Everyone had so much fun it oughta be a sin at the sold-out opening weekend of Little Big Town‘s residency at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. It is the first artist residency at the Mother Church of country music in its 125-year history.
— Little Big Town (@littlebigtown) February 26, 2017
Night one was like a big family reunion for the fans who traveled from all over the country to be there.
“Mama and them are here,” Kimberly Schlapman joked when she spotted family in the audience. “I see Jimi’s family and Phillip’s. We are so excited to be here. Y’all we worked on this record for over a year and we’re so happy. We hope we remember the words, but you won’t know it if we don’t.”
Every note and lyric had a purpose like a sermon. At the end of “Happy People,” the closing line “we all deserve to be happy while we’re here,” hung in the air. The same effect happened when they sang “let’s start a revolution” in “Tonight Is On Our Side” and “all the things we want are free” in “Free.”
The escapism in “Lost in California,” “Drivin’ Around” and “Rollin'” balanced the raw emotion in “Beat Up Bible,” “When Someone Stops Loving You,” their newest No. 1 “Better Man” and the title song.
“One of the things when we were making the record The Breaker,” Karen Fairchild said, “we were talking a lot about things of family, connection and memories and this record feels very nostalgic to us and it would not have been the record that it is without this next song.”
That’s when Sweet led the band into “We Went to the Beach” about a family vacation, a spring break with the boys, a girls’ trip and a beach wedding.
The show took another brief emotional turn when they shared the inspiration behind “Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old,” which was written with the Love Junkies’ Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose following the passing of Westbrook’s sister Joyce. She lost her battle with cancer in 2015.
“She was a beautiful soul,” Fairchild said. “And she fought hard and long. We were just talking as we were writing and that’s what songwriting is great for — it’s a way to get things out in the world, messages you want to say to people and things that can make the world better.
“We were talking about Jimi and his sister Joyce and we wrote this beautiful song. We talked about Kimberly and I have been friends for 30 years. We were talking about what we would say to each other when we were younger, ‘Let’s don’t die young and let’s don’t get old.’ And let’s live in the moment and enjoy it. So we wrote this for Joyce.”
Halfway through the album, the familiar opening notes of Hunt’s new single “Body Like a Back Road” instantly had fans on their feet, and they roared in applause when he emerged from the side of the stage to sit in with the band.
Following The Breaker, a brief a cappella interlude of Stapleton’s version of George Jones‘ “Tennessee Whiskey” welcomed the grizzly Grammy winner onstage. Little Big Town trailed his melisma perfectly when he laid into the line “warm as a glass of brandy,” and he stayed onstage for Tornado‘s “Front Porch Thing,” which Stapleton co-wrote with Adam Hood.
Next came “Wish We Could Stay All Night,” “Pontoon,” “Tornado,” “Boondocks” and “Girl Crush.” For the finale, the band went off the mic to sing “The Beginning,” a song they wrote with hit-maker Natalie Hemby.
Brent Cobb opened night one with live selections from his latest album Shine On Rainy Day, and invited his father Patrick Cobb onstage to sing “Country Bound” — one of the first songs Brent remembers being written. He was six when he watched to his dad and uncle co-write the song on a road trip to see family in Cleveland, Ohio.
On night two, Mae was a surprise guest on “Drivin’ Around,” a song she co-wrote with Kameron Alexander, David Embree and Todd Spadafore. The band backed Day as she sang her signature hit “Rise Up.”
Expectant mom Ashley Monroe kicked off night two with live selections of The Blade and she helped the band close the first weekend with an off the mic performance of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” from The Band’s Music From Big Pink.
A tenth Little Big Town at the Mother Church date has been added for July 30. Previously announced dates include May 19-20, July 28-29, Sept. 15-16 and Nov. 27.