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;"The middle of the road is trying to find me/I'm standing in the middle of my life with my plans behind me," banged the Pretenders from the dismal depths of half-smiled Reaganomics. And that's the thing with Rob Thomas, an Everyman whose seemingly inevitable career just plays along like the predictable repetition of reflectors on an interstate passing lane. At his most dramatic, he's the smug shine of Huey Lewis and Corey Hart soldered together with Hootie's blowtorch. More often, though, he just IS.


;;With matchbox twenty on the ambiguous "indefinite hold" setting, Thomas released his first solo full-length last summer, Something To Be, a record that followed his "Smooth" Santana experimentation into the more pop/rock settings of a very expensive studio. His hair was cut, stylists and photographers fiddled and tweaked, and a new version of the same old thing was born. "I don't wanna be lonely no more/I don't wanna have to pay for this"; the drama was crafted to suit both teens and boomers alike. And it worked.


;Now, he's on the (middle of the) road with Jewel, and on the phone from New York, he is clearly satisfied with his success.


;"I'm in this place where we decided to do this tour as kind of like a victory lap," he says.


;He wasn't always winning, though. Those with an Orlando pedigree will always remember Thomas as a leader in the odd singer-songwriter/trickle-down-troubadour movement of the mid-'90s, a slightly disheveled guy whose earnestness occupied many a 3 a.m.-lonely living room with a guitar strum.


;"If I'm from anywhere, I imagine I'm from [Orlando], even though I'm from South Carolina originally," he says. "I grew up [in Orlando], back when it was us and the Big White Undies, My Friend Steve, the Seven Mary Three guys. I remember all of that camaraderie."


;When local favorites Tabitha's Secret hit the big time and morphed into matchbox twenty, some thought "sellout" (some even sued), but there was no looking back. There was, however, some looking around. On the left, there was Scott Stapp's Creed ("He really is an asshole. I don't actively hate the guy, because I don't really know him. I've just run into him a couple of times, and he's just kind of a long-winded ass. He really likes himself a lot") and on the right, the Backstreet Boys ("Nothing against the boy bands, but I think that did put the brakes on that scene as like a songwriter scene"). In fact it was a booming time for Orlando, if a slightly embarrassing one.


;"There was always this joke of people asking, ‘Where are you from?' and us being like, ‘Oh, we came out of Orlando.' And they'd say ‘So did you get Lou Pearlman?'" he remembers. "Eventually, it got to the point where they'd say, ‘Where are you from?' and you'd say, ‘Central Florida, the Central Florida area.' You'd try not to say ‘Orlando.'"


;The band found significant worldwide success by avoiding too much risk, and Yourself or Someone Like You repaid them with more than 10 million copies sold.


;"Being a rock band kind of limits you to being a rock band," he says. "Once you're classified as a ‘rock' band, anything you do can kill your credibility — anything from cutting your hair to doing a ballad." matchbox twenty, then: not a rock band.


;Currently far from being in a "rock band," starring as a solo artist, Thomas continues to repel the limelight as best he can. There were, after all, those Tom Cruise rumors last year. All untrue.


;"I know where to go when I want to be in the magazines, I know the parties, I know the scene. I just don't spend most of my time there," Thomas says, confidently. "I was at Sundance and we threw a big party there, and there was an article about me ‘smoking an herbal cigarette' at the party. I'll admit that I'm a pothead. I don't really have any secrets. I'm a married guy, I don't fuck around on my wife, I don't have any weird sex scandals out there. It's hard to be a celebrity when your life is kinda boring."


;with Jewel
;7:30 PM Thursday May 25
;TD Waterhouse Centre, (407) 849-2020


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