LeAnn Rimes routinely performs in big cities all over the world. You’ll see her on television sitcoms and in tabloids. On Saturday, you can see her at Gypsum’s Lundgren Theater.
“Small towns are fun to perform for – I think the fans appreciate it more,” she said after some initial confusion on the phone.
Her 6-year-old stepson had answered, told me his dad wasn’t home and then hung up. It turned out to be a great ice-breaker. When I finally got through, I felt like I was connecting to a regular human being rather than a tabloid, larger-than-life sensation.
Rimes’ 6- and 10-year-old stepsons entered her life when she married Eddie Cibrian in 2011.
“Life is completely different with the kids,” she told me. “I have a whole different input with them around.”
Her relationship with Cibrian stirred a lot of tabloid controversy in itself since it began in 2009, which Rimes acknowledged on her web page, leannrimesworld.com.
“I met my husband Eddie under complicated circumstances, and you can Google that, but if you really want my truth, just listen to the music,” she wrote.
Her latest album, “Spitfire,” came out in June. Rimes said it’s the most personally revealing music she’s done so far and she wants to do more.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so candid before,” she said. “It’s liberating. It’s changed the way I approach music.”
I asked Rimes if it was scary to allow that kind of vulnerability after everything she’s been through with the media.
“It feels good – there are so many lies out there about me and ‘Spitfire’ was the first time I’ve been able to have a voice,” she said. “There is no sugar coating or holding back on the album. After writing the song, ‘Borrowed,’ I feel limitless because I don’t think I can be any more honest than that.”
“It’s such a compliment that people connect with it and tell me how they relate,” she added. “I want to be able to elaborate on what I did with ‘Spitfire,’ which I think is just really building on the humanity.”
Rimes is also the author of three books. Two of them are for children.
“A song on the album originated from one of the books,” she said. “I’d like to write more books in the future.”
Coincidentally, all three Gypsum Daze performers are authors. Collin Raye has a collection of memoirs coming out soon and young IMAJ already published a three-part romance novel in 2011.
Raye has known Rimes and IMAJ for some time. He speaks highly of both women and predicted IMAJ is destined for stardom, expressing a sort of parental concern for the challenges ahead for her.
Since rising into the spotlight as a 13-year-old, Rimes can speak to those challenges.
“No one is ever ready for fame,” she said. “It’s an interesting ride and you have to stay focused on the music or whatever it is that you do.”
In spite of all the hardships that the constant media attention has brought into her life, Rimes doesn’t complain.
“It’s nice to have all the things I do at only 30 years old,” she said.
One of those things is a tour stop in Gypsum.
“I enjoy Colorado,” she said. “We visit Aspen all the time and I’ve performed several times on the Front Range.”
But this will be her first time in Gypsum?
“Yeah, this will be my first time in Gypsum,” she said.
Collin Raye said he always looks forward to tour stops in Colorado.
Saturday will be the country musician’s second performance in Gypsum – he played at the end of last year’s Dirty Dozen race.
“I love Colorado so much,” he said. “It’s on my short list of places to retire.”
Raye rose to fame in 1991 with “Love, Me” and has become known for his heartfelt songs that are often heard at weddings and funerals. He makes a point to mention that he also has humorous songs, too, such as “Hurricane Jane.”
Part of his reputation comes from the fact that he continues to champion social causes and benefit concerts to this day. He was presented Country Radio Seminar’s Humanitarian of the Year award in 2001 in recognition of his issue-oriented music and charity work.
“Someone is always asking for help and I have a hard time saying no,” Raye said. “I have a tender heart. It started when I was about 12 years old. I would see a kid getting bullied and I’d tell the bullies to back off. I guess I have a little bit of John Wayne in me. I think that’s a microcosm of America – we want to be the bigger-than-life guy protecting the little guy.”
According to his website – collinraye.com – organizations Raye has supported include Boys Town, First Steps, Al-Anon, Special Olympics, Country Cares About AIDS, Catholic Relief Services, Parade of Pennies, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, The Tennessee Task Force Against Domestic Violence, The Emily Harrison Foundation, Childhelp USA, Silent Witness National Initiative, Easter Seals and Make a Difference Day.
Raye may be a full-blooded humanitarian but he doesn’t pretend to be innocent, either.
