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Artist:

Richie McDonald

Where are you calling from? The airport. I'm in Fresno, (Ariz.) and I'm heading to Austin, Texas, to play a benefit for the American Cancer Society. It's going to be one of those intimate settings where we get to tell the story behind a hit and then play the song.I'll probably (play) "I'm Already There" and "Mr. Mom." I'll also probably play some new (songs).

Have you been working on a lot of new music? I'm heading back (into) the studio and trying to lay some new stuff down. I'm recording a Christmas album. I've been busy since my CD ("I Turn To You") came out last year. It was an inspirational CD. When I left the group Lonestar I felt like it was time to do the things that I'd been wanting to do for a long time. (My latest CD) is really one of my favorite.

What were your inspirations for your new material? Faith and family. As a writer, that's where my heart's been for some time now.Watching (my kids) do things and say things gives me ideas for songs. The great thing about country music is that I'm a writer and singer. Telling a story is what I get to do.

Are your kids following in your footsteps? Well, they're showing early signs. My son Rhett, who is 13, takes guitar and piano lessons. He loves music. My daughters . . . like to sing. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Our house is always full of music.

How did you get into music as a kid? My grandfather played in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He played every stringed instrument. When I went to (my grandparents') house in the summer, I loved to go into the (music room). I was fascinated by it. At an early age, I thought I wanted to play music. As I got older, I loved singing. I was in the choir in junior high. I started playing country shops and clubs. They were like a stepping stone to get to Nashville years later.

Is it strange to play gigs by yourself now? When I look around stage, I kind of miss the whole band interaction. The (other members of Lonestar) were like brothers to me. Leaving the band was a tough decision. It was the hardest decision since getting married. (Laughs) I don't have any regrets. I took a leap of faith because I was at a crossroads. I wanted to slow down and be able to watch my children grow up. I still want to write and record and do shows and touch people (with my music). If there is a way to balance everything, that's what I'm looking for.

Do you like to play fair shows? They are one of my favorite venues. One of my favorite fairs was the York County Fair (when I played there with Lonestar.) It's great seeing the grandstand packed full of people. That's a special feeling, and I'm looking forward to coming back. I haven't played a fair in a long time. I wrote a song called "County Fair" on the album "Let's Be Us Again." It talked about the family atmosphere and corn dogs. I love that song.

You've shared the stage with legends. Have any stories to share? Two weeks ago, I played with Ronnie Millsap and The Oak Ridge Boys. I grew up listening to them in Texas. We were taking a photograph and Ronnie asked me, "Are you smiling?" I said, "I'm smiling really big." He grabbed my rear end and said, "I bet you're smiling bigger now." (Laughs) It was just one of those memories . . . that will stay with you.

Want to share the stage with any artists? There (are) a lot of great new artists coming out. Carrie Underwood . . . has an incredible voice. I think she'll withstand the test of time. Tim McGraw is still pretty cool in my book. Old or young - there's just a lot of great talent in country. People give advice and are willing to help the (young musicians) out. We've all been down that same road.

Who gave you advice? (I met) Randy Owen from the group Alabama at the after-parties of music awards. He always had something nice and kind to say. Success hasn't changed that.

You write music for NASCAR. Are you a racing fan? I am now. I wrote a song called "Race Day," and it was a perfect fit. I didn't know there was a NASCAR program called "RaceDay" at the time. It airs every Saturday before a race. I've been coming up with a new song every week like Hank Williams Jr. did for Monday Night Football.I learned a lot about the drivers and the track. There were a lot of things I didn't know about NASCAR.

- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF

If you go

WGTY-FM (107.7) presents former Lonestar frontman Richie McDonald in concert Tuesday. on the WGTY Stage at the York Fairgrounds, 334 Carlisle Ave. in West Manchester Township.

Tickets are $6. For details, visit www.richiemcdonald.com.

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