2012 Country Megaticket with Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town, Eli Young Band, and Edens Edge
Rascal Flatts is the most awarded Country group of the past decade, earning over 40 trophies from the ACAs, ACMs, AMAs, CMAs, People’s Choice Awards and more. As one of the hottest-selling acts on tour in any genre, they’ve sold over 7 million concert tickets, and counting.
The journey began when Jay and Gary, from the Columbus, Ohio, area, and Joe Don, from Picher, Oklahoma, teamed up in a club in Nashville’s Printers Alley. “We knew right away we had something special,” says Jay, “even if we were the only ones who ever got to hear it.” They weren’t. They quickly earned a record deal and talent, drive, and great song selection did the rest. Their list of hits constitutes one of the great bodies of work in modern country music, with “These Days,” “Bless the Broken Road,” “What Hurts The Most,” “My Wish,” “Take Me There” and “Here Comes Goodbye” as just the tip of an ever-expanding iceberg. Their performances are state-of-the art, house-rocking extravaganzas, sold-out excursions into musical excitement that have included as opening acts some of this generation’s great artists, including Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean.
Committed to giving back, they are known for their charitable work, which includes raising three million dollars for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville. It’s something close to all of their hearts.
“To give back when you’re in a position to give seems like a natural thing to do,” says Jay. “It’s our responsibility as three guys who’ve been very blessed.”
As for the accolades, it may be Opry membership that feels best to them at present.
“It’s one of our proudest moments in the world, being part of the Opry family,” says Gary. “We’ve been part of a lot of great things, but this is joining a wonderful family that will live on forever. It’s mind-blowing.”
It’s a fitting tribute to a group that has brought so much to country music and its fans.
Jay, Joe Don and Gary see their latest album as the perfect representation of all the elements that go into the music that has given them so much success.
“Everything is in this big crock pot called Changed,” says Gary with a laugh “It’s got meat, potatoes, vegetables—all of it. It’s fun, it’s poignant, and we think the hard work that went into has really paid off. And we’re very glad to take one more big step down the road.”
Little Big Town: What is “The Reason Why” some bands survive and thrive? It is not likely one thing, but many. In the case of Little Big Town, the reasons are plenty. They have sold over 1.5 million records and garnered 3 Grammy nominations, including The Road to Here’s nomination for album of the year. CMA and ACM nominations have arrived in abundance. Critical acclaim and end of year “best” lists have been copious. But this is a band with a history. A band that has always put music first… and that is the biggest reason of all. The music is the reason for the accolades. The music is the reason they survived three record label changes and personal tragedy. The music is the reason that the band has collaborated with a wide range of other respected artists from multiple genres. The music is the reason four people with families, leave home to work and travel tirelessly. It is with this clarity of vision and purpose that the band entered the studio to record their fourth album, confidently titled The Reason Why.
While they've never been afraid to break new musical ground, the band truly had no bounds in the studio this time around. From the heartland country rock of the title cut to the groovy mountain soul of lead single "Little White Church" and the stone country in the ballad "Can't Have Everything," there is a creative hunger and renewed energy evident on each track. It all started with the band's approach, says Little Big Town's Phillip Sweet.
"For the first time, we were able to take off the road and really focus on making a record. It was an amazing creative time for the band. There's a lot of push and pull that goes into making music, we believe that's what makes it interesting."
Though that extra time in the studio led to new sonic territory on tracks like the soaring "Kiss Goodbye," the qualities that make up the signature Little Big Town sound remain intact. Namely, that trademark harmony.
"The harmony is the common thread through the record," notes Karen Fairchild. "It's always going to be about the harmony. It doesn't matter if the textures behind us on the record change. We're always trying to do something different, not just for the fans, but for us to be inspired."
That inspiration comes bound to very high standards though. For every song that made the album, two to three were scrapped because they just didn't make all four of them sit up and take notice. While those multi-dimensional harmonies form the heart of the Little Big Town sound, the exact ingredients of what makes a song work for the band is defined by their years together and the intangible magic that makes them who they are.
