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Published: Sunday, 7/4/2004

Brooks & Dunn: Country duo back in Ohio for festival

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks have always been about hit songs, ever since their debut single, Brand New Man, reached No. 1 in 1990. But first and foremost, they are entertainers. For more than a decade they ve been one of the top-touring acts in the country because of their high-energy stage show.

On Saturday night, they will be the headliners at Country Concert 04, the 24th year for the four-day festival at the Hickory Hill Lakes campground in Fort Loramie, Ohio, south of Lima. It will be Brooks & Dunn s first appearance at the event since 1995.

It s totally different now. We have everyone sit on lawn chairs and sing Kumbayah and tell them to be quiet, Brooks says with a hearty laugh by phone from Nashville.

Brooks would be the sarcastic one, and the wild one. The one sprinting around stage or throwing a blowup doll into the crowd. He s been known to flip on a baseball cap and go walk around a crowd before a show.

I ve always tried to do that. It makes it fun. Being with a duet, people associate me with a cowboy hat or being with Ronnie. They don t make that association when I m wearing a ballcap, he says.

Dunn is the laid-back, almost shy, lead singer. He s the powerful, distinctive voice behind Red Dirt Road, Boot Scootin Boogie, Hard Working Man, and a long list of other hit songs.

Seemingly mismatched, former Arista Nashville President Tim Dubois saw a potential cohesive force when he offered them a deal as Brooks & Dunn.

Ronnie and I had both had solo deals. I think we were both disappointed when he said, I like what you are doing, but not as solo artists, Brooks says. After we each had that private talk with Tim, I think we both took it as Well, this is something that s on the table, and maybe we ll eventually get around to what we want to do.

The first week together, they sat down and wrote Brand New Man" and "My Next Broken Heart." The songs ended up being the pair's first two singles, and they both hit the top of the charts.

After those first two hits, they were selling about 10,000 CDs a week, but they became one of the hottest acts around when they followed those singles up with "Neon Moon" and "Boot Scootin' Boogie."

"We started selling about 20,000 CDs a week. After that, it was obvious we were on to something," Brooks says. "Neither one of us in our wildest, arrogant dreams ever thought we'd have the careers that we've had."

That first album, "Brand New Man," has gone on to become sextuple platinum (6 million copies sold). Another album, "Steers and Stripes," has three consecutive No. 1 songs: "Only in America," "My Maria," and Billboard's 2001 Country Single of the Year, "There Ain't Nothing 'Bout You."

Tomorrow, they will release "That's What It's All About," the lead single on their upcoming "Greatest Hits" album.

As different as they may be personally, professionally Dunn and Brooks both honed their styles in rowdy beer joints at a young age. Dunn was playing honky-tonks in Texas and Oklahoma while going to Abilene Christian University, dreaming of one day becoming a preacher.

Brooks was jumping on tables and dodging beer bottles in Louisiana at around the same time.

"Even before I could drink, I always lived in a real partying environment, hanging with these folks going through wives, comin' home and finding everything gone," Brooks says.

Through a variety of twists and turns, the pair eventually ended up in Nashville and pursued writing deals and solo deals before being pegged by Dubois as a potential duo.

Without a doubt, their days in the beer joints helped mold their raucous style on stage, driven by Brooks' antics.

"I used to jump off speaker stacks, but I blew my back out doing that," Brooks says with a laugh. "I've cut myself on my hands. A part of it is that it's sheer adrenaline and enthusiasm.

"Sometimes I don't even know I've hurt myself until I get off the stage. Once I remember ripping my guitar off and I get off the stage and Ronnie says, 'Man, you better go look at yourself.' I'd cut myself under my eye and needed eight stitches. I keep thinking I'll slow down, but I just let that adrenaline take over."

Contact Brian Dugger at: bdugger@theblade.com or 419-724-6183.



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