The members of Little Big Town remember the night they met Sugarland, when both bands were playing the same venue and starting to gain momentum with country audiences. LBT's Jimi Westbrook says the two groups felt an instant connection, but it was the second encounter a few weeks later that made a bigger impression.
"That next show, they brought us over to their bus," Westbrook remembers, "and they had bought us wireless packs [transmitters] for our guitars because they had stood side-stage and saw that we were tied down with our cords. They wanted to give us the freedom to move around on stage. That was just a genuinely kind thing to do."
"They were like, 'Roam! Be free! You're not tied down anymore!'" says Karen Fairchild, grinning at the memory.
"That's a beautiful thing from somebody that's out touring. They wanted us to help us grow with our live show," Westbrook continues. "It's been awesome. We've been all over the stage, running everywhere!"
The next stretch of road begins Thursday (Sept. 27) in Charleston, S.C., when Sugarland headlines the new CMT on Tour with Little Big Town and Jake Owen. With LBT's Kimberly Roads still on maternity leave during this recent interview, Westbrook and Fairchild joined bandmate Phillip Sweet in talking about the early years, learning from Martina McBride and the secret to staying energetic.
CMT: How long did it take you to acclimate yourself to a demanding tour schedule?
Jimi Westbrook: Man, we jumped in head first when "Boondocks" took off. There was really no time to think about it or to get adjusted. We did over 220 shows that year.
Karen Fairchild: And we loved it. We begged people to book us and to let us sing. We were loving every minute of it. We had the chance to sing -- all these invitations and offers -- and we didn't want to say no to any of them. So we tried to do them all -- and we nearly killed ourselves that year.
Phillip Sweet: Now touring is different. It's much easier when someone drives for you, as opposed to driving yourself and selling your own merchandise. It's like, "This is fun. This is what we worked for, to have other people help us do it."
When you were out on the road with Martina McBride, did you think to yourself, "Wow, she makes it look easy"?
Sweet: She does make it look easy, and she's a great example for having a family on the road. Her three daughters are out there and range from 2 to 12. They're a great cohesive unit, even when they're all scattered. The whole crew is run really well. It's a great atmosphere.
Fairchild: It's an amazing atmosphere. She's a fearless singer and entertainer, and I love it when she's up there and so uninhibited. Then she walks off stage and will walk straight over to one of her children and immediately identify that one of them has a fever. It's like she goes straight from superstar to mom, and she does it beautifully. It was a perfect time to be out there and for Kimberly to ask her all the questions. Martina was incredibly helpful.
You'll be spending a lot of time with Sugarland on this tour. What is it about their music that really clicks with fans?
Fairchild: It's so sing-able. It's so much fun and contagious and cool. They're so relevant. I just think the fans always want more from them. They write melodies.
Sweet: There's nothing that comes out of Jennifer and Kristian's mouth that you don't believe. You believe it when they deliver it.
Westbrook: They're so entertaining on stage, too. They've got great energy. We're excited to be with them, and they're amazing people. They have been super kind to us. We're looking forward to spending a little more time with them.
Are you surprised how hard it's been to keep your own energy level up?
Fairchild: Only sometimes. Not lately. We've been back in the studio and juggling the road and the studio. But, no, there are much harder jobs in the world.
Westbrook: I think you synch into the pace and you go with it.
Fairchild: Keep the coffee machine working and plugged in at all times and you're fine.
On this tour, you'll have new music and quite a few hits that people are anxious to hear. How do you strike the balance between keeping the crowd interested and pumped up, without going too heavy on music they've never heard before?
Fairchild: It will be fun to figure out. We've been toying with what songs we're going to introduce on the Sugarland tour. Of course, we'll do "I'm With the Band." Hopefully, if they see the video and they're hearing it on the radio, people will know that one a little bit. I don't know. We've got to figure that out. You want to give it to them in doses, but also the songs they know, like "A Little More You" and "Good as Gone" and "Bring It on Home." And you have to jam all that into a 45-minute set, as the opening slot. It should be fun.