24 December 2014

[INTERVIEW] Kennett Crossroads: a conversation with Sheryl Crow

By Meg Benson
The Daily Dunklin Democrat
Kennett, Missouri
Photo: Bill Greenblatt

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a four-part series of interviews with each of the artists in the upcoming Kennett Crossroads concert, Sheryl Crow, Trent Tomlinson, Noll Billings and David Nail.

While Sheryl Crow is thrilled about the upcoming Kennett Crossroads concert, there is something she has recently had to take care of first. "I've been spending almost all my time I Washington, D.C., for weeks and weeks now, and it's something I'm very excited to talk about," said Crow.

On Saturday, she joined famed film director and screenwriter Barry Levinson, at the capitol city's Signature Theatre, for the debut of the new musical, "Diner," the pair's collaboration based on Levinson's iconic 1982 film of the same name. (LevinSON has also directed other hit films, such as "Rain Man, Tin Men, The Natural" and "Good Morning, Vietnam.") Written as a love letter to his youth, spent growing up in Baltimore, Md., and set during the last five days of 1959, the story follows the highs and lows of the friendships among six young men who liked to hang out on the right-hand side of their favorite diner. The movie proved a break-out success for an entire roster of young stars, including Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Paul Reiser, Ellen Barkin and Timothy Daly.

"Levinson approached me three years ago, out of the blue...really, like a cold call," explained Crow. "He said he had been listening to a lot of my music lately. I couldn't believe how well he knew my catalog. He was citing some of the more obscure songs. He felt I was a good, descriptive writer. I guess my songs drew a picture for him, and he thought I was the songwriter most equipped to give voices to his characters."

While the film launched several movie careers, the musical's cast is new. "They're all kids from New York...some with Tony nominations...but not names you'd recognize," said Crow. And there's a cherry atop this musical sundae. Following these past three years of production preparation, Crow and Levinson hope to take the show to Broadway, once the D.C. run ends on Christmas Day. "It's been going great. We've been in weeks of previews recently, where you basically take a show out of town, fine-tune and hone it, tweak it, until it's the best it can be. In fact, the Signature Theatre is known for nurturing these new shows, as they get ready for their official debuts, and then get ready for Broadway," Crow explained.

While Crow's musical biography is long and distinguished, she said "Diner" is her very first run at this type of stage work. "Never! Never since my high school musicals have I ever done anything like this. Well, except for the fact that I grew up in the Crow family," she smiled. "There was Wednesday Music Club, and we all grew up watching song and dance shows on TV. In fact, I've always been a huge fan of musicals."

That brings us back to the type of stage the nine-time Grammy winner is much more familiar with, and in a place she knows like the back of her hand. Crow will help headline the Kennett Crossroads concert on two consecutive nights next month, Jan. 18, at the Kennett Opera House, and Jan. 19, at the Kennett High School Auditorium. The two-night event, hosted by the Kennett Educational Foundation No. 39 (KEF), will benefit the KHS Performing Arts and Athletic Departments. The concert will also feature Kennett's three other musical powerhouses, country music stars David Nail and Trent Tomlinson, and Noll Billings, of the Nashville duo, "Blackjack Billy."

When originally reached this fall to talk about the event, Crow said, "I am thrilled to be a part of the Kennett Crossroads concert. I am so proud to be from Kennett and am always bragging about the talent that has spawned from our little town. I am really looking forward to sharing the stage with David and Trent and Noll, and his band. I hope people will come out and support this great cause."

While Kennett School Board President Matt Shetley and Kennett Public School District Superintendent Chris Wilson got the wheels into permanent motion on what has been a dream of many in Kennett for years, all roads also lead to a third person, in making the thing happen...long-time KHS choir director and musical mentor, Viretta Sexton.

"Mom told me some people in town were wanting to properly celebrate Viretta's long-time dedication to the arts in Kennett," Crow said. "We began e-mailing back and forth and, eventually, a committee picked it up and ran with it. I think that was in the early fall or, perhaps, even earlier. I was on the road at the time, and I told them the January timing would be perfect. That is a good time for almost all touring artists...a great time to catch them, when they're not on the road.

Sexton, a past vocal instructor of all of the performers, whether at church or at school, remains shy about taking up much of the spotlight. "This concert is certainly something I have always dreamed of, but I don't know that I can take that credit," Sexton said. They (Shetley and Wilson) had the vision to push for it." And, in fact, Sexton explained, it was both men who really got the i's dotted and t's crossed, going behind the scenes to negotiate final show dates and contract details with all the artists.

Tickets to the Sunday night acoustic performance at the Opera House are sold out. However, Monday night tickets remain available in both the KHS Auditorium main floor and balcony seating areas, at price levels of $100, $125, $150, $175 and $200.

Crow is excited about her latest opportunity to perform for hometown crowds. "I'm really looking forward to both shows. At the Opera House acoustic performance, it'll be exciting because, when you see artists strip down like that, you really get a sense of their talent and who they are. Then, the next night, when the bands plug in and truly give it their all, it's quite something to see," she said.

