During his 20-year country music career, Tim McGraw has made several stops in Utah; the most memorable was in 2011, when Utah music royalty attended his show at USANA Amphitheatre.
"Donny and Marie Osmond came out and Donny came onstage," McGraw recalled during a recent telephone interview. "That was pretty cool for us because performers that you remember as a kid came to support you."
McGraw returns to the West Valley City venue Friday, June 14, for his "Two Lanes of Freedom" tour. Brantley Gilbert and Love and Theft open.
The performance marks the first of five "big men of country" playing at USANA this summer. Kenny Chesney performs on July 18, Brad Paisley will be there Aug. 2, Alan Jackson follows Aug. 10, and Luke Brian plays Sept. 20.
McGraw said after Friday's show he will take his band, The Dancehall Doctors, to their favorite Utah restaurant for dinner.
"We've been there three or four times; the restaurant has a new location that we'll probably go to," said McGraw, who would not reveal the establishment. (Mole at Red Iguana 2, anyone?)
"I can't tell," he said, "I don't want to get them in trouble."
Or cause a rush of fans.
Fortunately, McGraw was more forthcoming on other topics relating to his music and movie career:
On his 12th studio album "Two Lanes of Freedom," released in February
"It's the best album I've ever made," he said of his first offering from his new label, Big Machine Records. Last year, McGraw parted ways with Curb Records after 20 years and a legal dispute. The country singer was attracted to the new label for its "fresh ideas and a sense of vitality," he said. "I went into the recording studio with music that made me happy and proud. I knew we had something special."
On the album's title track
"It's what inspired the whole album. It was the second song we recorded and it kind of raised its hand and became the heart of this record. It's a really free, energetic song."
On other favorites on the new album
McGraw quickly named "Friend of a Friend" and "Book of John" but said, "It's tough to pick."
On collaborating with other artists
"There's tons of people I'd love to work with," he said, even though he's not naming names. "I like them to happen organically. A song has to present itself and it has to feel like the right person. Anything forced doesn't work."
That organic beginning was present with "Over and Over," the duet he recorded with Nelly in 2004. The rapper grew up in the Midwest and had an affinity for country music. When it came time to pick a country singer for his "Suit" album, McGraw was the one Nelly wanted. "We hung out all day and hammered it out," McGraw said.
On "Highway Don't Care," featuring Taylor Swift on vocals and Keith Urban on guitar
"A couple of friends wrote that song and I knew instantly who I wanted on it," McGraw said. "I wanted Taylor to sing the first part and I wanted Keith to play guitar. I love Keith's singing, but he's also one of the greatest guitar players in music right now."
On being a television judge like fellow country stars Urban ("American Idol") or Blake Shelton ("The Voice")
"I don't think I could be as good as they are," McGraw said with a chuckle. "I'll stick to concerts, movies and singing; I couldn't pull the fourth thing off."
On his movie career
McGraw said there are "a few things" in the works and it will be just "a matter of time" before fans see him again on the silver screen. "I love doing movies, I just don't always have time," he said. He also doesn't accept every script. "I want to find something that inspires me and works with my schedule. How it all works out, that's the main thing."
On choosing the concert set list
McGraw has nearly two dozen songs that have been No. 1 singles. He says those are both a "blessing and a curse" when it comes time to select his concert list. One example is "Live Like You Were Dying." "We couldn't get away without doing that," he said. The trick is "getting in the songs that the fans want" but at the same time doing the songs "that you enjoy and provide energy," he said. "The new stuff is the fun stuff to play. And we'll be doing seven or eight off the new album. Hopefully by the end of the show everyone is happy."
Let freedom ring
Country singer Tim McGraw brings his "Two Lanes of Freedom" tour to Utah. Brantley Gilbert and Love and Theft open.
When • Friday, June 14, 7 p.m.
Where • USANA Amphitheatre, 5125 S. 6400 West, West Valley City
Tickets • $22.50 - $70.25 at smithstix.com