Dale Ann Bradley knows where she wants to meet for a pre-show interview: Donut Days, the Southland Drive bakery she has gotten to know during previous visits to the Southland Jamboree.
But when informed that it would be closed at the appointed hour, she quickly agrees to another option, the Arby's across the street, where she merrily talks about her award-winning career amid the smell of roast beef and curly fries.
Success, including winning the International Bluegrass Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year honor five of the past six years, has not spoiled this Kentucky woman, who recently moved back home.
"Any time I have been away from Kentucky, I have pined for Kentucky," Bradley says.
After living in the Nashville area for several years, Bradley returned to her native Bell County and brought her music with her.
"I just wanted to bring something back to the tri-state area," Bradley says. "We're right there on the Lee County, Va.-Claiborne County, Tenn.-Bell County, Ky., line. So we started a show called the Cumberland Mountain Music Show, and it's a stage show of all kinds of music, country music, bluegrass, gospel, singer-songwriter, comedy, and we try to do that once a month."
Try is the operative word because while Bradley resides again in her old Kentucky home, her star in bluegrass music is burning bright and her touring schedule is packed. (The Cumberland Mountain Music Show is on hiatus as it tries to find a venue.)
It's a huge change from the first time Bradley left Kentucky, as a teenage Navy wife to go to the big, intimidating city of Jacksonville, Fla.
"I had never been away," she says. "I could have been in New York, and it wouldn't have been any more breathtaking to me."
The three years in Florida were referenced in the vaguely autobiographical song — Texas stands in for Florida — Leaving Kentucky on Bradley's 2011 album, Somewhere South of Crazy.
The hardest thing she ever did was leaving Kentucky
Though the mountains were her prison
They would always be her home
When things didn't work out, Bradley came back to Kentucky and picked up the music she had been working on before she left. In 1991, she joined New Coon Creek Girls, a revival of the group made famous during the mid-1930s on Renfro Valley Barn Dance, which included sisters Rosie and Lily May Ledford. Bradley stayed with the group for most of the 1990s before embarking on her solo career. She quickly got attention for her bluegrass rendition of U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, a bouncier and banjo-ier version of the anthem that remains in her sets to this day, including at the Southland Jamboree this year.
Of course, a lot has happened over those years, including those five female vocalist of the year awards, including last year's prize. It is an honor that never gets old, she says.
"Any time I've won, I just want to cry, tears of appreciation and joy," Bradley says. "It's not something I ever thought would happen, but I'm very thankful that folks like what I do, because I don't know what I would have done, profession-wise, other than that.
"I've had something to say, like any artist, and when people understand and relate to it, it's pretty hard to explain, but it's a humbling feeling. It's spiritual."
The honors have not changed what Bradley does onstage or in the recording studio, she says.
She is working on an album, due out in 2014, that will be her first since she moved back to Kentucky.
She says she particularly likes that members of her band all live in the tri-state area, "so there's a familiarity of spirit and a familiarity of heritage." That includes Steve Gulley, a bluegrass musician with whom Bradley has worked on and off for 28 years and who now performs with Bradley regularly. Although she had her full band at last month's Festival of the Bluegrass, she performed at the Southland Jamboree with just Gulley and his wife, Debbie Gulley, on backing vocals.
Her new album will feature a number of duets with artists from a variety of genres, although she can't drop any names yet, "but it will be eclectic ... eclectic in a traditional way."
And despite her rising star, she wants to remain grounded in her home state and her musical genre, which she knows is growing in popularity.
"That's wonderful, but I hope that bluegrass never becomes a commercialized genre," Bradley says. "I hope artists can always be themselves, that it doesn't have to be a certain weight that you have to weigh or way that you have to look. The beauty of this music is real people singing real songs."
IF YOU GO
Dale Ann Bradley
The bluegrass star has several upcoming dates in Kentucky.
Aug. 10: Dale Ann Bradley's Bluegrass Pickin' Party & Hog Roast, featuring Dave Adkins & Republik Steele, Cumberland River. 3-9 p.m. Pine Mountain State Resort Park, 1050 State Park Rd., Pineville. $20 general admission, $10 ages 7-12, free ages 6 and younger. 1-800-325-1712, 1.usa.gov/12k374T, .
Sept. 20: Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival. 3715 U.S. 60 East, Morehead. (606) 784-2277, Poppymountainbluegrass.com.
Sept. 21: Blazin Bluegrass Festival, Sandhill 4H/RV Camp, 4435 Sandhill Rd., Whitley City. (606) 306-5008, Blazinbluegrass.com.
More info about Bradley:Daleann.com
Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: Copiousnotes.bloginky.com.