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Three For The Road Reba Mcentire And Brooks & Dunn, Giant Acts In Their Own Right, Team Up For An Arena Concert

They both rack up numbers that would amaze even the mighty Garth.

When they share the stage tonight in the middle of the Spokane Arena for what’s billed as a hits-packed show, Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn will show why they’re among country’s brightest stars.

Witness McEntire’s career statistics:

Twenty-six No. 1 hits.

Sales of 38 million records via 27 albums since her first in 1978.

The only woman in country with five triple platinum albums (over 3 million in sales apiece).

More than 50 major awards, from her first as female vocalist of the year in 1984 from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association to a couple of Grammys to her 1997 selection as favorite female performer from the People’s Choice Awards.

Brooks & Dunn have only been around since ‘91, so their stats aren’t as whopping:

Twelve No. 1 hits off four multi-platinum albums.

Sales of over 14 million albums and rising fast, thanks to their current chart smash “The Greatest Hits Collection,” their fifth disc.

A couple dozen top awards, from their first as ACM’s top new vocal duet in ‘91 to a Grammy in ‘94 to a pair of CMA honors in ‘96, as entertainer of the year and vocal duo of the year.

You gotta wonder why such huge stars would hit the road together. And who would be the headliner?

Well, they’ve been friends since the “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” boys performed as an opening act for McEntire way back when. About that second question: When they opened this 85-city tour back in February, they flipped a coin to see who would perform first. And they’ve switched off since.

Tonight they’ll hit the stage together for a few songs before working as separate acts. Kix Brooks, Ronnie Dunn and Reba will perform together at the end as well. There isn’t an intermission, and the concert is expected to last over 2-1/2 hours.

Since there’s no opening act, you don’t want to miss the 7:30 p.m. start.

The concert promises close contact with the stars thanks to a specially designed stage that’ll sit in the middle of the Arena floor. It must be special: They’ve been lugging some 40 tons of equipment around on 18 tractor-trailers and 10 buses - along with an 88-member crew.

Some of that gear includes video screens and plenty of lights for special effects.

“People who come to see our shows are often hard-core traditionalists, combined with contemporary rock fans who are used to seeing big productions,” Dunn says. “We saw how these things work back when we were still opening shows for Reba McEntire. People seem to like to have a visual thing meld with the music.”

Both McEntire and Brooks & Dunn are famous for their high-energy concerts. Twice last year, Brooks went flying off the stage during high-steppin’ numbers and needed some stitches. “Ronnie and I run into each other all the time,” Brooks says, “and if I’m too near the edge he’ll stick out an arm and stop me.”

“We don’t bump into each other,” Ronnie counters. “He bumps into me. I’ve learned that, on certain songs, like ‘Hard Workin’ Man,’ I just need to get out of Kix’s way.”

Don’t expect to see Reba tumble into the crowd. She’s known more for elaborate theatrical productions with eye-popping sets, costume changes and special effects. The last time she played Spokane, she changed outfits a dozen times. That’s not in the cards this time, though.

She’s also changed her music. On her latest album, “What If It’s You,” she ditched the heavy instrumentation and production of her previous album (“Starting Over”) in favor of a cleaner sound.

“I wanted to record music that is energetic and fun to listen to,” she says. “Sometimes when you hear somebody on the radio, it sounds like they’re right there on the dash of your car. I wanted that sound, too.”

The album reached the Top 10 and has already scored a couple hits, including “The Fear of Being Alone” and the title track.

Brooks & Dunn also switched direction a bit on last year’s “Borderline” album. Dunn called it “a little bit of a left turn for us … I felt like it was time for us to kind of veer off the most traveled path. It sure doesn’t hurt, in today’s climate, to step just a little bit over into what the traditionalists might call ‘progressive.”’

“Yet our music demands a certain earthiness,” Brooks adds, “and that’s the balance we went for. There’s a rootsy writing thing going on, but as far as recording goes, it’s full-speed modern.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn perform tonight at 7:30 at the Arena. Tickets: $41, available at G&B Select-a-Seat.

This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn perform tonight at 7:30 at the Arena. Tickets: $41, available at G&B; Select-a-Seat.

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