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Published: Sunday, 6/30/2002

Jewel in the rough

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Neither bucking colt nor broken collarbone can stop Jewel Kilcher from her appointed rounds.

“I get bored easily. I like to work. I hate canceling shows. I think I'll be all right,” Jewel said in a phone interview from the Texas ranch of her boyfriend, rodeo star Ty Murray.

After getting thrown from a colt in April, the 28-year-old singer-songwriter had to make a few adjustments to her concert tour, which comes to town Saturday night at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater.

“I can't play guitar, and I broke some ribs, which makes singing really hard,” she said before launching her tour in Europe last month.

The Alaskan-born pop star has recovered almost completely, strumming an acoustic guitar and showing no lingering effects to her voice, according to concert reviewers. Her only limitation is that she is still not playing the electric guitar onstage.

While Jewel is determined to keep her commitments, she acknowledged that it was not too long ago that she almost quit the music business altogether.

The petite blonde music star with the cover-girl looks had become disillusioned with her chosen career. After struggling to create meaningful art, living for a while in her van while playing coffee houses in San Diego, Jewel soared to fame in 1995 with her Atlantic Records debut, “Pieces of You.”

That disc sold 10 million copies and, combined with 1998's “Spirit” and 1999's “Joy: A Holiday Collection,” Jewel sold 23 million CDs and wrote a best-selling book of poetry, A Night Without Armor.

But she felt shackled by the paradox of being a pop star with heart - trying to be true to her art while facing pressures to produce “product” to be marketed and sold.

“I think I was unhappy, which is completely ungrateful considering the position I was in,” Jewel said. “I missed writing. I missed the craft I was in. I spent more time promoting than I did creating. I wasn't happy, so I quit.”

She continued to write, she said, including more collaborations, but there was a sense of freedom in not knowing if the songs would end up on a recording.

Jewel's hiatus lasted for a year and then stretched into two before she decided she was ready to go back into the studio.

The new material wound up on “This Way,” Jewel's fourth Atlantic CD, released in November.

It was essential, she said, that she not get on the endless promotional treadmill this time around. She made sure she had enough space to keep her muse from withering under the media glare.

“Even if I sell less records this time,” she said, “it's a more sustainable lifestyle for me.”

She also came back to the spotlight wearing a cowboy hat, T-shirt, boots, and jeans - forsaking designer clothes and Madison Avenue makeup she often wore earlier in her career. “It's every girl's fantasy to get dressed up, but now I want to be more of what I am in everyday life - blue jeans and messy hair,” she said.

Jewel recently launched a pet project called “Soul City Caf ,” which gives unknown artists a chance to perform in a “pre-opening slot” at select concerts. About a dozen artists will take turns at eight select shows.

She said she was inspired by artists who may have tremendous talent but, because they don't fit into the music-industry mold, often go unnoticed by the general public. She cited Townes Van Zant, John Prine, and Tom Waits as examples.

“There's a very narrow way of making it through the industry and there's a lot of great stuff outside of that,” Jewel said. “There's just no place for unusual acts to develop. And it would be sorrowful if artists like that now don't get a chance to develop. So I'm trying to look for a way ... to give them a platform and a venue.”

Soul City Caf won't be featured in Toledo but it will be part of Jewel's shows Wednesday at MeadowBrook Music Festival in Rochester Hills, Mich., and July 7 at Nautica Pavilion in Cleveland.

Remembering how she got started, Jewel said selecting the artists for Soul City Caf was problematic. “When I was 18 and living in my van, I didn't have a demo. And even if I did, my demo wouldn't even have been any good. So we went off local buzz. We looked for people with local followings.”

Jewel said that another interest she hopes to pursue further is acting. She made her big-screen debut in Ang Lee's 1999 Civil War drama, Ride with the Devil.

“I had a great time ... and I do hope to keep acting. I've been looking at scripts for three years. It's hard to find great scripts and a great director that wants me and also happens to fit in my schedule. Thank God I have a day job.”

Jewel will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater with M2M opening. Tickets are $28 to $38 from Ticketmaster and the Toledo Sports Arena box office, 419-698-4545.



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