Little Big Town to host CMA Fest TV special

Little Big Town to host CMA Fest TV special

CMA Vocal Group of the Year Little Big Town will host this summer’s hottest television music event: “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” on ABC Television Network.

The special, which airs Monday, Aug. 12 (8:00-11:00 PM/ET), will feature the powerful vocal group introducing Country’s top stars during the star-studded event, which packs tens of thousands of fans into Downtown Nashville for four rocking days and nights.

The nighttime LP Field concerts cap each day’s festivities, and it is a wild Country party that offers one of the most coveted tickets in all of live music.

“It’s an incredible honor to be hosting this year’s CMA Fest,” said Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town. “We could not be more excited about the party that’s going to break out at LP Field every night!”

Little Big Town is no newcomer. Band members Fairchild, Phillip Sweet, Kimberly Schlapman, and Jimi Westbrook broke out 13 years ago with hits such as “Boondocks,” “Bring It On Home,” “Good As Gone” and the Grammy-nominated single “Little White Church.” The quartet’s fifth studio album Tornado was released on Sept. 11, 2012 and debuted at the top of the Billboard Country Chart where it stayed in the No. 1 position for five consecutive weeks.

The album includes the double Platinum-selling No. 1 hit single “Pontoon” and the follow up single and title-track “Tornado,” which also reached No. 1. Their current single, the emotionally-charged “Your Side of the Bed,” is at radio now and quickly climbing the charts. Collectively, the group has earned more than 25 award nominations and besides and CMA Vocal Group of the Year in 2012, earned CMA Single of the Year for “Pontoon”.

Photographer Kristin Barlowe takes photos of Little Big Town, hosts "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night To Rock".

Photographer Kristin Barlowe takes photos on May 6, 2013 of Little Big Town as they prepare to host “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night To Rock”. CMA / Christian Bottorff

Shortly before CMA announced Little Big Town as the hosts of the TV special, CMA Close Up editor Bob Doerschuk sat down with the members to discuss their history with CMA Fest and what it means to them to host the television broadcast.

How do you prepare a 20-minute set?

Fairchild: You’ve got to pack it all in. This year, it’ll be about playing the Tornado record, hits for the fans: “Pontoon,” “Tornado,” “Your Side of the Bed” – and I don’t think it would be possible to leave without doing “Boondocks.” We try to pack as much energy as we can into 20 minutes because it’s a big party out there.

A couple of years ago, you did some classic rock songs onstage at LP with Rascal Flatts. How do you set up special performances like that?

Fairchild: That was their idea, wanting to collaborate onstage. They sent us the music early. We learned the parts and then we got there just that afternoon, rehearsed it a couple of times … You just get thrown into the fire. That’s a great memory, that night

Schlapman: We were just about to go on the road with them, right after that.

Little Big Town performs at LP Field in Downtown Nashville on Saturday, June 9 during the 2012 CMA Music Festival.

Little Big Town performs at LP Field in Downtown Nashville on Saturday, June 9 during the 2012 CMA Music Festival. CMA / Donn Jones

What about the backlight graphics? Do you have creative input into that?

Fairchild: Robert Deaton and his guys that do the Festival are amazing. They handle that stuff for all the bands. We shot them ideas for a few things, especially for “Pontoon” last year. And we have some ideas for this year, now that we’re hosting [laughter]. They’re so great to collaborate with, but really, it’s all them. They make it look spectacular, and they do it so that it pops off the screen on that TV show. And to the fans in the stadium, it’s got to be big.

So you don’t even see the lights until you perform?

Westbrook: No, not really. When you’re soundchecking, it’s in the middle of the day, so you can’t really perceive that much. But that screen is huge. Last year, we got to go out to the soundboard and take in some of the show from that perspective. It’s just larger than life.

What advice would you give to young acts making their debuts at LP?

Westbrook: Take a big, old deep breath. You just can’t describe the energy you feel. You can’t understand it until you’re out there. And once you’re out there, it’s hard to ride all of that …

Fairchild: It can be overwhelming. I was standing by Taylor Swift’s dad the first year that she was going to go on. We were talking about all that energy and the voices and the screaming. He was saying, “Look, what should she expect?” And I was like, “There’s no way to describe it!”

Westbrook: Walk up there and embrace it. You’ve got to take the moment to stand in front of that many Country Music fans because that does not along very often. So embrace it, take it in and remember it.

Sweet: And it goes by in a flash.

Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town participates in the 2012 CMA Music Festival Kick Off Parade on Wednesday, June 6 in Downtown Nashville.

Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town participates in the 2012 CMA Music Festival Kick Off Parade on Wednesday, June 6 in Downtown Nashville.

Was it hard for you to make the transition from working club gigs to a stadium stage?

Fairchild: You get used to it really fast.

Schlapman: There are four of us, so we can cover it pretty well. I love the big stage. And you can connect out there. It’s massive, but you can still connect with people because you can see a lot of them even though it’s dark. On that particular stage, you can see a lot of the audience, so you can really connect with those people. I love it! I love going from end to end!

Schlapman: She does too! She’ll meander around and see how far out she can go [laughs].

Lots of LP Field artists talk about how the Festival gives them a change to meet and catch up with their friends among other artists. Is that your experience?

Fairchild: Even when we weren’t hosting, we would stay and watch Martina sing the year that she sang with Kid Rock, and Lady A. We were always on the sidelines, watching our buddies sing, because you don’t want to miss out on it. And this year, we’ll be there every night.

Westbrook: It’s fun hanging out backstage too. Everybody’s got their own dressing rooms. I remember last year, we were back there with Luke for a long time …

Schlapman: And his mama!

Fairchild: He was pitching us songs [laughter].

Westbrook: That’s right, he was! But it’s really relaxed back there. Everybody’s having a good time.

Little Big Town performs at the 2012 CMA Music Festival Block Party at the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage on Wednesday, June 6, in Downtown Nashville.

Little Big Town performs at the 2012 CMA Music Festival Block Party at the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage on Wednesday, June 6, in Downtown Nashville. CMA / John Russell

Will you be signing autographs?

Fairchild: We’ll be signing autographs at the CMA Booth. Our fans have asked if we’re doing a fan club party. And yes, it’s called CMA Fest [laughter].

You have two 5-year-olds and one 3-year-old traveling with you. What’ll they during Music Fest?

Fairchild: They won’t be here every night, but they’ll come and watch us sing that night. They love it.

Sweet: They like being backstage.

Fairchild: They want to see all the artists sing too, because they’re Country Music fans.