Jana Kramer is excited to get back to Chicago. She grew up outside Detroit and, even though she didn’t come here often as a kid, she’s loved visiting as an adult. “I’ve had some of my best shows in Chicago,” she says. “The fans here just want to have a great time.”
In this case, the “fans” are the expected 45,000 attendees of the fifth annual Windy City Smokeout July 14-16, a country music and barbecue fest featuring performances by Kramer, Lee Brice, Jake Owen and more than 20 others.
For her set on Saturday, July 15, Kramer, 33, will debut a few new songs from her upcoming EP, which she says is “100 percent me — it’s very authentic to who I am.” She hopes it stirs emotion in the crowd, as well. “My show is very interactive; I love to call people out and have fun with them,” she says. “I want people to feel every single emotion — I want them to be happy, I want them to be sad, I want them to take something away [and] feel something.”
Her first two albums garnered high praise, but the singer has found her voice especially in the last few years, as a series of ups and downs have provided material for her to put into song — “If I haven’t lived it, I won’t sing it,” she says. In 2016, she welcomed her daughter and, shortly after, became estranged from the baby’s dad, former NFL player Mike Caussin. (On Father’s Day, however, she posted a sweet message to him on Instagram: “We may not have the perfect fairytale love story but … you’re an amazing father.”) She also recently made the move from Nashville to LA.
“Nashville wanted to put me in a box,” she says. “[It dictated] how I was supposed to sing and what I was supposed to sing about. … I’m just not the kind of artist that’s meant to be in a box.”
In the midst of it all is Jolie Rae, Kramer’s now 16-month-old daughter and the undisputed star of her Instagram (@kramergirl); unlike many celebrities, Kramer doesn’t feel the need to keep that part of her life private. The singer’s 1.4 million followers saw Jolie take her first steps in April, and learn to dance in June.
“I’m in the public eye,” Kramer says. “I’ve embraced it and I want people to go on the journey with me. That’s why I took people on the journey when I was pregnant and even before that. … [My fans] feel like a part of it too, and I want them to feel like a family.”
Speaking of family, it’s because of Jolie that Kramer is getting back to her roots. She’s making a return to acting (you may recognize her as Alex Dupré from “One Tree Hill”) with a movie set to film in August, and just maybe, a return to the Midwest.
“I eventually want to get back to Michigan,” she says. “I love how I was raised. I grew up on a lake … I didn’t go inside until 9 o’clock at night. It’s where I got all my values — and [even] if we’re not able to move back, I want to make sure to instill those in my daughter.”
For now, though, her stop in Chicago is a quick one. “If I have [Jolie] with me, we might go to the zoo,” she says — otherwise she’ll hightail it home. “[When] I’m not with her, I hate it so much.”