"There is a knowing. We kinda know when it's hit that marker for us," explains Phillip.
Achieving that level of personal satisfaction became a call the band had the luxury of answering on The Reason Why. "It truly is about the pure love of music and feeling connected to the lyrics we're writing." Phillip adds. "That's the whole point. If it didn't get us to that place, it didn't make the record."
That love for the music and love of harmony has always been the common thread for the band. From the first time those voices blended, sitting in Kimberly Schlapman’s living room, they knew this is what they were supposed to do... make music together. Karen and Kimberly had first met in college at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. While Karen and Jimi Westbrook had known each other from other touring bands, the timing of his move to Nashville didn't seem like a coincidence. Soon after the three began hanging out together, they were introduced to Phillip through a writer/friend of Karen's.
"At its core, the vocal blend is the same today as it was sitting in that living room when we first all four sang together," Kimberly recalls. Karen chimes in, "Now there's a maturity and a history to the band that can't help but come through -- the breathing together, the moving together. The knowing what we're going to do without having to say it to each other."
That kind of musical bond can only be forged over the span of many years and a lot of hard miles. Looking back on the past decade plus, Kimberly says, "It's been 12 years so crammed full with story after story and drama after drama...crazy stuff in 12 years that most people might take a lifetime to live out."
The backstory goes like this -- Early in their collaboration, all four band members were in relationships. Due to break ups, divorces, and in Kimberly's case, the death of her husband Steven Roads in 2005, they all found themselves single again with their fellow band members forming their main support system.
Fast forward to the present and Little Big Town finds themselves with the happy problem of having less and less room on the tour bus due to their ever-expanding families. All four members have married and had a child in the last five years -- Kimberly and husband Stephen Schlapman welcomed their daughter Daisy in 2007; Phillip and wife Rebecca had Penelopi Jane in 2007; and Karen and Jimi married in 2006 and added son Elijah Dylan to the family in March 2010.
The stability of these happy home lives afforded the band a stable environment in which to create The Reason Why, but that joy doesn't translate into a bunch of sappy songs about babies. Instead, the new lives all around the band have actually sharpened the band's creative instincts. "We're not easily satisfied with the art we make. Never have been and never will be probably. We're constantly striving towards the next goal, the next song, the next thing we want to accomplish. There's a hunger and edge to the band that people might not realize on the surface."
That edge Karen speaks of is evident in the rocking, dirty slide guitar of "Why, Oh Why" and the hard charging "Runaway Train". On the flip side, tracks such as "Kiss Goodbye" and "Shut Up Train" dig deep into the exploration of loss and "Lean Into It" also speaks directly to Little Big Town's own story of perseverance in the face of adversity. Taken as a whole, the songs that make up The Reason Why offer a 360-degree view of life with all of its ups and downs. That element of variety is only heightened when taking into account that Little Big Town has not one, but four lead singers.
"Each person has their own individual style, so the face of the band changes with whoever's singing," Jimi explains. "It gives us the ability to have a wide range of what our music is." Now that they're armed with this new batch of tunes, Little Big Town will now go out and deliver them onstage to the fans in cities around the country. Plans to reinvent their live show grew as a result of the new sounds on The Reason Why.
"When making a record, you think of how some of these songs might translate with your live show, and the different things you can do with them," says Jimi "I'm really excited about all of these. Can't wait to play them all."
Of course, the crux of the live show lies in delivering great songs that entertain an audience, and that's exactly what fans will find on The Reason Why. Kimberly admits she often thinks of the fans while in the studio, and Karen agrees saying, "We're trying to take people on a journey when we're making a record. A lot of time gets spent pouring over lyrics and how to deliver a song. We're always trying to capture the fans by weaving in and out of moments that tell a story. Stories that are deeply personal and some that are not our own, but feel like they need to be told."
After just one listen it is evident Little Big Town has pulled that lofty goal off beautifully. This is an album that will live in the hearts and music collections of their fans for years to come.
