– By Cary K. & Victoria Conover –

The Clausen Center seemed aglow with electricity as the patrons awaited the introduction of Suzy Bogguss, the evening’s star attraction. Theater-goers seemed as excited as a three year old running with a pair of scissors, and well they should! Ticket holders have learned over the previous forty-nine performances here that they were soon to be richly rewarded with a top-notch, first-class experience.

Suzy Bogguss, the acclaimed CMA, ACM, and Grammy award-winning singer, brought her entire treasury of collective experiences for her Holstein performance. Whether performing for a command performance at the White House, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Regis and Kelly or Holstein’s own Clausen Center, she truly is the consummate entertainer. The two gloves fit the hand perfectly with her accompanists: a double bass player, Charlie, and Craig, a country western acoustic guitar player from a small island off the northern Scotland coast. (I know, weird!).

After growing up in a small town just across the river in Illinois with her brother, who played football for the University of Iowa, Suzy spent almost five years living in a camper, traveling the country as a troubadour. Her dad was a machinist for International Harvester, and her growing up years included activities like snipe-hunting, so Suzy was the perfect fit for the Clausen Center’s eighth year Opening Night!

From the very first song, Suzy had us. I mean lock, stock, and barrel, she had us. A rich, alto voice that was perfectly suited to storytelling served her well. Her melodies were honest and true: “you change just like the weather,” her vocal stories revealing: “I’m fallin’ for a cowboy in a Coupe de Ville,” and her endearing small town qualities were seeping throughout every song and personal story: “I make the little spider cookies at Halloween and everything.” As she referenced our “intimate audience,” she let loose with many stories and one-liners, not only to entertain, but also to give us her insight, perceptions and humor. “Did you ever buy a cured ham and then wonder what it had?”

Suzy has had a life-long love of Merle Haggard’s music and did a tribute album to Merle called “Lucky” from which she performed the title cut, “I Always Get Lucky with You” – a haunting, smoky, grab-at-your-gut piece of satisfaction. “These are meaty melodies, meaty stories,” she says of his songs. “I love sinking my teeth into them.” Well, if Merle provides the meat, Suzy provides the dessert! The audience was treated to a beautiful guitar solo in the song, “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and the tribute included the always-fun, “Let’s Chase Each Other Round the Room Tonight”.

As a frequent guest on PBS’s “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor, Suzy toured with him in 2009. A Keillor trademark was an audience sing-a-long. This led to heart-gripping, emotion-grabbing songs that pull you in as if Suzy was a vacuum and the audience spilled Cheerios. Those songs included the gorgeous, “Oh Shenandoah” and “Red River Valley” and “I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” You couldn’t not feel both the empathy and the jubilation from her offerings. At one point in the show, the house lights came up and absolutely everyone was focused on Suzy with rapt attention, not so much as anyone scratching an itch, and all leaning forward. She had us!

Her flip side gave us toe-tapping, knee-slapping, ‘ye haw’ songs like, “Drive South” and “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” with a little bit of yodeling thrown in for good measure. Her ability to transform and pull us into her musical world made her mesmerizing.

This writer was able to talk with Suzy at the conclusion of her performance, and she left me with these thoughts about the Rosemary Clausen Center for Performing Arts facility: “You can have anybody here, playing in that auditorium, anyone that you want in the whole wide world . . . you can bring in any entertainment you want.” High praise from someone who has seen it all and experienced most of it.

Remember the “electric glow” from the beginning of the concert? Well, it followed everyone out of the auditorium and into their cars, and it lasted throughout the ensuing hours, days, and weeks. Well done, Suzy Bogguss!