country music is a little edgier than what you hear coming out of Nashville now, which is more middle-of-the-road, glossy, poppy. I’m drawn more to the rootsy, edgier kind of stuff.”

Womack is among the artists playing the festival, which includes headliner Eric Church, Texas troubadour Robert Earl Keen, Paul Doucette of Matchbox 20 fame, Grammy-winning songwriter Liz Rose (who co-wrote 20 of Taylor Swift’s songs), Aerosmith composer Marti Frederiksen, multiplatinum songwriter Sean Douglas, Lukas Nelson, multi-instrumentalist Shawn Camp, country singer Charlie Worsham, Maui’s Willie K and Lily Meola, and Womack’s daughter, Aubrie Sellers.

In September, Womack was among the musicians playing Willie Nelson’s inaugural Outlaw Music Festival in Pennsylvania.

“That was a ton of fun,” she reports. “My friend Sheryl Crow was on the show, and of course, Willie and Lukas. I toured with Willie the year when we had the duet ‘Mendocino County Line.’ I just love him. We’re both Texans, and get along really well. It was a great festival for me.”

Photo courtesy MACC

Raised in East Texas, Womack grew up listening to “George Jones, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn,” she recalls. “I love what I call real traditional country music.”

A successful songwriter before embarking on a solo career, Womack achieved massive popularity in 2000 with her crossover country pop hit “I Hope You Dance,” which won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song, and was named Song of the Year at every country music awards show.

Womack says she was really surprised it became a pop hit, too.

“It was very ironic. I was probably the countryist thing on country radio, and it was odd for my song to cross over to the pop radio stations. It goes to show that people just love music, and it moves them or it doesn’t.”

The song and its empowering lyrics became a favorite of celebrated poet and author Maya Angelou, who told Oprah Winfrey (as Oprah reported on her TV show before Womack performed), “If I had a daughter, and I feel you are my daughter, those are the words I’d want to say to my daughter.”

Celebrate the Christmas season at the Maui Pops Orchestra’s Holiday Pops concert Sunday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Photo courtesy MACC

In 2014, Womack was invited to sing “I Hope You Dance” at the memorial service for Angelou.

“I was very thankful to her family who asked me to be a part of that,” she says.

With hits like “Never Again, Again,” “You’ve Got to Talk to Me,” “The Fool” and the Grammy-winning Willie Nelson duet, “Mendocino County Line,” Womack has sold more than 6 million albums worldwide, and won five Academy of Country Music awards and six Country Music Association awards.

“It’s nice (to win), but I always say it’s best to be nominated, because your name is mentioned over and over again in the months leading up to the awards,” she notes. “Even if you win, then it’s forgotten.”

Fellow country star Church is also a multi-award winner, with three Country Music Association and five Academy of Country Music awards. Church’s debut album, 2006’s “Sinners Like Me,” produced the Top 20 hits “How ‘Bout You,” “Two Pink Lines” and “Guys Like Me.” His acclaimed albums include “Chief,” which featured his epic song “Springsteen,” “The Outsiders” and “Mr. Misunderstood.”

Church surprised everyone when he released “Mr. Misunderstood” in 2015, with no prior announcement, mailing free copies of the album to his fan club members. It was hailed by The Guardian as “the best album of his career,” made year-end “best of” lists from Rolling Stone, the Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly, and won Album of the Year at the 2016 CMA awards.

“We gave it to the fans first,” Church reported at the Nov. 2 ceremony. “It’s because of the fans that this happened.”

Festival events today include a happy-hour performance from 5 to 6 p.m. at Bistro Molokini at the Grand Wailea with Doucette and Meola; and Sellers, Frederiksen and Douglas performing at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea at 7 p.m.

The Eric Church & Friends concert will be presented at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center on Friday. The show will include Womack, Lukas Nelson, Keen, Camp, Rose and Worsham.

