Little Big Town Storming to ACMs With Four Nominations

Upbeat Group Is Currently Headlining the Tornado Tour

Little Big Town will enter the ACM Awards on Sunday (April 7) with four nominations, the most they’ve ever received in one year.

The upbeat quartet will compete in the vocal group category, while “Pontoon” made waves in the single and video categories. Plus, Tornado stormed its way onto the album ballot.

Although the band won their first and only ACM Award as the 2006 top new vocal duo or group, Little Big Town has now been nominated seven times in the vocal group category. Thanks to that long career, they have plenty of material to populate the set list for its Tornado tour, currently touching down in theaters across the country. caught up with the band prior to a sold-out show at the ornate Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, Tenn.

CMT: You have played everywhere from arenas to outdoor festivals. What is it about a theater tour that appeals to you?

Phillip Sweet: In some of these places, there’s a magical energy about them. They’re iconic and they’re special, beautiful rooms and a lot have a history. It’s cool to play these kind of spots.

When you’re in a beautiful place like this, do you want to scale back the production value?

Karen Fairchild: No, we just bring it all. And what fits, fits, and what doesn’t, goes back on the truck.

Kimberly Schlapman: Irving Plaza in New York City was so tiny, but we so wanted to play it. We couldn’t use everything we had, but we used what we could. But, boy, if we had the space, we’d pull it all out! (laughs) Now that we have it, you know?

How much equipment have you added in the last year?

Fairchild: A lot. A truck’s worth. We had crammed everything we could into two trailers, so it gives us the ability to do a few more things. Our night is really about the music. It’s not like we’ve got all these tricks. It’s not necessarily that kind of show, which also works really well in a theater. I mean, we’re here to sing these songs for fans and hopefully sing them well. We want it to be a super-musical night that feels like a party. It’s more intimate. I love that about a theater. We can see everybody and reach out and touch them.

Is the new truck in direct correlation to “Pontoon” and all of the success that followed?

Jimi Westbrook: It is. The shows have been sold out so far. It’s been really exciting to walk out there and see fans singing songs that haven’t been on the radio. It’s really, really cool. Big, fun crowds. We’ve been having a blast.

At what point did you see fans singing along with “Pontoon”?

Fairchild: About halfway through the Rascal Flatts tour [in 2012] or even before that. There were a few shows before we started the tour where we were noticing people singing it. But when we got out there with Rascal Flatts, it really started taking off. Ever since then, it’s been a big ol’ party on that one.

What do you hope your fans can take away from a tour like this?

Westbrook: Hopefully there’s some depth. “Pontoon” is such a unique song. It’s fun, very lighthearted. There’s nothing serious about that song. I think maybe that will bring them to the shows, then they’ll find something that moves them. They’ll have a musical experience when they get here. I think they’ll walk away with something like that.

Fairchild: We want it to be one of those nights where people look back and remember a definitive night of music. For me, I can remember several shows that impacted me so much, whether I was having a great time and partying with friends, or I was experiencing something that was so musical and so inspired that it changed me. We’re just hoping that whatever that experience is for them, that they’ll remember this night and it will be a great memory, and they’ll want to come back.

And it’s fun for the fans to see a band at the height of their popularity, too.

Sweet: And we’re definitely still on a high of all the great stuff that’s happening. We carry that out there. We’re having the time of our lives. We’re having a lot of fun. This is what we worked so hard for and what we dreamed about doing. It’s great to get up there and do all these things, use the set design and move around the stage in different ways.

I’ve always noticed that your fans are so invested in you.

Schlapman: Yeah, and a handful have been around for 13 or 14 years, when we started singing publicly. I mean, they are wholehearted fans. We’ve seen them have kids, get married and go off to school. So they are invested, and it’s fun to see them come back all these years later. I know that if I were them, I would enjoy seeing what other people have discovered. I would be like, “Well, I knew that a long time ago,” you know?

For those fans that have seen you a whole bunch, what can they take away from this tour?

Fairchild: It’s bolder, it’s bigger, it’s more music.

Westbrook: I definitely don’t feel like it’s something they have seen before from us. There’s a confidence that’s happening now. There’s such a great energy in the music we made for this record. Playing it out live, it’s new and it’s fresh to us. Hopefully they’ll come away — even if they were there 13 years ago — and go, “Wow!” It will be a rediscovery.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.