Wilson has a redneck state of mind

The country sensation from Nashville brings self-confidence to fans

August 07, 2004|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

To 3-year-old Grace, who woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night recently and climbed into bed with her, Gretchen Wilson is just "Mom."

To the rest of the world, though, she's "Redneck Woman," the country singer whose song of the same name shot up the charts so fast that the relative newcomer can now travel in comfort: two tour buses instead of one.

It was lunchtime yesterday when Wilson talked on her cell phone from one of those buses, but she had not been awake long. She had a rare chance to sleep in after a late show Thursday night. Her daughter was traveling with her, chattering in the background, as the buses headed toward a concert today at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge, and then on to Baltimore where Wilson will perform on Sunday at Parrot Island at Bohager's.

Her signature "Redneck Woman," which opens with the lines "Well, I ain't never/ been a Barbie doll type/ No, I can't drink that sweet champagne/ I'd rather drink beer all night," has struck a nerve.

Appearances across the country have been packed with fans who tell the Illinois native that she - along with her friend John Rich of the band Big & Rich - wrote their theme song.

"Some women come up to me and say, `I've never been a redneck a day in my life but I'm going out and buying a four-wheel-drive tomorrow,' and other women say, `I can't believe somebody finally wrote about me.'"

Wilson's Sunday concert is part of a promotional lead-up to WPOC's Sunday in the Country concert, on Sept. 19 at Merriweather Post Pavillion. And even though Wilson has never been to Baltimore (the closest so far was a concert in Washington), she is confident Charm City is full of redneck women.

They're everywhere, Wilson says, because the redneck woman is a state of mind. To see what she means, listen to her song: "I ain't no high class broad/ I'm just a product of my raisin'/ I say, `Hey, y'all' and `Yee-haw.' "

Wilson, who is 31, thinks her song is a hit because it speaks to women, like her, who want to celebrate who they are - instead of who they are not.

"I think the song is more about pride than about being a redneck. I think the idea you get from the song is it's OK to be who you are. The reason the song is redneck woman is that's who I am. That's my life and I'm happy with it."

Wilson came up with the idea while watching Country Music Television, watching scores of beautiful, near-perfect singers on the screen. She told her friend Rich she'd never be one of them and he jokingly told her she wasn't anything more than a "redneck woman."

That, as they say, was all she wrote.

Within months of the record's release on May 11, Wilson was wildly successful - and famous.

Now she's been on tour since May and is not looking at any extended time off until Christmas. She'll sing somewhere on New Year's Eve then take all of January to hunker down and write new material for her next record.

The hardest part of sudden fame - going from working-class roots in Pocahontas, Ill., raised by a single mother, to instant celebrity - has been losing private outings with her daughter.

"I can't just go to the mall with her anymore without being stopped to sign an autograph, and to her I'm just mom. When people stop me to sign an autograph, that's just delaying her getting to the toy store."

Wilson's daughter sometimes travels with her when the tour schedule allows them time together. They found a puppy while in Sanford, Fla., for a show, and the terrier keeps Grace entertained on the bus.

Grace will be with her mom in Baltimore, and if past shows are an indication, she'll be singing along. The toddler, who'll be 4 in November, knows the words to all the songs on her mom's album, "Here for the Party."

At Christmas, Grace asked her mom for a farm. Not just a pony but a real farm. She wanted chickens, cows, goats, the whole nine yards.

And she got it. Wilson recently bought a farm, and the first thing Grace does when she comes home now is throw on her muddy boots. She helps her mom brush down the horses, tote buckets of oats to the barn, and she sometimes rides the four-wheeler with Wilson.

Is the redneck woman raising a redneck girl?

As Wilson sings in the song's refrain, "Hell, yeah!"

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