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SHIPROCK — Her on-stage persona born from her tough background might cast country music star Gretchen Wilson as a rowdy "Redneck Woman," but watch out: This girl's softer sweet side will warm your heart much faster than any whiskey she sings about.

If you're a country music fan, you already know of Gretchen Wilson.

If you're not, one trip to a Gretchen Wilson concert will explain why she fills the house up to the rafters with screaming fans, then tears it down with a live-wire blend of Southern Rock and hard-working, hard-partying country woman attitude.

But that softer, sweet side, you say?

Gretchen visited Navajo country Wednesday night, performing for a packed house at The Phil!, a quaint, 800-seat theater in Shiprock that's quickly earning a solid reputation for landing some of the best musical acts in the country.

Prior to her concert, Gretchen met with perhaps two dozen fans in a special meet-and-greet that VIP ticket holders often get to do. But the real VIPs patiently waited off to the side, watching Gretchen do her thing with autographs and photographs.

Finally, it was just Gretchen, and her newest two little friends.

Harmony is 6 years old, quiet, has a beautiful smile and was born to a very young mother who was there alone with her daughter. Perhaps that caught Gretchen's eye, as she herself was born to a 16-year-old and abandoned by her father at age 2.

Zachary, on the other hand, is the oldest of several siblings at the ripe age of 7. He loves to play baseball but has one big problem with the game: He's never had a baseball glove of his own.

Harmony and Zachary had no idea what country music was, let alone about one of its biggest stars when they met the "pretty girl" backstage. But they knew that something special in their lives must be happening if this woman was making 800 screaming people up front wait just because she was spending a little time with the two of them.

Harmony and Zachary aren't used to that kind of attention.

Who is?

But growing up in one of the most poverty-stricken regions of the United States, where as much as 40-60 percent of the population on this American Indian reservation don't even have electricity or running water yet, having someone so important to dote on them made Harmony and Zachary feel important.

That was pretty special all in its own, but Gretchen had another surprise for them.

Asked beforehand, Gretchen agreed to take part in the Glove with Love program, which collects used and new baseball gloves and gives them to children who can't afford their own or to Special Olympics adults in need, as well as to various non-profit organizations surviving on limited budgets.

Gretchen was handed two new gloves donated in nearby Farmington, both with store tags still attached and the smell of new on them. One was a sporty fielder's mitt and the other a hot-pink girls glove that features flashing lights when tapped on the inside by a ball or hand.

"Now, let me see. Which one goes to who?" Gretchen teased, holding the pink glove in front of Zachary and the more serious brown one in front of Harmony. The children hung on every word, eyes wide in hopeful anticipation.

Gretchen reached down, switched gloves from one hand to the other, then happily presented them to Harmony and Zachary.

The dry, dusty brown landscape and colorful desert sunset outside showed no signs of it being Christmas, but the children sure reveled as if it were during their newfound joy.

Gretchen took a knee to get closer to their eye level and posed for pictures, an arm around each child.

Someday, Harmony and Zachary may know a little more about Gretchen Wilson the singer.

But they already know Gretchen Wilson, the sweet, lovable "pretty girl," and certainly not any "Redneck Woman," who thought enough of them to invest a little of her time and to share a gift.

"Thanks so much Gretchen for doing this," she was told.

"Oh no! Thank you! Thank you for letting me be a part of this," she said in a sincere and interested tone.

She talked about how she used to be a shortstop herself and how it might be fun to start a softball team with her traveling crew to break up the hardships of being on the road.

"Now isn't that something? To want to go play ball with the people you work with all day?" she said with a loving grin.

"Yeah, really," I laughed, knowing full well that only a few hours earlier I had, myself, signed up for the company softball team.

That's one of the subtle beauties of the Glove with Love program, however. It's a simple way to use America's great pastime with the game of baseball to get people involved together in a fun activity. Many of the children served with the program have very little in the way of positive games and activities to occupy their time in a team-like atmosphere. Getting baseball gloves, bats and balls can make a difference.

A few minutes later, Gretchen went on stage and put on a typical Gretchen Wilson show with plenty of the aforementioned styles of music.

"I wasn't sure how this would go over with this crowd," one of my longtime Navajo friends told me. "But this was pretty fun!"

Mark Amo, executive director at The Phil! and its primary organizer of events, knew exactly what he was getting. "This is one of the biggest acts we've had here," he said, and that's saying something compared to the backstage Wall of Fame that has the signatures from an allstar cast of superstar entertainers.

But we're talking Gretchen Wilson, that "Redneck Woman" who won her first Grammy for a brash song by that name and has another hit that garnered two Grammy nominations this year with "I'd love to be your last," a much slower and more romantic song at the other end of a wide and talented musical spectrum.

She is, on stage, every bit the country/Southern Rock superstar her fans expect and love. Off stage, as Gretchen Wilson the woman, her stardom sometimes shines even brighter.

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Donations (equipment only) may be made to the Glove with Love program at The Daily Times, 201 N. Allen Ave. next to the Farmington Civic Center, or with any Farmington police officer or at any Farmington fire station.

Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, NM 87499; or online at tturner@daily-times.com.