Couple Breaks Sugarland’s Winning Streak
With 24 performances planned, tonight's Academy of Country Music Awards promise to be jam-packed with music. It’s the largest amount of performances the show has ever attempted in its 47-year history. In between those musical moments, trophies will be handed out in 11 categories, but one of the winners has already been revealed. Thompson Square will be awarded the vocal duo of the year prize, beating out perennial winners Sugarland, along with fellow nominees Montgomery Gentry, Love and Theft and Steel Magnolia.
Thompson Square, comprised of married couple Shawna and Keifer Thompson, are best known for their No. 1 hit single “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” from their self-titled debut album, which was released last year. Look for the rest of the winner’s to be announced on tonight's show, airing on CBS. Thompson Square will be presenters on the show.
The duo was surprised with news of their win onstage by ACM CEO Bob Romeo in front of thousands of fans following a show in Las Vegas last night.
Thompson Square becomes only the third duo to win the ACM vocal duo of the year award since 1991, joining Sugarland and Brooks & Dunn in the winners' circle.
“It’s been a long, long road,” Keifer Thompson told last night's crowd. “This is one of the greatest nights of our lives.” Overcome with emotion, he added, “It’s hard to talk when you’re crying.”
“This is a very bittersweet moment for me,” added Shawna Thompson as she also fought back tears. “More sweet than bitter. My dad passed away a month ago. This is for my dad.”
Gets His ‘Midlife Crisis’ Out Of The Way
When Ronnie Dunn came home with the word “cowboy” tattooed across half of his right arm, his wife Janine decided it was time for a little chat. He’s already announced plans to disband the group in which he’d become a superstar, Brooks & Dunn, without first discussing it with her, so the tattoo, which Dunn admits his wife “wasn’t crazy about,” may have been the final straw.
On a stop home during the last few dates of the Brooks & Dunn farewell tour, Janie met him at the front door, then ushered him straight through the house and out onto the back patio right from his tour bus.
“She gave me this little pep talk,” he recalls of his wife of 20 years. “She said, ‘You’re doing a lot of things that are life changing events here. You’re quitting a really good job, and you didn’t talk to me about it. [Then] you come home with some ‘cowboy’ tattoo from your elbow to your wrist. I think you need to slow down. I’m not sure if you’re coming apart or just thinking too much.’”
Taking away the one excuse he was prepared to use, Dunn says, “She brought up the midlife crisis thing, then she backed it up by saying ‘You’re a little past the age of going through a midlife crisis.’ So I just shut up and listened to her.”
Dunn, who recently welcomed his first grandson, admits he’d been feeling the stress of launching a solo career in his 50s, although the top 10 success of “Bleed Red,” the first single from the solo album he released last year, likely went a long way toward calming his fears.
Long considered one of the finest—if not the finest—male vocalists in Nashville, Dunn was cheated during his 20-year career with Brooks & Dunn by never being eligible for a nomination for the top male vocalist trophies at the CMA or ACM Awards, since those are reserved for solo acts. He admits he’s now hoping that’s an honor that might now come his way.
“I may have waited too late,” he says. “I’ll give you all the neurotic answers. I may have never gotten it anyway, but I’d like to. By the same token, I’m in no way whining or feeling left out or belittled in any way that being in a duo—as successful as it was—kept me from doing anything. If anything, it’s opened the doors to everything.”
And while Brooks & Dunn dominated in the vocal duo awards categories for much of their run together, Dunn admits he didn’t always want them to win.
“It’s sometimes like if you’re the Dallas Cowboys or the Patriots and you win the Super Bowl five years in a row, even your fans are going to start rooting for the underdog,” he says. “There have been times when I’ve sat in the audience for real and gone ‘Don’t call our name.’ It’s healthy in this business or in sports to have dips. It’s an important dynamic.”
As for his solo career, he’s hoping there are no dips on the horizon. His new single, “Let The Cowboy Rock” is climbing the national radio charts, and a “Let the Cowboy Rock” tour is in the works for fall.
Dunn says he’s always been drawn to the cowboy mystique, a semi-frequent theme in his songs. “I was born in West Texas, and my dad was a foreman of a small ranch out there,” he says. “When he wasn’t doing that, he had a band called the Fox Four Five. They would play a weekend radio show on a station in Abilene. He was a cowboy. He was actually a thoroughbred trainer and a stable boy when he was a kid in Kentucky. So it’s always been a big part of what I did. Now does that justify me having to put a tattoo on my arm? No. But hey, whatever.”
