Exclusive: Sugarland Shares Memories, Talks Future, Touring With Little Big Town

No one knows much about the Sugarland/Little Big Town tour, which will kick off in October. Even the artists know little beyond the itinerary, ticket prices, and that The Castellows will open the show. Sugarland’s Kristian Bush recognizes it’s billed as Little Big Town + Sugarland. Yet, the duo’s founder understands a couple of other things, too.

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“You can’t win yoga, and I know you can’t win yoga,” Bush says.  “But Jennifer and I will try to win the stage every time. I know we’re bringing it.”

The Take Me Home Tour—named after the groups’ new cover of the Phil Collins song—is 18 dates strong and continues through mid-December. The arena run marks Little Big Town’s 25th anniversary as a group. It also falls on the 20th anniversary of Sugarland’s breakthrough hit, “Baby Girl.” Tickets are on sale now and start at $36.50.

While Little Big Town has been together longer, Sugarland—comprised of Bush and Jennifer Nettles—first enjoyed significant mainstream country radio success. The duo gifted Little Big Town with members’ first wireless packs. They also took them on an arena tour, gave them wardrobe cases to transport their clothes in and spearheaded the Sugarland/Little Big Town/Jake Owen collaboration on “Life In A Northern Town.” The song earned award show nominations from the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and the Recording Academy.

“They’re just lovable people, and we made great music together,” Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman says. “‘Life In A Northern Town’ led us to the Grammys and got a Grammy. We adore them, and the fact that we get to do this again with them is  just going to be incredibly fun.”

Sugarland and Little Big Town Share a Sweet, Unexpected Success Story

“Life In A Northern Town” was never intended to be a radio single – or released to the public. Sugarland took Little Big Town and Jake Owen on their headlining CMT tour in 2007. Sugarland was based in Atlanta, and Atlanta media personality Leslie Fram had just started work at CMT. Because Sugarland and Fram were part of Atlanta’s music scene, they knew Fram loved ’80s music. Sugarland had recently wrapped a tour with Kenny Chesney who taught them to always bring the opener out at the end of the show to share a song. Sugarland, Little Big Town and Owen worked up a cover of Dream Academy’s “Life In A Northern Town” to create that inclusive moment.

At the end of the tour, the artists filmed Fram a thank you video, which was them singing “Life In A Northern Town.”

“It was fun, and it was kind of an esoteric song, but it had this really cool sort of way that the chorus was huge and a bunch of people could sing it,” Bush says. “And by a stroke of fate, but also good luck, she actually put it on television.”

The unexpected collaboration coincided with the stratospheric acceleration of the duo’s career, and radio stations started downloading the song from the internet to play on air. Sugarland began getting inquiries about when it would be released.

Sugarland released the version pulled directly from the live recording of their show.

“It was always a reminder to me how it’s special doing things because they’re fun without an end goal in mind,” Bush says. “There’s no commerce at the end of this conversation. It was just pure joy singing the song and recording it, not because you needed it to be great on a record, but because you wanted to say thank you to somebody who helped you.”

When Bush got the call earlier this year to find a song to help the bands repeat that triumph, he had one thought – impossible.

The path to rerecording “Take Me Home”

He suggested Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” because he loved the record and the man who produced Bush’s first duo Billy Pilgrim—Hugh Padgham – also produced the original version of the song for Collins. Bush, who co-produced the new “Take Me Home” record with Little Big Town and produces country phenom Megan Moroney, learned a tremendous amount from watching Padgham work.

“He had agreed to let these 22-year-old folk rock kids from Atlanta, Georgia, come to London for a month or two,” Bush recalls of Padgham. “I’m so proud of what I’ve been able to do with what he taught me from a production standpoint.”

Bush hopes Padgham will be proud of the new version of “Take Me Home.”

He presented his “Take Me Home” idea to Nettles and Little Big Town, and everyone agreed.

They unveiled their newest collaboration in April on the CMT Music Awards. Like before, Bush chose the song and CMT helped them launch it. Sharing it with the world was more carefully planned than the bands’ first ’80s collaboration. The groups recorded the song and released it to streaming services a few hours before the award show. They had its namesake tour mapped out. But even in the moments leading up to the performance, Bush says they were still rehearsing the song. Sugarland and Little Big Town had never performed “Take Me Home” in front of people.

“I’m Comfortable With These People”

“It felt very comfortable because I’m very comfortable with those people,” Bush says. “It doesn’t just happen by complete happenstance. We rehearse. But what was fun was watching the habits of professional artists show up. Everyone was concerned.”

Bush remembers Nettles making notes in the notebook on the side table in her hotel room about who sang in what order. Little Big Town’s Jimi Westbrook was singing two different parts, and his wife, Karen Fairchild, offered to cover one of them.

“Everyone was trying to make it work all the way up until five minutes before we walked on stage, even though we all recorded it and we knew it,” he says.

The group of longtime friends delivered one of the most critically acclaimed performances of the night.

“That’s how good all those people are and how much they care about the music,” Bush says. “When you care about your job, you don’t have to take yourself seriously, but you should always take your job seriously. Especially this one because it’s so impossible to get.”

Bush predicts fans should expect more Sugarland/Little Big Town collaborations on the Take Me Home Tour. He doesn’t know what they’ll sing yet, but he is certain of one more fact.

“I can’t imagine that it’s not going to be awesome,” he says.

(Photo by Jay Conlon/CBS via Getty Images)

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