Uncle Kracker's Thanksgiving day is his own again.
But the prospect of spending part of the holiday weekend playing music for a home town crowd still makes him, well, "Smile."
For a few years the former hype man from Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker Band -- who started a solo career in 2000 and has scored hits such as "Follow Me," "Smile" and a chart-topping cover of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" -- played an annual Thanksgiving night show at the Emerald Theatre in Mt. Clemens. But that became, in Uncle Kracker's own words, "just a pain in the a**."
"Y'know, you'd like to celebrate Thanksgiving -- just Thanksgiving," explains Kracker, 37, who was born Matt Shafer and resides in Harrison Township, where he grew up, with is wife Melanie and their three children. "It's non-stop all day long, anyway, and it just got bumped up a notch to have to do a show -- running to sound check in-between family stuff, people never leaving, just sitting around 'til showtime.
"It just got to be too much. It was a long day."
Black Friday in Royal Oak, on the other hand, works much better. "And I'm not," says Kracker, who was steered away from the stores by a mother who calls it "amateur day. She's done before Thanksgiving comes, even. When Christmas comes, she doesn't even remember what she got everybody -- that's how early she shops."
Kracker, meanwhile, heads into this weekend's show with a big new year ahead of him. 2012 will bring Kracker's fifth album, "Postcards From Home," which should be out in February or early March. He acknowledges that this one is "a country album," recorded in Nashville with producer-songwriter Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, Zac Brown Band, George Strait), which capitalizes on "Smile's" Top 10 showing on the country charts. But Kracker also promises that "it's a different take on a country record," both in terms of tone and topics.
"We use less pedal steel, less fiddle," he says. "It's hard to explain the record, but it's definitely not that cookie-cutter kind of Nashville sound."
The initial taste from the album, "My Hometown," is already climbing the country charts, and Kracker says it's the kind of message he's confident will resonate beyond the Harrison Township limits.
"It's about everybody's home town," Kracker explains. "I built where I grew up. That's where I wanted to raise my kids and be able to jump on your bike and ride to the party story for a soda, or down to the river or something. I think my kids will grow up and be out of here, but I think they'll miss this.
"I think there's a lot of little things like that that people forget about or don't appreciate. I may have a different perspective because I'm away so much, but I don't think there are many more important things than where you come from."
"Postcards From Home" will take Kracker away again, on a promotional tour in January and then on a tour of his own in late February that will go through May, with summer plans pending. Meanwhile he plans to do some songwriting with Kid Rock -- a relationship they've continued even after Kracker left Twisted Brown Trucker in 2002 -- and get himself geared up for another round of musical mayhem.
"I think after 'Smile,' there is some degree of expectation -- but I've learned not to expect too much," Kracker says. "Any time I release anything I feel like, 'We'll see what happens' more than anything else. I just don't want to be disappointed, so I feel more like 'I hope people dig this, at least' rather than waiting for the big blockbuster."
Uncle Kracker, Sonia Leigh, Doop & the Inside Outlaws and Annabelle Road perform Friday, Nov. 25, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $9.95. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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