He’s taken to social media to ask fans to suggest opening acts for the upcoming tour. But Dunn, who admits to once responding to a review he didn’t like by e-mailing the music critic a brief note containing only the words “kiss my ass,” jokes that he’s a menace to the cyber media world.
“A lot of the stuff I put on there is a little impulsive,” he says with a laugh. “I need a governor and a guard around me at all times.
“When people [in the inner circle] heard I was actually going to have access to social media, their hearts skipped a beat,” says Dunn, who much prefers Facebook to Twitter. “But if you do it right, it’s a good way to get feedback from people. I love asking them what singles they want to hear. If you get active people in there . . . you can go back and forth with them. It’s pretty cool.”
Band Members Dish Dirt On Their Former Touring Partners
After years of working the road, the Eli Young Band finally scored a major breakthrough in the last year thanks, in large part, to the success of hit single “Crazy Girl.” They’re going into Sunday’s night’s Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas with three nominations, including vocal group of the year.
Before they got to Vegas, however, we had a little fun with band members Mike Eli, James Young, Jon Jones and Chris Thompson, goading them into dishing about the superstars they’ve toured with, and naming the artist was the biggest prankster. Each member also shared their own tour bus essentials, as well as their desert island necessities.
The hard touring band has opened for scores of acts and learned some thing to do—and NOT do—as headliners themselves. They’ve incorporated several of those lessons into their own touring business and show.
“We’ve learned a lot from some of the headliners we’ve opened for, but I think one of the biggest things is just to be a nice person to everyone,” says Eli. “That’s a life lesson. Sometimes, some of these big stars get put in some really tough situations, and I love to see it when they can handle themselves so graciously.”
Thompson agrees. “We have been very fortunate to open for some very kind folks, and I believe that seeing artists that are very successful be kind and humble to the people around them is something that we take with us when we tour,” he says.
“Going out with the Dave Matthews Band was a great experience for us a few years back,” recalls Jones. “Dave is one of the biggest musical draws of our generation, and he could totally isolate himself from the fans and the opening act if he wanted. Instead, he went out riding his bike through all of the tailgaters giving out front row seats to anyone he caught recycling. He spent time hanging out with us before every show, introduced the band to the crowd, [and] watched from side stage. It was world class, and an example that we try to follow.”
Along the way, they’ve also learned what NOT to do from some of the acts they’ve shared a stage with.
For Eli, the pet peeve is “glutinous spending on tours.” He calls that “a huge turn-off for me. I guess I’m just of the mindset that a budget is a good thing.”
Jones says he’s noticed “some major artists get surrounded by ‘yes men’ who won’t always be honest about something bad or sensitive. I think it’s important to hear about the good and the bad things that happen on and off stage. It’s the only way we will get better.”
On a lighter note, we asked the band members which of the stars they’ve opened for had the best catering. Band members singled out the Dave Matthews Band for its periodic steak and lobster nights. Says Jones, “Everything [was] organic and very fresh.” Adds Eli, “It was incredible.”
When it came time to picking which headliner spent the most time with Eli Young Band on the road, their choice is unanimous once again: Dierks Bentley. Eli calls him, “a great and humble person,” and Thompson says he’s “a cool and down to earth guy.”
Jones elaborates. “Dierks is a great hang,” he says. “He and his crew are always down to put a few back after the show. The party is always fun, but not out of control. Well, not in a bad way.”
Asked which of their touring partners had the nicest bus, Jones picks Alan Jackson, “mostly because he flies home after shows and the bus pretty much gets used a few hours a day. Our bus is like a hotel that is always at capacity and the maids just can’t keep up.”
We also asked the guys which of their former touring partners was the biggest prankster. Here are their individual answers:
• Eli: “When we were on the road with Jack Ingram and Gary Allan, someone put a bunch of shrimp in the bay of our bus. It smelled pretty bad after a day of heat. We didn’t find them for a few days.”
• Thompson: “Jack Ingram has a thing with shoes in the bus hallway, so he nabbed a bunch of ours that we left sitting out. Some guys didn’t find their shoes for two days!”
• Jones: “We played a little prank on Dierks Bentley on the last night of the tour last year. He did not have the chance to get us back. We go back out with him again in a few weeks. I have the feeling that we are going to have a good answer to this question soon.”
