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SHE KNOWS HOW TO WANGO TANGO.

Byline: Fred Shuster Music Writer

When teen rocker Michelle Branch hits the Rose Bowl stage Saturday, she may have a fleeting memory of sitting among the crowd as an unknown just a few short years ago, soaking up the genre-hopping soundtrack of one of Los Angeles' most peaceful annual pop music gatherings.

Wango Tango, produced since 1998 by Top 40 powerhouse KIIS-FM (102.7), is so packed with entertainment that ticketholders often arrive when doors creak open at noon so as not to miss a moment of the daylong festival. This year, the event encompasses the hottest pop acts - including Branch, Nelly, Santana, Sting, Christina Aguilera, Craig David, Jennifer Love Hewitt, KISS, Lisa Marie Presley - and a ``reality TV'' theme in which stars of ``Survivor,'' ``Joe Millionaire'' and ``Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire'' partner with KIIS radio personalities such as Rick Dees, Ellen K, Gary Spears and JoJo in co-hosting duties. Also, 10 ``American Idol'' finalists will sing together in a segment introduced by ``Idol'' host Ryan Seacrest and judge Paula Abdul.

``When I was out in L.A. in 2001 making demos, I was a fan in the audience, dreaming what it must be like to be on that stage,'' said Branch, who won a Grammy Award in February alongside Carlos Santana for their ``Game of Love'' single. ``There's a very good vibe at Wango Tango.''

Branch, who performed at last year's Wango Tango on the heels of her best-selling debut, ``The Spirit Room,'' will do her own set Saturday and then join Santana for a reading of their chart-topper for the expected 65,000-strong throng in Pasadena.

KIIS was one of the first radio stations in the country to launch an annual concert in the late 1980s. With Dees as the familiar face of the Top 40 outlet, the station began Wango Tango in 1998 at Anaheim's Edison Field with a bill that unveiled a little-known boy group called 'N Sync. The show moved to Dodger Stadium the following year for a triple-header starring Ricky Martin, Britney Spears and Will Smith. In 2000, a full-strength 'N Sync hit a homer at the same venue, while the next year the baseball field saw a massive two-day KIIS show that featured Aerosmith, the Bee Gees, Pink and Enrique Iglesias. Last year, Wango Tango hopped across town to the stately Rose Bowl for a day of Celine Dion, No Doubt, Ja Rule and more.

``KIIS is like an old-school Top 40 station, so there's a lot of variety in the music,'' said Von Freeman, vice president of marketing for KIIS and Clear Channel's other Los Angeles properties. ``It's a concert where mom and dad and the kids can go together. In all these years, we've never had one fight incident or police report generated. It's a nice day for everyone.''

Branch, who turns 20 on July 2, is using the KIIS appearance to kick off a slate of local appearances that includes an intimate fan show Sunday at the Roxy in West Hollywood before taking opening slots on the Dixie Chicks trek that arrives at Staples Center on July 19 and moves to Anaheim's Pond on July 20 and 21.

``The Roxy is one of my favorite places to play,'' says Branch, whose sophomore effort, ``Hotel Paper,'' is due June 24 and includes a duet with pal Sheryl Crow. ``I love to see everyone in the audience and have that close-up vibe. I used to do a lot of acoustic gigs in smaller clubs, and I missed that laid-back feel. I want my fans to see and hear my new songs up close.''

As for the Dixie Chicks, the Arizona-bred Branch, who sings, plays guitar and pens her own songs, finds the chirping threesome downright inspirational.

``They are amazing musicians and really sweet people,'' Branch, who got her first guitar at age 14, enthused. ``I'm excited to be going on the road with some chicks for a change and have other females to hang out with. After I play my set, I'm gonna be sitting at the side of the stage watching them.''

On Saturday, Branch supporters will experience a newly muscular sound from the young rocker. She's added the superb and highly sought-after drummer Kenny Aronoff, a longtime John Mellencamp band member, to her group.

``He's not only the greatest drummer, he's a great person,'' she said. ``He's such a blast to be around. And it sure changes the dynamic of the show. It's very energetic.''

Branch, hailed as one of the acts that helped teenage Spears and 'N Sync followers discover more rootsy guitar-driven rock, is proud to have perhaps pushed open doors for such popular young stars as Avril Lavigne.

``I think it's exciting for a music fan now to turn on MTV and see young people who write their own music and make their own decisions have more singer-songwriter appeal,'' she said. ``I'd like to think I had a part in that.''

WANGO TANGO 2003

What: Daylong KIIS-FM show with Michelle Branch, Nelly, Christina Aguilera, Craig David, Lisa Marie Presley, Santana, Sting and more.

Where: Rose Bowl, 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena.

When: Noon Saturday.

Tickets: $31 to $151. (213) 480-3232; www.wangotango.com.

MICHELLE BRANCH

Where: Roxy, 9009 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $20. (213) 480-3232; www.ticketmaster.com.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 16, 2003
Words:898
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