Rehab '23: Tenille Arts continues rise of women in all aspects of country music

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Love may keep us together.

But so does country music.

Tenille Arts says country music is big in her native Canada. But to make it big, she has moved to Nashville, where Canadians Shania Twain (Windsor) and Terri Clark (Montreal) revved up their careers.

Arts is from Weyburn, Saskatchewan. That's a long way from Abilene, where she will be Saturday as a co-headliner for Rehab '23 at the Abilene Convention Center. Joining her will be someone who won't have to travel far. Aaron Watson lives just south of town.

Weyburn, for map fans, is just north of the Montana-North Dakota borders with Canada. It's about 2,300 miles almost due north of Abilene.

She is the second Canadian-born female singer to participate in a Rehab show over the past four years. In 2020, Lindsay Ell joined Neal McCoy here. Ell was born in Calgary, Alberta.

More:Lindsay Ell positioned to follow success of other Rehab show female guests

In Texas, we just figure most folks like country music. And Arts is fully aware that she has to make it here.

"I was just back there last week visiting radio stations," she said. "I'm trying to get my music out there in those ways and doing a few shows here and there. Obviously, if you can win over those fans, they support you for life."

Aaron Watson is co-headliner for this year's Rehab '23 telethon. Dec 22 2022
Aaron Watson is co-headliner for this year's Rehab '23 telethon. Dec 22 2022

Country is big in her country, too

The singer's full name is Tenille Dakota Jade Arts. She knows a few other gals back home named Tenille, and there also is Canadian singer Tenille Townes.

"Maybe it's just a thing there," she said, laughing.

Arts likely will be only the second "Tenille" to perform in Abilene. Perhaps the most famous of them all, Toni Tennille, was here with the Captain in the 1970s. Their most famous song, of course, was "Love Will Keep Us Together." It was the top song of 1975 and won a Grammy for best record.

Arts, 28, for sure would like to achieve that acclaim,.

"I grew up listening to country music. I think that's something people don't know a lot about, that Canada loves country music," she said. "We have huge festivals up there and every time a major artist comes and plays, they're like, 'Wow, I didn't realize how huge country music is.'

"It always has been a part of my life. Growing up in Canada, I decided to look at people like Terri Clark and Shania Twain, obviously. How they structured their career. What they did to get to Nashville. They both kind of got their start in Nashville, so that's why I wanted to go there and be a part of that scene.

"I figured if I could do it in Nashville, then hopefully Canada would support me as well."

Interestingly, Arts is paired with Watson, who has made it clear that he wasn't going the Nashville route.

Either way, both are on stage with the goal of raising big-time money for the West Texas Rehabilitation Center.

Better busy than shut down

On Monday, Arts was headed to the studio to record.

She said she did a lot of writing to stay productive during the pandemics, when performing was shut down or limited over two years.

Tenille Arts has made hits and history, and is making her way to Abilene for the first time for Rehab '23.
Tenille Arts has made hits and history, and is making her way to Abilene for the first time for Rehab '23.

"That's something that I always love," she said of recording. "And getting to travel to Australia and London in the next couple of months. And Canada."

And you just thought coming to West Texas was seeing the world.

"The only time I really get to go home is if I have a show close by," she said. But she took an almost three-week break at Christmas.

"When I can, I definitely try to spend time at home. Put the phone away and work away for a little while and be with family," she said.

Busy, though, is good.

"We had those couple of years when no one was traveling and no one was doing shows. I'm trying not to complain if I'm tired because it's so great to be actually back doing it. Being busy is a really good thing."

Arts had momentum as 2020 began.

"It was tough to have those big shows canceled and the festivals and all that. Things that I had been working toward for a very long time," she said. "I ended up writing an entire album over Zoom and I think if I wouldn't have had that and a song on country radio, I would've been pretty depressed because there really wasn't anything else to be doing.

"I just tried to pour into the creative side of music and focus on that for a little while."

Two months before COVID-19 locked down America and the entertainment industry, Arts had released the album "Love, Heartbreak & Everything In Between," which sent the cut "Somebody Like That" to the top of the charts in April.

