While many country singers pumped the brakes while touring was stalled in the early days of the pandemic, Brad Paisley found ways to maintain full speed ahead.
He held socially distanced concerts in parking lots, wrote songs and made a daily habit of visiting with fans over Zoom.
"In the height of it, I felt a connection with fans and friends," Paisley said. "I don't know how I would've ever had these moments that I'll never forget without being forced to figure out this app called Zoom. It started to be so much fun to see that somebody had a special thing happening that I could be a part of because I had the time. It was just so rewarding to just drop in on a group of nurses."
Paisley was so engaged during everyone else's downtime in 2020 that as things have started to return to normal, he found himself needing to take a step back. He's still playing shows, including March 11-12 at The Wynn in Las Vegas, but he cut back the time he spends on social media and is carefully considering his next musical move.
"I feel like I'm resetting a little bit right now," Paisley said. "We toured all last summer, and it was never back to normal, but it was back to something. I don't even want to say new normal because that better not be the case. I don't want new normal. Normal better come back."
He's being selective when it comes to new music, too. He released "City of Music" in 2021 as a walk-up to his headlining performance at Nashville's July 4th celebration. The concert and fireworks display attracted more than 300,000 people, and Paisley proudly points out there was no COVID spike in the area after his show. In February, he nabbed his 25th No. 1 song with the Jimmie Allen duet "Freedom was a Highway." But the "Mud on the Tires" singer hasn't released a new album in five years.
"I wrote and did things, and I've taken my time," Paisley said. "I just haven't released any of it yet. We haven't really gone all out in a while, and someday I might. But for now, it's been nice to sort of sit on what I'm working on and try to figure out with some clarity what comes next."
He's adamant that he doesn't want to release a record that reflects the last two years of the pandemic.
"When I do an album, it'll fully be an album and hopefully not things that feel like I wrote them when everybody was hoarding toilet paper," he said.
Fans might get to hear a new song or two at Paisley's concerts. His March 11-12 shows at The Wynn are a personal, storyteller style with just him and his guitar in the resort's intimate Encore Theater. He'll headline an opposite experience on March 19 when he plays with his band for approximately 70,000 fans at the Houston Rodeo. Paisley is set to play select dates around the U.S. and Canada in April, May and June before launching his European tour in July.
"Fingers crossed that we're allowed to go," he said, indicating COVID still weighs on his mind. "I would imagine it seems like everywhere is on the same path one way or another, which is spiking you and then hopefully get fairly normal again for a bit. Normal is very possible."