For Suzy Bogguss, coming back to Zumbrota is like going home again.
“Zumbrota is like the little town I grew up in,” Bogguss said. “This is my second time there. It’s amazing what they’ve done with that little theater, and the community is so involved. That’s great.”
Bogguss will have the opportunity to feel at home again in Zumbrota when she performs at 7 p.m. Sunday at the State Theatre.
It’s the kind of place Bogguss, who once enjoyed — and endured — country music stardom but has now settled into a more relaxed groove, said she prefers.
“Zumbrota is the perfect example of where I feel super comfortable,” she said by phone from her Nashville-area home. “I never felt comfortable in that big arena setting.”
The arena concerts, with their huge sound and light systems, came on the heels of a string of hit records for Bogguss in the early ’90s — “Someday Soon,” “Letting Go,” “Outbound Plane,” “Drive South,” “Just like the Weather.”
But, she said, “It got overwhelming for me. You kind of get swept up into the whole business side of it, and pretty soon, it’s just ‘Whoa, this is not what I started out for.'”
Bogguss, a native of Aledo, Ill., started out singing in local coffeehouses while still in college at Illinois State University. She moved to Nashville in 1985, got a record deal and released her first album in 1988. Soon, with her crystal-clear vocals and friendly, outgoing personality, she was riding high on the charts.
But then she stepped back to raise a family and get away from the demands of fame. “It got to be such a process, like machinery, to get your music out,” she said.
She’s never returned to radio and the hit parade, but Bogguss has found freedom in recording what she wants, when she wants, how she wants. Her two latest albums, for instance, are a collection of traditional folk songs and a set of Merle Haggard songs.
On the other hand, Bogguss said, “I wouldn’t have the freedom I have if I hadn’t had that machinery, so I can’t bellyache about it.”
The Haggard cover album, “Lucky,” is an example. No “hot” artist would record an understated album of songs that have already been hits. Besides, Haggard has never written the “party songs” as Bogguss called them, that are all the rage on country radio today. “That’s just ear candy, but I’ve got no problem with that,” she said.
Bogguss, however, wants to record songs that have something worthwhile to say about the human condition. Haggard’s songs fit the bill.
“For some of these songs, it was really important to me to make it my own,” she said of recording the album. “But other songs, I kept it a little more close to his straight-ahead country. I didn’t want to imitate him, but it’s tricky because these songs are so iconic.”
Once the record came out, Haggard called Bogguss. “I was hyperventilating on the phone, but he was so nice,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I like what you’ve done with these arrangements.’ Now, I get to sing them every night.”
The Haggard tunes, along with her early hits and favorite folk songs, will be part of Bogguss’ show in Zumbrota, along with a surprise or two. “We don’t have an exact set list,” she said. “It’s a very eclectic show.”