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Published: Wednesday, 11/20/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

PEACH WEEKENDER

A force of nature

Little Big Town opens for Keith urban at The Huntington Center

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Little Big Town performs at the Country to Country in March in London. Little Big Town performs at the Country to Country in March in London.
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December 20 will be a big day for the members of Little Big Town.

Ron Burgundy returns.

As in Ron Burgundy, the character made famous by Will Ferrell in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild, Phillip Sweet, and Kimberly Schlapman plan on being among the first in the theater when the Anchorman sequel is in theaters next month.

“We’re not on the road at that time, and we’re already making plans for a little excursion, maybe grab some margaritas first,” Westbrook said. He started laughing while running through some of the lines from the movie that the group recites before hitting the stage. “He is such a classic character. That was a road movie for us. We watched it over and over.”

It’s no accident that Little Big Town, or LBT as their fans call them, has been able to stay together for more than a decade. They are having fun and enjoying life’s ride together. They will be in Toledo on Sunday night, opening for Keith Urban at Huntington Center.

“It wasn’t happenstance that we’re together. Things were meant to be. For whatever reason, this works,” said Westbrook, who has been married to Fairchild since 2006. “We are family. Some of the experiences we’ve gone through — divorces, deaths — those are the bonds you usually have with your family. We truly love each other and try to take care of each other.”

When the group accepted the Country Music Association’s award for Vocal Group of the Year earlier this month, it gave Westbrook the chance to reflect on the highs and lows that the band has experienced.

“I was standing up there on stage and thinking back on the journey as a band. We’ve lived a lot of life. This is the second year in a row we’ve won it, and someone asked us if we ever get used to it. No, you don’t get used to it. This was just as special as the first one. We’re just thankful and grateful.”

The most heartbreaking challenge the group has overcome was the death of Kimberly’s husband, Steven Roads. He was the band’s lawyer before suffering a fatal heart attack in 2005. She has since remarried Stephen Schlapman.

But commercially, there have been other challenges. The band lost record deals with Mercury and Monument Records before ever getting a song on the radio. Their big break came when they signed a deal with the Equity Music Group, a label started and partially owned by Clint Black, in 2005. Their breakout hit later that year, “Boondocks,” launched their success.

The deal with Equity eventually fell apart, and their once-soaring careers sagged during the transition to Capitol Nashville. The label re-released the album “A Place to Land,” and none of the singles connected with radio. Their next album, “The Reason Why,” produced only one hit, “Little White Church.”

Anybody who is familiar with Nashville knows that labels have a short leash on acts if they aren’t producing commercially. So when “Tornado” was released in September, 2012, there had to be a little bit of pressure, even if Westbrook won’t admit it.

“Our motivation with the record was to do something different and inspiring. Honestly, I’ve loved every record we’ve ever made, and I’m proud of them all, but it was time for us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. We changed producers and wrote with people we’ve never written with before,” Westbrook said.

Jay Joyce, who produces Eric Church, including his upcoming album, was the choice for the album. He pushed them and asked them to bring in their road band for the recording sessions in order to create more of a concert feel. He also encouraged them to quit thinking so much and just sing.

The end product has been their most successful project to date. “Pontoon” and “Tornado” were No. 1 hits, and their current single, “Sober,” is surging up the charts.

“There was such energy while making that record, and that translated to the commercial side. People were inspired to go out and buy it.”

More than likely, if it flopped, there would probably be at least one more chance for the group.

“But we’d be having a much different conversation,” Westbrook said, chuckling.

Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch will open for Keith Urban at the Huntington Center on Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $57 and $77 and are available at the box office, Ticketmaster outlets, online at ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 800-745-3000. The $77 tickets are ticketless, meaning that a credit card is needed to purchase and that card will be used as entry into the arena.

Contact Brian Dugger at bdugger@theblade.com.



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