By 2004, things were about to change for Trick Pony's Keith Burns, Ira Dean, and Heidi Newfield.
After being under the direction of Jim Ed Norman for more than 20 years, Warner Brothers Nashville, Trick Pony's label at the time, got a new leader in Bill Bennett. And as often happens when labels undergo regime changes, the new boss had different ideas about how the music should sound.
Despite releasing two successful albums, Trick Pony, which is appearing Saturday at Michigan's Hillsdale County Fair, was put on the shelf for close to a year.
"To put it bluntly, anytime you've worked your tail off and put five years into it, and to have your whole career in the hands of one guy - it's frustrating, very frustrating," Burns says. "But we just kept working."
Following some intense negotiations with the label, Burns, Dean, and Newfield were allowed to buy the rights to their music and shop for a deal elsewhere. Almost immediately, they were signed by Curb Records.
"We all agreed on the direction we wanted to go, and we said if you're ready to put your energy behind us, let's go," Burns says.
The result was Trick Pony's most diverse album to date, "R.I.D.E," which was released in August.
"It's got a great mix. It ranges from a gospel song dedicated to Heidi's mom to hillbilly rock, touching ballads, and Trick Pony honky-tonk music," Burns says. "It's a fun record. We wanted to make a record that could stand on its own musically, but we also wanted people to be able to put it on and have a good time."
The results have been encouraging. "R.I.D.E.," which stands for Rebellious Individuals Delivering Entertainment, debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's Country Albums chart with sales of 37,000 copies that first week in August. Two singles have already charted from the project, "The Bride" and "It's a Heartache," and there's a good buzz around the group's current single, "Ain't Wastin' Good Whiskey on You."
One of the most interesting cuts is "Sad City," which was written by Burns and is a duet with Burns and Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish.
"We were playing at Farm Aid with those guys, and we were just passing the guitar back and forth backstage, and I played that song for him. He said, 'I love it. If you ever record that song, I want to cut it with you.' " Burns says.
Trick Pony returned the favor with "Autumn Jones," a cut on the Hootie & the Blowfish record that also was released in August.
As solid as the new record is, Trick Pony's true strength is its stage show. Fans rarely sit down during a concert, which is exactly the point, Burns says.
"We put on a high-tempo show - there's maybe two ballads in 90 minutes. We like people to be on their feet, to let them forget about their problems for a while."
Trick Pony and Clay Walker will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hillsdale County Fair in Hillsdale, Mich. Tickets range from $22 to $26 and can be purchased at the fair's box office, by calling Star Tickets Plus at 800-585-3737, or at any Star Tickets Plus outlets, including all Michigan Meijer stores.
Contact Brian Dugger at: firstname.lastname@example.org