sarah and strait

sarah johnsAs a teenager, Sarah Johns sat in the rafters of Rupp Arena watching George Strait sing songs of Texas swing and country contentment.

 “That was the first concert I went to at Rupp Arena,” said the Jessamine county native who has made major inroads with country radio in recent months thanks to the old school country singles The One in the Middle and He Hates Me, as well as her debut Sony album, Big Love in a Small Town.

Johns will be in for a better view of her favorite country artist on Friday when she opens Strait’s first Rupp show in twelve years. And with a wealth of family members from nearby Pollard cheering her on, she expects to be deliriously overwhelmed.

“It’s going to take everything in me to get up there and not cry my eyes out,” Johns said. “George and I have the same manager. So I went to Irv (Woosley) and said, ‘You have to get me on this tour.’ And he said, ‘Sarah, this is the deal. George will pick. That’s how it’s always been. I can’t talk him into nothing.’ ”

Luckily, Strait selected Johns as a touring mate. Now comes the daunting task of visiting the mammoth Rupp as a performer instead of a patron.

“I used to go to all the shows at Rupp. I remember seeing Sara Evans there one night and just crying. My girlfriends looked at me and said, ‘Sara, what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I know I can do that. But I don’t know how.’ And now I’m doing it.”

And doing it in a big way, to boot. Big Love is a rarity among major label country debuts in that Johns co-wrote all 11 of the album’s traditionally charged songs.

“I said to the label, ‘Look, I’m telling you right now, I’m not doing a bunch of pop-country music.’ I mean, I just refused to do it. Country music is supposed to be country. The label respected me on all of those fronts. We even looked for other songs to do. But everyone just said, ‘They just don’t sound like you. Your stuff is more your story.’ So everyone was really good about letting me have a say on my first record.”

(above photo of Sarah Johns by Russ Harrington)

George Strait, Little Big Town and Sarah Johns perform at 8 pm Friday at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $56 and $66. Call (859) 233-3535.

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