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Nashville Saturday Night
The lights dimmed inside the sparkling new Nashville Arena. The crowd began to cheer, anticipating another great night of music in Music City. All eyes were on the stage as the announcer’s booming voice filled the hall.
“Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together and give a great big Nashville welcome to Miss LeAnn Rimes!”
Preparation for the evening’s show—for which twenty thousand fans would be packed inside the Arena—had begun at ten o’clock that morning when a line of forty-foot tractor trailers exited Interstate 40 at Demonbreun Street, drove downtown, and pulled into the loading dock of the Arena.
They were met by the local stage crew for the “load-in.” Fifty or sixty trunks, each prominently displaying a white number, were rolled to the stage area. Trunks filled with the T-shirts and tour books fans love to collect went to the lobby. The crews—sound, lights, and merchandising—started getting ready for the show.
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The Nashville Arena on Broadway is the latest addition to the shimmering multimillion-dollar restoration of downtown Music City. It’s up the street from Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe and within honking distance of the Wildhorse Saloon. Country line-dancing shows on TNN broadcast the fun of the Wildhorse into homes across America. Near the banks of the Cumberland River, the area known in Nashville as the District is turning into a flashy entertainment and residential area after years of neglect and decline.
In Nashville, there are dozens if not hundreds of ways to spend a Saturday night. Almost every type of live music is played in almost any kind of setting. If you’re an artist, you’ll find Nashville a tough place to perform. Some of the world’s best players and singers call the city and its surrounding counties home.
The headliner at the Arena on this Saturday night in February was Alan Jackson, a down-home superstar and winner of seven Country Music Association Awards, including Entertainer of the Year and Album of the Year.
Alan Jackson’s special guest, whose fans were plenty excited themselves, was LeAnn Rimes—the biggest new country star of the year of any age. And her age was fourteen.
By two o’clock in the afternoon, when the Arena crews broke for lunch, the stage, the sound equipment, and the lights were set up. The merchandise was unpacked and on display. The tour accountant and tour manager had checked the box office and met with the local concert promoter. Security personnel were assigned to their posts.
Alan Jackson and LeAnn Rimes had toured together very successfully in 1996 and were already booked for at least thirty-two Arena-size dates in ’97. Alan Jackson has ruled the country charts since 1990 and boasts the biggest fan club in country music. LeAnn Rimes is the youngest performer in country-music history to debut at number one on the sales chart with her first major album. That album was Blue.
LeAnn and her band arrived for their sound check. Before every show a band does a sound check to make sure a clear sound can be heard throughout the audience. Working with all the instruments individually and then together, the sound engineers, like jewelers, created a perfect setting for the precious gem on display here tonight—LeAnn’s voice.
Dressing rooms in arenas are all the same and not very glamorous. Singers might dress one night in the same place hockey players took their socks off the previous night. The road cases carrying LeAnn’s stage wardrobe were opened and ready for her selection. LeAnn says she loves to shop. She told Prime Time Country’s Gary Chapman that she travels with a busload of clothes. Tight black jeans, a V-neck black knit top, and shiny black shoes were the ensemble she chose for tonight’s performance.
In the hospitality room where LeAnn would make an appearance before the show, platters of catered food and various beverages were already set up. There were important people for LeAnn to greet at every show. But in Nashville, top staff from the record company, public-relations firm, and booking agency were key guests whenever an artist came to town. Maintaining the friendship, faith, and belief of the folks who handle your records and live appearances is essential—and fun.
MCG/Curb Records, Rogers & Cowan Public Relations, and Creative Artists Agency had a lot to celebrate with LeAnn Rimes.
Together they had just achieved one of the most phenomenal entertainment success stories of all time.
As LeAnn strode onto the stage and into the glow of the spotlight, the Arena exploded in whistles, hollers, screams, stomps, and applause. Seconds later, the crowd sat silently while she sang “Blue Moon of Kentucky” a cappella. When the band joined in on the third chorus, the tune turned rockabilly and the foot stomping started all over again.
LeAnn sang two more songs from her latest album release. Her warmth, presence, and soaring voice won every heart in the house, from the ten-year-olds waving illuminated red roses to the parents and grandparents who loved her like she was their own.
“Thank you. Thank you very much,” she said, bowing with perfect grace. Her wireless microphone held lightly between her fingers as she raised it to her lips, she lifted her eyes toward heaven during “Hurt Me,” a ballad from Blue. Throughout the set, she introduced the members of her band graciously and generously, saying something special about each one.
When she broke into her hit single “One Way Ticket (Because I Can),” all those who’d heard its triumphant lyric on the radio became her backup singers. She walked the stage, making a stop to groove with each musician. Then she finished with a flourish by hitting the cymbals with her hands.
Two classics, the Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me” and the Hank Williams signature song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” became, in LeAnn’s renditions, touchstones for new fans.
“I love you, Nashville,” she shouted from the stage. “Thanks to all of you for calling and requesting my first single. And thanks to country radio for playing ‘Blue.’ ”
The song “Blue” was originally written for country legend Patsy Cline, who died before she could record it. Thirty years later, LeAnn Rimes’s version of the song turned the country-music business on its ear.
Now LeAnn sang her history-making version of that old song on a Saturday night in Music City’s hottest new venue. Just as she’d done all evening, she commanded the stage with the poise, presence, and delivery of someone who’d been there all her life.
LeAnn Rimes became the number one Country Singles Sales Artist of the Year with “Blue.” She accomplished more in one year—no, make that ten months—than most performers achieve in a lifetime.
Her album of the same name debuted at number one on the Billboard country charts and spent an amazing nineteen weeks there, more than any other album during the year. Though the country-music business closed out 1996 with a twelve-percent drop in sales, LeAnn Rimes was selling records faster than her company could press them.
She was the youngest artist ever nominated for a Country Music Association Award. She was the only country artist with a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist of the Year. And, when the envelope was opened, she had won. In Rolling Stone’s Readers Poll for Best Country Artist of the Year, she came in second—behind Johnny Cash.
LeAnn’s first major-label album sold as many copies as albums by such pop stars as Metallica and Celine Dion. It went gold in England, double platinum in Canada, and triple platinum in Australia, where she was proclaimed that country’s best-selling female country-music artist of all time.
The Early Years, her new early 1997 release, containing a mixture of old and new cuts, enjoyed a first-week sales performance matched only by Garth Brooks and the Beatles.
The first country-music star born in the 1980s, LeAnn Rimes was called a “teenage singing sensation” everywhere she went in 1996.
But there’s much more to LeAnn Rimes than that. If she performs like a pro, it’s because she hasn’t spent more than two or three weekends without being on a stage since she was six years old. If she sings with the most incredible voice anyone has heard in years, it’s because God blessed her with a miraculous instrument and a rare gift that she learned how to use, virtually all by herself. If she’s made it to the top and beyond in such a short time, it’s because she and her parents have been working toward this moment ever since she declared at the age of five that she was going to sing and become a big star.
LeAnn asked the audience to listen carefully to a song she’d just written because the lyrics meant so much to her. “I’ve been loved more than anyone deserves,” she sang.
“I remember watching Reba and all the big stars, thinking hopefully I’ll be up there someday,” LeAnn has said.
This is the story of how LeAnn Rimes, with a lot of help from her family, her fans, and God, made her dream come true.