As Always … music first is The Reason Why.
Eli Young Band: The Eli Young Band is country-rock's latest crave. With four Top 40 singles to their credit and years of touring under their belts; the Eli Young Band is hoping that 2011 will be their year. Currently on the road supporting their latest album, The Eli Young Band tour dates are scheduled periodically throughout 2011. Don't miss a date on the Eli Young Band concert schedule (2011); Use Eventful as your source for Eli Young Band tour dates and venue information.
James Young and Mike Eli formed an acoustic duo while attending the University of North Texas in 2001. Since then they added Jon Jones and Chris Thompson to form the Eli Young Band. In 2005, they released their debut album, Level, and opened tour dates for Miranda Lambert. The band continued to tour throughout the decade and performances were scheduled at several events including the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Eli Young Band found success with their third album, Jet Black & Jealous, which was released in 2008. The album featured three hit singles including "Always the Love Songs" and they were nominated for the ACM Award for Top New Vocal Group.
In 2011, the Eli Young band released the single "Crazy Girl" to country radio. An immediate hit, it has already been certified Gold and the band has been on the road promoting their latest album, Life At Best, which is slated to hit stores in August, 2011. Stay on top of the Eli Young Band concert schedule (2011) by using Eventful as your concert calendar.
Edens Edge: When it comes to making great music, kindred spirits somehow seem to find each other and such is the case with Edens Edge. Three talented young musicians from Arkansas -- Hannah Blaylock, Dean Berner, and Cherrill Green --make their debut on Big Machine Records with a vibrant sound that honors country music’s roots while creatively pushing the envelope with their seasoned musicianship, dazzling harmonies and insightful songwriting.
With one listen to Edens Edge, it’s obvious the trio has forged a unique sound shaped by their individual influences and anchored in their own distinctive gifts. Each grew up in rural Arkansas where farming, faith and family provided a firm foundation and offered a springboard for their musical aspirations.
“I had grown up singing in church and school talent shows,” says lead vocalist Hannah. “I’d always known that I wanted to be a singer. I didn’t know exactly how to go about making that happen, but my parents always knew that that was my true passion and they wanted to nurture that as much as possible.”
By the time she was in her teens, Hannah was singing in a band with her family and Steve Smith, a local financial planner with a penchant for writing songs. It was Smith who recruited Dean to join the group. “He taught me my first chords on guitar and he was also my soccer coach when I was seven,” says Dean, who plays guitar, dobro and contributes harmony vocals. “I grew up listening to a pretty eclectic mix of music from Johnny Cash to Crystal Gayle. My dad was a fan of Crystal and he had her tapes in the car. I also listened to the Beatles and other great songwriters like Billy Joel, Paul Simon and The Eagles. Then I got into rock music when I was a teenager and listened to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. I was learning to play guitar, so that was a big thing for me just listening to great guitar players. Eric Clapton was also another big influence.”
Dean and Cherrill had played music together a few times during their college days, and a month after Dean joined Hannah’s group, they recruited Cherrrill. “We needed another mandolin player and singer so we found Cherrill,” says Hannah. “She is just amazing. She’s this incredible instrumentalist and she could follow me like crazy with harmonies because she’d grown up her whole life singing in a family bluegrass band.”
Cherrill recalls listening to some classic country and a little Beatles growing up, but her world was dominated by bluegrass. “I listened to Alison Krauss, Tony Rice and Flatt and Scruggs, but then my mom listened to a lot of The Judds, Reba, George Strait, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn,” says Cherrill, who sings and plays mandolin, banjo and guitar. “We played a lot of festivals. At bluegrass festivals you just play all the time. We’d jam till really late at night and we were constantly around so many good musicians. When you are at those things, especially as a kid, musicians want to show you stuff so you are constantly learning. It’s basically like taking lessons from professionals all the time.”