We next asked the band members what three personal items they absolutely must have on the road to in order stay happy. Here are their picks:
• Jones: “iPad, running shoes, water”
• Young: “iPad for music and movies, my phone and coffee or sugar-free Red Bull
• Eli: “iPhone, and iPad or computer, because I would completely go nuts without some kind of connection with the world outside of those four walls”
• Thompson: “iPhone, iPad, Mac laptop. They’ve got me!”
Apparently, a desert island isn’t much different than a tour bus, because if the band members ever end up stranded on one, Jones’ wish list doesn’t change much. He swaps out sandals for running shoes, but the rest of his list is identical. Thompson is more practical, picking “tools to build a boat to get home.” Here’s what the rest of the band wants on that island:
• Young: “iPod for music, my Leatherman [tool], and a bottle of Jack Daniels I would ration very slowly”
• Eli: “Since the outside world is probably off limits, I would have to say an iPod or some kind of music device, a good pair of tennis shoes, and maybe a lifetime supply of baked beans.”
Finally, we asked band members for the cover song they most enjoy playing in concert.
• Jones: “American Girl” by Tom Petty
• Eli: “We were included on a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album, so I would have to say “Gimme Three Steps.” It’s just a great song to play right now.
• Thompson: The Beatles’ “Come Together.” We have played that song for 10 years, and it always takes me back to the small bars we played when we were kids in Texas.”
Singer Is Quietly Emerging As A Future Superstar
Justin Moore has been quietly lining up his place in the ranks of potential future superstars in the country music world. Without a lot of fanfare, he’s managed to score two No. 1 singles, alongside several other hits. His second album, last year’s “Outlaws Like Me,” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, and each of his two albums is approaching half a million in sales.
The hard-touring Arkansas native has also emerged as a concert draw, and a sought-after touring partner.
Surprisingly, Moore thinks it’s not his hits as much as some of his less successful songs that really draw the crowds, because they best represent who he is as an artist and a person. He cites such funny songs as “I Could Kick Your Ass” and “Bait A Hook” as examples.
“People want to pay to come hear those songs,” he says. And that’s exactly why he picks them for his albums, noting that they generate “passion” among his fans (although he’s not referring to the romantic kind). Moore says he never wants to be the kind of artist who generates hit after hit, but still can’t sell concert tickets.
Meanwhile, he’s thrilled with the way things have been going in his career so far, and he gives credit for that to the fellow artists he’s toured with as the opening act, including his current tour mate, Blake Shelton, as well as previous touring partners Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, and Brad Paisley. He’ll be joining the Country Throwdown tour with Gary Allan in early summer.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have made great relationships, made friends out here in the business,” Moore says. “It’s [all] because of opportunities like going out with Blake and Miranda and Brad Paisley and all these guys that have allowed us to go play in front of their fans and grow our fan base.”
As a result of that success, he’s ramped up his own stage show, bringing in some new production elements he’s excited about. “We’ve added some toys this year,” he says of the show.
His gear is now hauled around in a semi that has Moore’s face plastered on the side, something he jokes is “scary and frightening to people driving down the road.”
But with the bigger tour comes more responsibility. Moore says he currently had about 15 people in his organization on salary. “That’s a huge thing,” he says. “It’s cool for me to employ 15-20 people in today’s economy.”
Moore’s new single, “Til My Last Day,” is his first ever love song, and a favorite of his wife, Kate, who had some of the lyrics inscribed in his wedding ring. Kate suggested the song as a single, and her track record in that area is impeccable. She previously suggested the two songs that became Moore’s No. 1s, “Small Town USA” and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away.”
Beyond the occasional single pick, however, Kate steers clear of the music business she shares her husband with, and that works just fine for him.
“When I go home we don’t even talk about where the song is at [on the charts], or how many spins we are up [at radio]. We never discuss it,” he says. “It’s really good for me to not even worry about talking about it when I’m home. It works for us. It’s a good balance.”
And she needn’t worry about the influence country’s bad boy Shelton might be having on her husband during their current “Well Lit & Amplified” tour.
Moore reports, “We’ve behaved ourselves, which is surprising with us two. But we’ve had a blast. He’s a great guy. It’s been good getting to know him. I’m blown away by his show. He’s one of the best singers in the country, regardless of genre of music.
“It’s been a great tour. No drama,” he continues. “I hate to see it come to and end in a couple of weeks. Maybe we can do it again.”
