Producer Robert Deaton knows better than anyone how challenging, complex and exhilarating it can be to capture the best of CMA Music Festival and trim it down to three hours of killer television. The results...Read full article... »
The Night Luke Bryan Pitched to Little Big Town
Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook Remember That Historic Event and other Highlights from CMA Music Festival
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.
What about the backlight graphics – the huge light display behind the LP Field stage? 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: 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.
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!”
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!
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.
Fairchild: Even when we weren’t hosting, we would stay and watch Martina (McBride) 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.
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.