This will be Crow's fourth headliner in Kennett. In July of 1996, she performed in a KEF benefit concert at the KHS Metz Cherry Football Stadium. In September of 1999, as the Southeast Missouri State University-Kennett campus was getting up and running, she performed at the American Legion Building, to help raise money for area scholarships. And, in November of 2010, she played the Opera House, in another benefit for KEF.

Those performances have brought along a variety of bands. "I started my solo career 23 years ago. My first band, I put together with all St. Louis players," Crow remembered. "The next band, we played together for 13 years. They came from all over...two from the U.K., two from Atlanta, one from Oakland. Then, I released '100 Miles from Memphis,' which was rhythm and blues, so the band changed completely. It was very large. Now, they're all from Nashville. They're fabulous, and that's the band that will be with me in Kennett," she said

While the Kennett Crossroads concert will benefit a pair of KHS programs, Crow's dedication to her hometown has never stopped at the schoolyard curbside. The Sheryl Crow Aquatic Center was built in 2005, after the old city pool in Jones Park was condemned. Crow has also been a huge supporter of the Delta Children's Home, in Kennett. "I have an incredibly generous fan base, which holds a birthday drive for the Home every year, "Crow said. She also helped to build the new KHS tennis courts. "Well, you know, Dad always played tennis. So did I. I grew up, playing on those courts. Tennis is a great sport, something we can do and enjoy all our lives. The courts were dilapidated, so we redid them."

Crow reached out to tennis legend, Billie Jean King, for help. "I met her years ago. I had done a couple of fundraisers for the Women's Tennis Association. They had an auction one year, and I bought a couple of chances to play against her, on Center Court, at the U.S. Open," Crow recalled "It was my dad's 75th birthday, so we all flew to New York, and that was his present. It was such a great outing for the family, and my nephews, Bradley and Chase, even got to serve as ball boys for Billie Jean King."

Kennett has always enjoyed the richest depths of musical talent. As the local saying goes, "There must be something in the water." But, when it comes to that talent, the Crow household must have had an extra water spigot over the years. "Both my parents have always been, and still are, avid music fans. They exposed us to all different kinds of music. My mother (Bernice) has always had one of the finest voices in town. And, as most of Kennett knows, Dad plays in a rock band," Crow chuckled. In addition to her stunning vocals, Bernice is a long-time piano instructor, and husband, Wendell, plays in the local band, 'The Usual Suspects.' He has even occasionally appeared on the road with his daughter. "As rock and roll goes, I definitely didn't have a tortured childhood," laughed Crow. "I grew up with very loving, very giving parents."

The family talent doesn't stop there. Sisters Kathy and Karen are also gifted singers and pianists, and Kathy is a talented songwriter, as well. Crow's brother, Steve, a successful construction contractor, also mixes into the family's musical brew. "He went a different direction, but he, too, is very musical. He's got a great ear and can, dead-on, sing any guitar solo or whistle string lines. He's a big music lover, and he also plays a bit of piano."

The Crow family has also been involved in another music genre, locally: jazz. Both Bernice and Wendell played in a local, swing band years ago, "The Kicks Band," which featured a group of talented jazz musicians who regularly performed at a variety of community events. Bernice sang vocals, while Wendell played trumpet. "One of my most cherished memories is hearing my parents come home, late at night, playing their records on our old Magnavox. My sisters and I would sit at the top of the stairs, and even fall asleep there, wondering what was going on, on the other side of that wall. It was magical. I have great memories of it," Crow recalled.

These days, Crow has little ones of her own to tuck into bed at night, in Nashville...a pair of young sons, Wyatt and Levi. Since their earliest days, both boys have routinely gone out on the road with their mom. Crow added, "It's a bit trickier, now that Wyatt's in school. But, yes, I still take them out with me, whenever I can. I also do a lot of red-eye's. I try to, at least, put them in bed or wake up with them in the morning. Our rule is to never be more than two nights away from each other."

The rest of Crow's family is also a frequent visitor on the road. "Steve and his family come out as much as they can. And, in fact, my parents and Kathy recently joined me for an eight-day tour of Scotland, Ireland and England. I also played London's Royal Albert Hall on that trip, a huge, old Shakespearean theater, which is my absolute favorite place to play in the world," said Crow.

Once the holidays are over, and the "Diner" preview run closes, Crow will return to Washington, D.C., to perform in a concert tribute to singer and songwriter, Emmylou Harris. Shortly afterward, she'll return to Kennett, for the Crossroads concert. "Everyone who knows me knows that Kennett is my beloved community, my first home, and I continue to get home quite often. Having come from such a supportive community, I'm glad to be a part of the Crossroads concert line-up," Crow said.

Sexton is more than happy to welcome her. "I truly believe that Sheryl's success has inspired our students, after her, to believe that it is possible to follow your dream and succeed. I am sure her success had a very positive influence on Trent, David and Noll and, hopefully, many students yet to come. Our community is truly blessed with talent," Sexton said.

For more details about Kennett Crossroads, or to purchase tickets, visit www.KEFconcert.com.

SOURCE: The Daily Dunklin Democrat


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