By Jim Sullivan
---- — Perhaps the first time was a charm.
Two-time No. 1 country songwriter, singer and musician Jess Leary liked her first visit to the Firehouse Center for the Arts so much that she’s coming back this weekend for her solo debut.
“Dust off the cowboy boots and come out,” Leary said. “I’ve got some friends who live out this way now, and it’s kind of how I found out about the place.
“I ended up singing one song at an event at the Firehouse, and the creative director asked me to perform for a night, and it was kind of perfect timing because I was planning on coming back up. I’m so excited.”
At the Celebration of Life for Cancer Survivors at the Firehouse in June, Leary was called up on the stage to play a tune. She had fun but, more importantly, liked the acoustics of the hall and will also be recording a live album Saturday night.
“I love the venue,” Leary said. “It feels good, and it’s a good fit. It sounds good in there, and the time is right. It all showed up at the same time, and I thought, this is a great opportunity and let’s capture the whole thing.”
Leary won’t need much of a setup either, as she will be playing a solo guitar and banjo set.
“I’ll be doing a lot of the songs that are good for me to sing,” Leary said. “These are songs that feel like me, as opposed to some of the other songs that typically I would write but would not be me, so to speak.
“I have some fun things warmed up and some great guitar pieces that I’m going to throw into the mix,” she said. “I’ve got a little bit of banjo. I sort of play off the cuff, shoot from the hip and have fun.”
A Hingham native, Leary became a regular on the Boston folk, country and rock scenes in the early 1980s, eventually being named the regional winner of the Wrangler Country Star Search, which sent her to Nashville, where she performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
Leary liked Nashville so much, she moved there in 1985.
After five years of struggling to make it in country, she signed a deal with Reba McEntire’s publishing company, Starstruck Writers Group.
The partnership worked well, and McEntire soon hired Leary as backup vocalist and guitarist for her 1992 tour. Leary went on to back up other big names, including Garth Brooks and Faith Hill.
But Leary’s greatest success has been as a songwriter. She has hit No. 1 on the country charts twice, with the co-written Pam Tillis’ hit “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” and Tim McGraw’s smash “Where the Green Grass Grows.” Leary also had a top 10 hit with Lari White’s cover of “Ready, Willing and Able” and has recorded an album of her own, “Songwriter.”
“It just came to me, and that was it,” Leary said with a laugh about her album’s title.
Having lived inland for more than 20 years, Leary is looking forward to staying with friends on Plum Island.
“I’m excited to see the ocean,” Leary said. “I haven’t been able to smell the ocean for a long time. I lived in Nashville for more than half of my life, but I think if I am here for about a week, I will be back to ‘pahkin’ my ‘cah’ somewhere.”
Leary is also happy to see the country music scene taking off in the Boston area after a long haul.
“When I was starting to get into country music, there wasn’t that big of a community (in Boston),” Leary said. “And I am so glad to see it coming up this way. There are a lot of country music lovers in Massachusetts.”
If you go
What: Jess Leary in concert
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts, Market Square, Newburyport
How much: $22 for nonmembers, $20 for members
More information: 978-462-7336 or www.firehouse.org