When Heidi Newfield decided to exit her successful trio Trick Pony in
2006 and embark on a solo career, the ambitious country singer knew the
road ahead wouldn't be an easy one.
"It's really hard to leave a group. It's been proven in country music
time and again that if you are a lead singer, to go out on your own
often doesn't work," says the blond, petite Newfield, checking in from
Nashville before a songwriting session for her new album. "But I was
excited by that challenge."
All she needed, Newfield says, was the right song to make her mark.
And find it — or, rather, write it — she did, in 2008's anthemic "Johnny
and June," from her first solo CD, "What Am I Waiting For."
Inspired by her own relationship with Johnny Cash and his wife and
musical partner, June Carter Cash, Newfield co-wrote a reverent and
universal love song. "Not everyone can say that they spent quiet time
with them and got to know them, especially toward the end of their
lives," Newfield solemnly recalls. "That was a very unique experience,
and (my co-writers and I) thought it would be a great song idea. But
it's not just a tribute song, a tribute to a great love, but a song
about all of us and the type of love we're looking for."
On Tuesday night, country fans at the Scranton Cultural Center will
be able to share in some of that love when Newfield belts out the hit as
part of Froggy 101's intimate Guitars and Stars 3 concert. An informal
evening of mostly acoustic-based performances, the guitar-pull assembles
a posse of Nashville's finest, including "Small Town USA" singer Justin
Moore, red-hot up-and-comer Sunny Sweeney and bluesy outlaw Randy
Houser, one of country's most powerful voices.
"I recently met Sunny at an event here in Nashville, and Justin has
that rocking thing, so I'm digging what he's doing," Newfield says. "And
Randy is one of my dear friends. He and I have done a lot of shows
together and lean toward the same vein of music, even though he's a
Mississippi boy and I'm from Northern California. We really appreciate
the history of country music."
For Newfield, that means classic artists such as Conway Twitty,
Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and, of course, Cash.
"I grew up on a big horse ranch right in the heart of California's
wine country, and that lifestyle naturally lends itself to country
music. You go to a horse show and rodeo, and they may have George Jones
playing," says Newfield, who competed in roping, barrel racing and
cutting events. "I kind of did it all, and I miss it dearly. But I
traded a six-horse trailer in for a 30-foot Prevost bus, and I'd take
that trade-off any day."
With the success she has seen so far, who can blame her?
As the front woman for Trick Pony, who in 2002 burned up the then
First Union Arena in Wilkes-Barre as part of Brooks & Dunn's Neon
Circus tour, the charismatic Newfield helped propel a string of hits up
the country charts, including "Pour Me," "On a Night like This" and
"Just What I Do." And some of those songs, she promises, will be in her
set Tuesday night.
"I look at doing Trick Pony songs as a luxury. We worked very hard as
a band, and I'm very proud of the music we made. It's crazy not to do
at least a couple of those," she says, noting the importance of audience
interaction at these types of shows. "When we're up there singing and
playing, the rowdier the crowd gets, the more into it we get. And that
Trick Pony stuff gives off a lot of energy."
As does her swaggering new song "Stay Up Late," the first single from her almost-finished sophomore album.
" 'Stay Up Late' has a Rolling Stones type of sexy groove. You can't
help but move or shake something to it," she says with a laugh. "It's a
singalong that everyone can relate to. And that's the huge thing (in
country music) today: It needs to be relatable."
In that department, the approachable Newfield is certainly a natural.
An online teaser video for "Stay Up Late" includes footage of the
singer interacting with fans, as well as her view from the road, much of
it shot by Newfield herself. She says she's never too far from her
pocket video camera. "I'll have my FlipCam with me in Scranton too," she
teases. " And we'll be filming everybody."
An expert harmonica player, Newfield also will bring that along.
"I picked up a harmonica when I was a kid and started listening to a
lot of old blues," she recalls, offering yet another glimpse into her
musical upbringing, one Newfield is looking forward to revealing to the
Scranton Cultural Center crowd.
"This is an opportune time for us to share with the listeners what
provoked us to write a certain song," she says, happy to show a
different side of herself as a performer. "Oftentimes, the audience
leaves these acoustic shows learning a lot more about you."