After Cherrill, Dean and Hannah joined to form Edens Edge, the group steadily gained popularity, touring extensively around the region and winning area talent competitions. An entry in the 2006 CMT/NSAI Songwriter’s contest caught the attention of Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Kye Fleming, known for penning such classic hits as Barbara Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” Sylvia’s “Nobody,” Ronnie Milsap’s “Smoky Mountain Rain.” “Kye contacted us and found out that we were 40 miles down the road from where she grew up in Fort Smith,” Hannah says of their Arkansas connection. She encouraged the young trio to move to Nashville. They made the leap in 2007 and began working with Fleming to hone their unique sound.
When Fleming was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame last year, Edens Edge was asked to perform a medley of her hits at the induction ceremony. Toby Keith, Taylor Swift and the late Tammy Wynnette were among the other honorees during the gala and the room was filled with Music City’s most powerful movers and shakers. “That night we got a record deal offer from Big Machine,” says Hannah.
Working with producer Mark Bright (Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts) the trio crafted a stellar debut that showcases their strengths as musicians as well as their compelling vocal blend. “The cool thing about the three of us is Cherrill has a classic country along with bluegrass background. Dean has the rock, blues and country background and then I have more the folk/americana/ country background,” Hannah says. “We’ve all kind of taken our favorite sounds from every genre and just kind of come up with our own formula.”
Cherrill, the Magazine , AR native, says Bright immediately caught their vision for the Edens Edge sound. “We felt he would bring creatively to the table what we wanted,” she says. “It’s a real challenge to take what we do acoustically as a trio, to add a band to it and yet keep the band from overpowering the acoustic instruments and vocal blend. It’s unique, and we needed a producer that understood our vision for the sound and could help us achieve that.”
They also flex their muscles as songwriters, co-writing with such proven hitmakers as Vince Melamed, Catt Gravitt and Danny Myrick. Hannah co-wrote the trio’s first single, “Amen” drawing from her rural experiences. “We all grew up in small towns and in Arkansas there is a church on every corner,” Hannah says. “Amen” is a fresh depiction of a small town love story. Everybody knows everybody else and gossip gets around and it paints a picture of that small town where two people fall in love.”
“Swinging Door” is a positive anthem that is attracting attention. ““I love it because it’s an empowering song,” says Hannah. “It’s from a girl’s perspective obviously, but it could also be from a boy’s perspective. It’s about being in a relationship and not letting somebody else push you around. I know we’ve all felt that way.”
“Giving Myself to that Man” is another song attracting strong attention as the trio blissfully conveys the excitement of completely surrendering to a new love. “Feels So Real” is a beautiful ballad, penned by Hillary Lindsey, Angelo and Tia Sillers. “Last Supper” is a unique examination of a relationship on the rocks. “You break the bread and you break my heart. You raise the glass, we fall apart” Hannah sings in the mournful ballad. The collection closes with” Christ Alone,” an a cappella song written by their longtime friend and former band mate Steve Smith. “It’s about living every day for the right thing,” notes Hannah. “It’s not about money, power or success. It’s about who did I love today? Where are my priorities and where are my values? It’s a reminder of what’s really important in life. People get emotional and are moved to tears when they hear that song. It’s a priceless gift for us.”
“It’s a really universal song,” adds Dean. “It’s in a Christian context, but it speaks to people that are from different faith backgrounds and people who don’t really have a faith background. It’s amazing in that way.”
Music has taken the young members of Edens Edge on an intriguing journey and they are thankful for the ride. “We’ve really grown up together and we’ve moved here and created a life together and I think that kind of history is organic,” says Dean. “We came together naturally-- just for the purpose of having fun and playing music. That’s part our chemistry- we’re all doing something that we love together.”
Cherrill and Hannah agree. “We’ve grown together and changed together,” says Cherrill while Hannah adds, “We’ve found or have written music that moves us and inspires us. We just trust that the music will speak for itself. You do what you do and hope people will love it and can connect with it because our first love--as much as we love playing and writing music--our first love is inspiring others through music.”