“I’ve made all the mistakes a man can make,” he said. “Right now I’m looking back on my life and writing a book. I hope to have it out in August.”
He said it was a tough process to pick the most important stories from his life.
“I started 15 months ago and I thought it would take six months,” he said. “It came out to 1,400 pages. I thought I had already left a lot of things out but I was told to reduce it to 300 pages so that its thickness wouldn’t intimidate readers. It’s been hard to pick which stories are the most important.”
Ever the craftsman who names his songs and albums very deliberately, the book is a big reason why his current tour is titled, “That’s My Story.”
“I always take my album titles and such very seriously,” he said.
He said he is enjoying this new phase in his career because it gives him more time to perfect his craft.
“In the early years of my career I was on such a treadmill, there was tremendous pressure to keep the hits coming,” Raye said. “It was a lot of stress and it was difficult to have the artistry I wanted to have at the time. Nowadays, I have time to think about what I want to record.”
He said he’s a better musician than ever before even though he is not releasing material at his former rate.
“I have the same ability, chops-wise, as when I was 25,” he said. “I think I sound even better now that I don’t have the pressure. I hear old recordings of myself and it sounds off to me.”
That’s saying something, considering that Raye has been nominated five times for country music’s Male Vocalist of the Year. Hearing him burst into song during a phone interview as he tried to articulate a point, it’s clear that he loves what he does.
Besides another visit to Colorado, Raye is also looking forward to reconnecting with LeAnn Rimes, who is the Gypsum Daze headliner.
“I’ve known LeAnn since she first came out – she was very young,” he said. “I love that girl. I haven’t seen her in years. I’m excited for that. I always had a feeling she was going to be a person who people stretched and pulled – and they have – and I think she’s handled it all very well.”
At 23, IMAJ is an artist’s artist, which longtime country music star Collin Raye will attest to.
“She is the real deal,” said Raye, who has toured with IMAJ. “I love working with her. She is a bright young lady who is going to be a super star or the CEO of a major company.”
IMAJ said she was always raised to be her own person, and she is definitely that.
She wrote a romance story titled “Harlow” as a screen play and then converted the script into a novel by the same name after a friend in Hollywood encouraged her. It only took her a month to write the book and the trilogy was published in 2011.
Now she’s on tour for her self-titled debut album, “Country Darling IMAJ,” which was released in 2012 and features the single, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
“I just started seriously promoting the album,” she said.
Her Saturday performance at Gypsum Daze marks her first time in Colorado.
“I’ve been trying to come for a long time,” she said. “Even though I’ve never seen Colorado before, I have a strange desire to move there.”
Though she only has one album out so far, IMAJ has been writing songs since she was little.
“My dad would be writing music with me in his lap,” she said.
“I recorded my first little song when I was 5 years old. It was for police officers killed in the line of duty, titled ‘I Care for You.’”
Her dad was in the Broadway musical “Hair Spray” and played Detective Tubbs on “Miami Vice” in the 1980s.
“My mom was also a singer,” IMAJ said. “I grew up in a very creative environment, with a lot of painting, music and story telling. I guess the story-telling element is why I gravitate to country music.”
She is the second oldest with four brothers in her family.
“We are all different,” she said. “We have the full spectrum of personalities in our family. My parents were kind of like hippies and I grew up believing in my dreams.”
A pivotal time in her life came when she was 21. She volunteered to spend time with hospice patients and became friends with a cancer patient named Kirk.
“He wrote poetry and we ended up writing five songs on the guitar together before he passed away,” IMAJ said.
Two of the songs – “Passport” and “Into the Blue” – are on her album.
“When I first volunteered, it hadn’t occurred to me that an attachment would happen,” she said. “I learned a lot about love and I miss him. I’m still in contact with his wife.”
That humanitarian streak is another thing IMAJ has in common with Collin Raye, who has championed numerous social causes and benefits in his career.
“I love the way Collin interacts with his fans,” IMAJ said. “He reminds me of my father. And I can’t wait to meet LeAnn Rimes – I’ve heard so much about her!”
She added that members of her entourage are looking forward to Gypsum Daze activities as well.
“My friend Ron is looking forward to the jalapeno-eating contest,” she said.