ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Jewel would like to set the record straight: She did not bail on Alaskans when two shows were canceled many years ago. And, yes, she'll certainly show up at concerts scheduled this week.
"I was on tour on both occasions already and I've never double-booked anything in my life," she says of long-standing reports that she canceled a New Year's Eve concert to ring in 2000 as well as an appearance at the Alaska State Fair in 1996, when she was touring with Neil Young.
The 35-year-old singer-songwriter, born Jewel Kilcher, said she was never booked for the shows by her agency that she knew of and was surprised when people asked about her going to Alaska. It bothers her that so many Alaskans believe she abandoned the shows — some airing their resentments quite vociferously.
Her Alaska roots "a creative, independent, freethinking woman," says Jewel, who was 6 when she began performing with her father in her hometown of Homer.
After leaving Alaska, she was living in a van in San Diego before vaulting from obscurity with her 1995 debut album, "Pieces of You," and hits like "You Were Meant for Me" and "Who Will Save Your Soul."
Jewel has recorded seven other albums since, the latest a collection of mostly original lullabies released in May. She's currently working on a second country album — the first, "Perfectly Clear," debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's charts last year — as well as a second book of poetry.
"I consider myself a product of Alaska," she says in a telephone interview from the 2,000-acre ranch in Stephenville, Texas, that she shares with her husband, rodeo star Ty Murray. "The love and the debt that I feel to my home state — you always want your hometown to be the proudest of you and so it's heartbreaking to hear people say snarky things."
Alaskans rushed to bash her in response to a small blurb in newspapers announcing the concerts, many still seething at the perception that Jewel turned her back on the state when she became famous. Jewel is set to perform at a benefit in Homer on Wednesday to raise money for a local program for young artists, following the next two nights with performances at Anchorage's Atwood Concert Hall.
"She burned this bridge a long time ago. Take a hike, Jewel!" wrote one online reader of the Anchorage Daily News.
Rene King, who grew up in Homer, remembers Jewel singing at school assemblies. King, who now lives in Anchorage, is not a fan even though she calls the singer's voice beautiful. As far as she's concerned, Jewel has done Alaska wrong.
"When she progressed in her career, I just think she betrayed the state," she said.
Ticket sales for the Anchorage concerts aren't exactly flying out of the box office. About half of the tickets for the 2,000-seat Atwood have been sold for the two nights, says local promoter Dan Fiacco. Tickets are $50.50, with 50 cents going to Project Clean Water, a charity Jewel started in 1997.
"Alaskans don't let go of grudges very easily," Fiacco said. "Also, Anchorage in general is kind of a last-minute market."
The hometown folks in Homer are more forgiving.
People quickly snapped up the 450 available tickets for the benefit at the town's high school theater, according to Asia Freeman, director of the local Bunnell Street Arts Center. She adds: "People are positive and thrilled."