What: John Mellencamp, with Carlene Carter, Jewel

When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, doors open at 5 p.m.

Where: Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin Hixon Drive, Bend

Cost: $55, $104.50 or $124.50 plus fees

Contact: bendconcerts.com or 541-312-8510

Songwriting is almost always personal for Carlene Carter.

“I don’t spend a whole lot of time writing songs that aren’t about things I’ve experienced or witnessed,” she said recently from Denver, days away from the start of her summer tour with John Mellencamp. The tour, with special guest Jewel, will kick off the concert season at Les Schwab Amphitheater on Sunday.

Take the gospel-tinged “Damascus Road,” a song Carter wrote for her collaborative album with Mellencamp, “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies,” released in April. The only song on the album credited solely to Carter, “Damascus Road” is one of the record’s darkest, with its narrator locked in a struggle between “the good and bad of both sides of me.”

It’s hard not to see the parallels with Carter’s own life and career. The singer-songwriter — daughter of June Carter of the Carter Family and early country star Carl Smith, and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash — has struggled with addiction, most publicly a 2001 arrest on drug charges in New Mexico with then-boyfriend Howie Epstein. Before her most recent career revival that kicked off with 2008’s “Stronger,” at the time her first record in 13 years, Carter suffered a string of losses in 2003 with the deaths of Epstein, mother June, stepfather Cash and sister Rosey Nix.

“For me, (‘Damascus Road’) was very autobiographical in a lot of ways — I can’t say it was about a certain moment or anything, but I certainly have been at those crossroads before in my life,” Carter said. “… I’ve taken long periods of time off, and that really had to do with burning out and then getting really messed up in my personal life and my addiction stuff, and publicly just basically imploding. Then, to be able to come back and earn my way back into this life that I love and not be pushed to the side again, I felt really great about that. I look at every day as a blessing that I’m even here.”

In her own words, Carter is “pretty freakin’ happy” these days. And as far as she’s concerned, this third act in her career is only just beginning.

“I did, at the age of 58, just kind of went, ‘All right, I’ve gotta really buckle down here because time’s a tickin,’” Carter, 61, said. “… There’s so many things that I want to do artistically left for the rest of my life. I intend to live to be 100; I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna work, but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

For at least the past three years, she’s covered that ground with Mellencamp at her side. The two musicians share the same manager, and met at Farm Aid in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2013 (Carter was playing her first Farm Aid that year; Mellencamp is the festival’s co-organizer).

But Carter said they didn’t get to know each other until 2014, when they collaborated on the song “Sugar Hill Mountain” for the soundtrack to the 2015 Meg Ryan film “Ithaca.” That same recording appears on “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies.” Next, Mellencamp invited Carter to join the touring cast of the Stephen King musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” for which Mellencamp wrote the music and lyrics.

“That was a six-week long period of time, and so we got to know each other even more then,” Carter said. “But when I went to see him that first time, he said to me, ‘Are you excited about next year?’ That was gonna be 2015, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m always excited.’ And he’s like, ‘No, I mean are you excited about touring with me?’ And I said, ‘I’m touring with you?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah.’ And I was like, ‘OK, news to me.’ So Randy (Hoffman, Carter and Mellencamp’s manager) obviously had let him tell me.”

That tour stretched into 2016 and featured Carter opening the evenings solo, as well as performing a couple of songs with Mellencamp (the current tour will look much the same). The next step, naturally, was to record a duets album.

“In the beginning of 2015, we were on the side of the stage one night after singing the two songs that we did together, and he said, ‘This just feels really right. I think we should make a record together. And let’s just make a religious record — we’ll get some really old hymns,’” Carter said. “And he’s just telling me all this in a five-minute break.”

With the exception of “Damascus Road,” the gospel record never came to be. Instead, “Sad Clowns” treads familiar, roots-rocking ground for Mellencamp fans, with Carter and guests such as Martina McBride adding a strong country vibe throughout.

“I ended up writing a song that ended up on the record that was intended to be on the gospel record, and that’s ‘Damascus Road,’ and John just never got around to writing those songs,” Carter said, laughing. “But it came out just like it was supposed to. It’s still got a very, very deep spiritual sense to it; the whole album does. It was an organic experience in that we found it easy to work in the studio together.”

In addition to “Damascus Road,” Carter co-wrote “Indigo Sunset” with Mellencamp. The duet is one of five songs Carter sings with Mellencamp on the album.

“It was called ‘I See You,’ which, John goes, ‘It sounds like the f---ing emergency room,’” Carter said. “And I said, ‘You’re right, and I’ve known that.’ And I knew I needed to change it, but I just thought — in fact, I didn’t even think he was gonna even like the song ‘Indigo Sunset.’ So he titled it, and he changed it; he made it better. That’s what I love about collaboration, is you can start with something and then carry it around for a long time, and you can’t see your way to finishing it the way that it deserves to be finished. And so it became ours instead of just mine.”

Carter said she has “great respect” for Mellencamp, although she never felt intimidated working with him. It’s not surprising given her history of songwriting mentors — besides her famous parents, stepfather and family, Carter grew up in a house where people such as Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan were frequent guests.

“They would come, and they would sing a new song they had just written, and (that) excitement of the new song that no one had heard, I latched onto that,” Carter said. “… Every time, I knew Mom and John were having a party, and there was gonna be a guitar pull where you’d sing for your supper — the rule at the house was the guitar went around the room, no matter how young or feeble you might be — how young or how old you might be — you either had to tell a story, a joke, or you had to do something. But I wanted to sing a song, so I would just start writing songs and want to have a new song for the next time. And that became my life. I wanted to do it; I wanted to be like that.”

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