It’s fitting that Jo Dee Messina is performing a concert on the Fourth of July — at L.L. Bean in Freeport — since her background reads like some author’s notion of the classic American success story.

Her family is Italian, settling first in Boston, before moving to smaller towns near Framingham. Her father was a high school football coach, and young Jo Dee spent her Friday nights under the lights watching that great American game.

She came to love country music, the music that emerged from the farms, hollows and small towns of rural America. She came to love it, she says, because it was the first music that spoke to her. Even though country music has little to say, generally, about Italian heritage or Massachusetts.

“I remember being about 12, thinking about boys a lot, and when I heard those songs I thought ‘They’re singing about me.’ I felt like somebody finally got me,” said Messina, 41, who now lives in Nashville. “Those songs by Reba McEntire and The Judds, they were just really relatable to me.”

So Messina did something else that’s closely tied in with our idea of the American Dream. She left home, with just the clothes on her back (and maybe some cash in her pocket), to pursue her own personal dream. At 19 she left Massachusetts for Nashville, not knowing a soul or having a clue what she’d be able to do there.

“All my friends were going to college and moving on with their lives, so I either needed to find a career or just give 110 percent and go for it,” Messina said.

She went for it.

Now, more than 20 years later, she’s an established country music star, with a half-dozen or so songs that have topped the Billboard country charts. She’ll be playing a free concert on the night of July Fourth at L.L. Bean in Freeport. The show is part Bean’s day of Fourth of July activities, and part of the kick-off of four days celebrating the retail store’s 100th anniversary.

Earlier in the day at Bean, music fans will be treated to two free shows by singer-songwriter Ellis Paul. Paul was raised in Aroostook County, but first gained success as a singer based out of the Boston music scene.

Messina said she’s psyched to be doing a free show on the Fourth of July, a time when people’s spirits and energy are high.

“For me, this business has always been about doing music I love and making fans happy,” said Messina. “Any song I’ve ever had a hit with was a song I really felt passionate about. I’ve done songs that I didn’t relate to, or didn’t really believe, and they’ve never done well.”

Because music has been a passion for Messina, she was a passionate fan of several artists when she was younger. Once she got established in the music business, she got to meet and play shows with some of those artists.

Which can be good. But it can also be bad.

For instance, Messina said that meeting McEntire was “really cool” because she found her to be “nicer than I imagined.” Messina said she found McEntire to be “very blue collar,” and to be a person who believes in hard work.

On the other hand, she found it “heartbreaking” to perform with a male pop star she had once idolized.

“I used to sing his songs when I was a kid, he was really big and I was all about this guy,” said Messina, opting not to name the singer. “But I met him and he was such a butthead. I was so devastated.”

Messina said her passion for music comes from the fact that music became “her companion” as a child, around the time her parents split up.

“Music was my friend, my companion and my outlet,” she said. “It’s how I worked my way through a lot of stuff. When I had a hard situation I was dealing with, I’d write a song about it.”

Because she believes a good song has to come from the heart, Messina bristles when talking about the music business today, especially the idea of tightly-focused musical formats on radio. Songs, she believes, can’t be crafted by “a guy in cubicle” to fit a specific format.

“I guess that’s why it bothers me when people try to crunch music down and format it,” said Messina. “That takes away from the meaning of it. Music has to be emotional.”

Let the fireworks begin.

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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Twitter: RayRouthier