A Stories & Songs show at the Grand Wailea pool from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday will feature Sellers, Worsham and Douglas. And the Lee Ann Womack and Friends concert at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Grand Wailea’s Molokini Gardens will include Lukas Nelson, Doucette and Keen.

* General admission wristbands for $125 include admission to four festival events, including today’s show at Mulligans on the Blue; Saturday’s Eric Church & Friends show at the MACC; Saturday’s pool party at the Grand Wailea; and Saturday’s Lee Ann Womack and Friends concert in Molokini Gardens. VIP wristbands are available for $225, and include preferred seating at the MACC and a VIP reception. Wristbands are available at the Grand Wailea. For more information and individual show tickets, visit www.mauisongwritersfestival.com.

* Eric Church & Friends will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Yokouchi Pavilion and A&B Amphitheater in Kahului. Tickets are $39, $69 and $89, with a limited number of $129 Gold Circle seating (plus applicable fees), and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org. A portion of the concert proceeds will benefit the BMI Foundation, Dorvin-Leis Charities and the MACC.

*****

Rocking Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia for three nights over the Thanksgiving weekend, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real announced they are donating all the profits from their Charley’s shows to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline. On Sunday night, Fleetwood Mac’s legendary drummer, Mick Fleetwood, sat in with the band.

*****

A sold-out evening at Fleetwood’s on Front St. in Lahaina on Saturday saw Sammy Hagar performing an unplugged set of his hits and singing Mac gems like “Oh Well.” Joining Mick Fleetwood and Willie K with Lenny Castellanos on bass and Mark Johnstone on keyboards, guests included Steven Tyler on the Beatles’ “I’m Down” and “Rattlesnake Shake.” The evening was filmed for Hagar’s AXS TV “Rock & Roll Road Trip” show, with another episode shot at Shep Gordon’s Wailea house the following night.

*****

Willie K celebrates the holidays with his annual “Willie Wonderland” show in the MACC’s Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Comedian Rodney Villanueva will emcee the show, and special guests include Gretchen Rhodes from Mick Fleetwood’s Island Rumours Band.

* Tickets are $35, $45, $55 and $85 (plus applicable fees), half-price for kids 12 and younger, and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.

*****

And on Sunday, the Maui Pops Orchestra will celebrate the Christmas season with a Holiday Pops concert conducted by Jim Durham, featuring guest vocalist Nicole Parker, at 3 p.m. in the Castle Theater at the MACC.

Parker is best known for her portrayal of Elphaba in the Broadway production of “Wicked.” With additional impressive Broadway and off-Broadway credits, Parker was also a contributing writer and cast member of Fox’s MADtv for six years.

She has been a guest artist with many orchestras, including Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, Houston Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Utah Symphony and Opera and the Colorado Symphony.

Parker will sing a variety of holiday-themed music backed by the Maui Pops, and the orchestra’s program will include “Around the World at Christmas,” “Trepak” from the “Nutcracker” and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.”

* Tickets are $20, $35, $45 and $55, half-price for students 18 and younger (plus applicable fees), and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.

*****

Minneapolis-based hip-hop duo Atmosphere brings the “Freshwater Fly Fishermen Tour” to the MACC’s Yokouchi Pavilion & Courtyard tonight at 6:45.

Rapper Slug and DJ Ant formed Atmosphere in high school, and released their first album, “Overcast,” in 1997. It was soon hailed as an underground hip-hop classic. Subsequent recordings increased their appeal. Acclaimed as the godfathers of the everyman rap genre, they have amassed a cult following, and are also founders of Rhymesayers, one of the top indie rap labels.

Reviewing their latest album, “Fishing Blues,” Consequence of Sound noted: “Slug has spent the past two decades on a pedestal as an indie hip-hop god.” And Exclaim! praised: “Between Ant’s eclectic, subtle production and Slug’s equally nuanced lyricism, ‘Fishing Blues’ stands out as one of the best hip-hop LPs of the year.”

* Gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $32 (plus applicable fees), and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.

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