The song even made a little history.

It was the first to be written, sung and produced by an all-female crew.

"That was really cool," Arts said. "And I actually have something else that I've been working on that has even more women on it. It wasn't something that we set out to do. It just happened, and it was really special."

That kind of collaboration speaks to the opportunity today in country music. In the past years, Rehab shows have brought Ells, the group Runaway Jane and Carly Pearce to Abilene. Pearce will be back in April as a co-headliner at the Outlaws & Legends Music Festival.

She followed that with the album "Girl to Girl."

Her career dates back to 2016, when her self-titled EP came out and cracked the iTunes top 100 country albums chart in the U.S.

And so, the pandemic couldn't have come at a worse time for her career. But she's on the other side of it now.

Taking the Nashville route

Arts went to Nashville for the first time when she was 15.

"It was a really big learning experience because you go from being a singer in Canada, in my own province and everybody knows you and thinks you're a great singer. But when you go to Nashville, there's a lot of people there and really, really talented.

"In a sense it was like starting over. I learned from Shania Twain and Terri Clark and all of these artists that when you're from Canada, you have to work harder because you have all these obstacles to go through. Even just getting to Nashville is a struggle. Getting a visa. It's a process.

"So by the time you get here, you've got to make it work."

Making it through that process inspired Arts to keep moving forward, she said.

"I just need to get my music out there to people and work as hard as I can every day to make missing my family back home worth it," she said.

"I feel like I have a drive and a passion to stay true to who I am. I think that's something that those artists did as well."

Time for women

Arts agreed with Ell's statement that this is a good time to be a woman in country music.

For years, "women weren't getting a lot of attention but now, I feel like we stuck it out and people are starting to realize how great our music is," she said.

Last year's Rehab show included Gabby Barrett and Ariel Hutchins, who calls Cross Plains home. She has had success on the Texas Regional Record Report charts. Her song "Stuck" was the No. 23 songs of 2022.

Two notches below that was "Easy as Hello" by another Rehab telethon alum, Sunny Sweeney.

Arts realizes that country music goes in cycles. Women had success in the '90s, "and I think we're getting back into that cycle. But, hopefully, it's not a cycle and it sticks around forever, but it's really great to see a lot of females having success. Even success outside of radio.

"There's a lot of different avenues that people can take now."

Rehab supporter

Arts is aware of why she's in Abilene, to do her part to raise $1.5 million or more for the Rehab Center.

"I think it's going to be great to give back in that way," she said. "It's something that I really love to do. It's such an easy thing for me to do but it makes such a big difference.

"I'm excited to learn about everything that they do there and support it in the best way that I can."

What did Tenille get for Christmas?

Besides time off, what was her favorite present?

"Instead of giving gifts, my boyfriend and I try to give experiences," she said.

This year, they are going to Savannah, Georgia, and then to the hot air balloon fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Her boyfriend? He was an accountant in Baltimore.

"He quit his job and moved to Nashville because he loved country music," she said. He now works for a management company.

"He worked his way into music, which is really cool," she said.

Wonder if she calls him "Captain?"

Aaron Watson smiles during his Christmas show last month at the Paramount Theatre. He is a headliner for Rehab '23 this weekend at the Abilene Convention Center.
Aaron Watson smiles during his Christmas show last month at the Paramount Theatre. He is a headliner for Rehab '23 this weekend at the Abilene Convention Center.

If You Go

What: Rehab '23, the annual fund-raising telethon for the West Texas Rehabilitation Center that drew a record $1.626 million last year

Where: 7 p.m.-midnight Saturday at the Abilene Convention Center, 1100 North Sixth St. Televised locally on KTAB, and livestream from WTRC website.

Admission: $12 to the show.

Who: Headliners are country singers Aaron Watson and Tenille Arts, along with Red Steagall (and his Bunkhouse Boys) and host Charlie Chase, both longtime participants in the show.

Auction show: From 5:30-7 p.m.

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Tenille Arts continues rise of women in all aspects of country music