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Country Roads

tvguide Home Town Girl Shania Twain Hits the Road for a Rousing Concert Special

Maybe it's the time of day or the prolonged absence from her native Canada. Whatever the reason, country superstar Shania Twain can't seem to get off the subject of hard-to-find snack foods as her tour bus rolls across America. It's 4:00 pm in Little Rock, Ark., and the 33 year old cheerfully confesses for the creamy sweetness of Canadian butter.

"I love our Canadian butter," Twain says with an audible sigh. "My assistant is from my home town and she brings butter back with her for the bus."

Falling victim to that famous 4 p.m., blood-sugar plunge, Twain is lost in a junk-food reverie as she thinks about home.

"If you were living here for months or for year after year, you start to really crave the things that they don't have," she explains. "I mean, Glosette raisins! You can't get Glosette raisins here! Same thing, you can't get dill pickle chips here. I love dill pickle chips!"

It is such things, Twain reasons, that set us apart from our American neighbours. "It would be harder for me to give you a grander picture," she insists. "Of course, television is different here too. I do miss Canadian news and all that. So it's just a lot of little things that add up to make it different."

In one meaningful sense, that's why Shania Live, her hour-long special which airs Sunday (Sunday December 6, 1998), is such a poignant postcard from the road. Recorded this year at a concert in Dallas, Twain's peppy, countrified revue might originate from deep in the heart of the Lone Star state, but the show's window dressing is strictly Canuck. "Are you ready Canada?" she hollers from the stage, a greeting that must have struck her Texas fans as bewildering.

"I did that as a way of addressing Canada," she says during an interview with TV GUIDE. "Because it's for them."

What she didn't have to stage-manage was the proliferation of Canadian flags that festooned the Dallas arena where the concert was held.

"That just was there," she says. "That's stuff not put in. It's real. Almost in every city, we have people in the audience with Canadian flags. I don't know whether it's Canadians who want me to know they are there or if it's just Americans who are doing it as a courtesy."

One thing is certain. The recent global success of Twain and her female counterparts Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan, has elevated Canada's women performers to almost mythic status in the States.

At last count, Twain's 1995 disc, The Woman In Me, had sold more than 13 million copies worldwide, netting her a 1996 Grammy Award for Best Country Album. Her 1997 followup, Come On Over, has shown similar "legs", with its tuneful ballad, "You're Still The One", earning huge crossover play on country and pop radio.

This prompted Rolling Stone to put the singer on its coveted front cover just this past September.

"I always thought it was a big advantage being Canadian," she muses. "Canada is a cool country. Wherever I go, internationally, they love Canadians. People get the impression it's hard being accepted in the U.S. if you're a Canadian and so many tend not to want to promote the fact that they're Canadian. But I found it to be totally opposite."

American's have found Twain - with her stories of working in the bush as a teenage lumberjack with her late father, an Ojibwa Indian - to be terribly exotic. "I've hasd fun with it," she says. "The fact that I'm not from the States means I've got something else to talk about."

During this musing on foreign acceptance, the little Canadian girl in Twian - the one who misses all those details of life above the 49th parallel - emerges once again.

"My home town, Timmins, has stil got a lot of corner stores," she notes. "That's very hard to find here." Twain's story, as it relates to her career, has become the stuff of ledgend. Born Eilleen Edwards, she was the second oldest of five children, At 21, her parents were killed in a car accident, and Twain was left to care for her younger siblings. To support them, she took a job as a house performer at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario, and changed her name to Shania (Ojibwa for "I'm on my way"), reflecting the Ojibwa origins of her late father.

In 1993, when she met producer and future husband Mutt Lange (a veteran dial twirler who had produced rock albums by Def Lepard, Bryan Adams and AC/DC), she finally found the studio visionary who could give lethal heft to her repertoire of eager, country-tinged tunes. That and her fresh-scrubbed but undeniably sexy looks, vaulted her, almost overnight, into the big time.

Twain, however, had her detractors. Country singer Steve Earle, referring to her skimpy, naval revealing outfits, dismissed her in an interview as "the highest-paid lap dancer in America." Others noticed that she seemed reluctant to tour, instead churning out stylish videos and making carefully managed promotional appearances.

In fact, it wasn't until May 29 of this year, when Twain launched her continent-crossing concert trek in Sudbury, Ont., that she put an end to rumours that she couldn't cut it live. The CBC special should rid any remaining doubters of her ability to engage an audience. With a huge backing band, led by a swinging fiddle section and a muscular, rock-style drummer, Twain veers from heel-kicking anthems to tender ballads with an assured stagecraft.

She says she wishes the special could have been taped at a Canadian location, but "it was the timing. We're not going back to Canada until next March. These things are completely ruled around dates." She says the current world tour "is the same 'me' you would have seen years ago in a rock club in some northern Canadian town.

"I'm no different in that sense. I've always been that type of performer. I've always been energetic, I've always been communicative with the audience."

She says she still draws on the skills she learned at Deerhurst, where her stock typically ran from Gershwin to Andrew Lloyd Webber. "What that gave me was experience understanding lighting, the way a show is put together, the way things are organized as a production. So I was ready completely for this." Six months into an exhaustive tour, Twain has tried to make her peripatetic lifestyle as comfortable as possible.

"It's not a typical touring bus," she says. "There's only room for three people, at the most four, to sleep on the bus. I've got a little dog dor for [her German Shepherd] Tim so he can go in and out. I've got a long lead so I don't have to get up at 6 to walk him.

Ever food-conscious, the vegetarian Twain has "an apartment-size kitchen which is designed to eat out of all the time." Her favourite road meal? "I eat almost the same thing every day when I'm on tour,"she says. "I eat a lot of soy beans and I drink tofu shakes every morning with fruit. And for dinner, I'll have some kind of bean dish. I don't eat meat, fish or eggs, but I do eat dairy." And of course the occasional bag of dill pickle potato chips.
Craig Macinnis, TV GUIDE, Dec 5-11/98 issue - cover

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