Then he adds with a laugh, “He don’t pay worth a crap, though.”
Stars Take To Twitter To Mourn The American Music Legend
Country and bluegrass music legend Earl Scruggs passed away this morning in a Nashville hospital. He was 88. Fellow artists quickly took to Twitter to express their sadness and respect for the pioneering banjo player. Among the posts:
• Dierks Bentley (@DierksBentley): lost one of the pillars of bluegrass music and country music today. rest in peace #earlscruggs! thanks for a lifetime of music to listen to!
• Charlie Daniels (@Charlie Daniels): I just got the word that my friend Earl Scruggs has passed away. He meant a lot to me. Nobody will ever play a 5 string banjo like Earl
• Billy Ray Cyrus (@BillyRayCyrus): Turnin the banjo up on hillbillyheart and stomp in honor of Earl Scruggs.
• Chely Wright (@ChelyWright): Rest In Peace, Earl Scruggs. A member of a lovely, talented family.
• Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo): Earl Scruggs, the most important banjo player who ever lived, has passed on.
• Lee Brice (@leebrice): RIP Earl Scruggs. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
• Chris Young (@ChrisYoungMusic): RIP Earl Scruggs #legend
• James Otto (@jamesotto): Sad. Another musical legend has passed. Earl Scruggs died in Nashville at age 88. RIP Earl.
Singer Matt Stillwell Has A Spontaneous Vegas Wedding
• Singer/songwriter and actress Jana Kramer (left) will release her self-titled debut album on June 5. She’s currently finishing up the project. It includes first single “Why Ya Wanna,” which is at No. 26 and rising on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and has sold nearly 250,000 digital copies to date.
Kramer is best known for starring as Alex Dupre on the CW series “One Tree Hill,” among other acting roles. She will make her Grand Ole Opry debut on April 13.
• Eli Young Band lead singer Mike Eli is about to become the first of the band members to be a father. He tells People.com that he and his wife, Kacey, are expecting a baby girl in early August. According to People, Eli “found out the good news on New Year’s Day and he’s been reading up on his next role ever since.” The band has carved out some days off from the Rascal Flatts tour this summer so he can be there for the birth. The couple has been married for two years.
• Matt Stillwell (pictured on the right) recently tied the knot in Las Vegas, but it wasn’t exactly planned. When his tour bus broke down there on March 22, Stillwell and his longtime girlfriend, Lindsey Crawford, decided to hit the Vegas Wedding Chapel for some spontaneous nuptials. Afterwards, they stopped to refuel the bus at a Pilot/Flying J and ordered some chicken from KFC. Stillwell and Crawford are the parents of daughter Carolina.
The Duo Will Comply With A Court Order To Appear
The Associated Press is reporting that both members of Sugarland will testify next month in lawsuits over last August’s tragic Indiana State Fair stage collapse.
“A court order made public Tuesday says Sugarland attorneys must provide possible dates between April 2 and 13 when [band members Kristian] Bush and [Jennifer] Nettles can give depositions on the events of Aug. 13,  when high winds toppled a stage and rigging before the duo’s concert, killing seven people and injuring dozens of others,” the news service reports.
Sugarland spokesman Allan Mayer tells AP that the band’s attorneys have complied with a Marion Superior Court Judge’s order and provided dates when Nettles and Bush can be deposed. He said Sugarland had no further comment.
The testimony will focus on reports from other witnesses that Sugarland resisted delaying the start of their concert despite threatening weather.
Tour Training Takes Precedence Over Cake And Cocktails
Kenny Chesney had his 44th birthday yesterday, but the super fit star didn’t celebrate in the usual ways—or really at all.
Chesney is hard at work preparing for his Brothers of the Sun tour with Tim McGraw, which kicks off in June, and the country superstar tells One Country, “I’m in such training right now and I’m so anal about it to get ready for the tour that I’m not drinking any alcohol and I’m really watching what I eat. At some point, I’m going to have birthday cake and alcohol to celebrate my birthday, but I didn’t do it yesterday.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff coming up and I’m just trying to get back in the zone,” he adds, noting that the “stuff” includes shooting a new music video. But he won’t deprive himself forever. “Once I get some of that stuff done, towards mid-April, I wanna have a big piece of birthday cake and a couple of drinks to celebrate my birthday.”
Look for Chesney on the April 1 Academy of Country Music Awards, where his is nominated nine times. His new album is due out June 19.
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