By any measure, this has been a phenomenal year for the duo of singer/songwriters Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, better known as Sugarland.
Last week, their new CD/DVD release Live On The Inside (a Wal-Mart exclusive) debuted in the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200. That beat the mark of their previous hit disc, Love On The Inside, which debuted at number two before eventually reaching the top spot, marking two chart-topping albums within a year’s time.
That’s in addition to winning Grammy awards this year for Best Country Song and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group, ending the nine-year run of Brooks & Dunn as the Academy of Country Music’s Duo of the Year. They also appeared on the PBS program Soundstage and won Video Duo of the Year at the Country Music Television Awards.
Now on tour with Keith Urban, Sugarland heads to the Sommet Center Saturday night.
“It has been one whirlwind of a year,” Bush said. “Sometimes when I look back on it, it’s hard to believe so much has happened. When I watch the DVR of the ACM show and see my mouth so wide open it looks like my jaw had dropped off, that’s because we both realize what an honor it is for us to be in the same company as a duo like Brooks & Dunn. They’ve been so great and served as mentors to us, and it’s a thrill to now enjoy some of the success they’ve had so many years. When we were just starting out, I remember us being on tour with Vince Gill and him telling us that in country music, when someone succeeds, we all succeed. That’s the tradition, and we’re honored to be part of it.”
A big part of Sugarland’s popularity rests on the vocal prowess and flair exhibited by Nettles, who’d previously been lead singer for the Jennifer Nettles Band before she joined Bush (formerly part of the duo Billy Pilgrim along with Andrew Hyra) and guitarist/vocalist Kristen Hall in 2003. That trio became a duo in 2006 – the same year the band’s breakout release Enjoy The Ride yielded two number one country singles in “Want To,” and “Settlin,” and established Sugarland as a hit act. The 2008 follow-up Love On The Inside gave the band three more number ones, “All I Want To Do,” “Already Gone” and “It Happens.”
“When you’ve got someone with the voice and personality Jennifer possesses, it’s just a question of getting the right songs and having everyone on board,” Bush continued. “When we became a duo, it was a situation where now everyone is happy and pulling together and things really took off. But there’s no question that it’s Jennifer’s voice that’s the big ingredient in our success, along with having a great band and smart creative and marketing team.”
The band has also benefited from a savvy distribution effort. Though they’ve gotten a little flack online for joining the ranks of bands that have done retailer exclusive deals for CDs, Bush points out that this really isn’t anything new for Sugarland.
“We’ve been doing retailer exclusive things for the last few years,” Bush said. “We did a limited edition Christmas EP and nobody said anything about that. We were doing our first live DVD and no one sells more live concert DVDs these days than Wal-Mart, so it just made sense. It’s really made us happy that it had that number one debut because in a way it was like operating with one hand tied behind your back to the extent that people could only find it in one place. The fact that they came anyway to Wal-Mart and supported it is gratifying to us.”
Bush attributes the success of the tour with Urban to a common thread.
“One thing that I think is happening today is that people are moving away more and more from music about materialism and acquiring possessions and toward songs with messages. I think our songs and Keith’s songs tap into that. Plus we’re having fun out there, and people can see that we all enjoy performing and singing. When times are hard, fans don’t want to see and hear about the problems of well-paid entertainers. They want to enjoy themselves and feel like they’ve spent their money wisely and gotten value and that performers care about them and enjoy singing for them.”
Sugarland has logged plenty of time on the road. They toured Europe earlier, making appearances at various military stations in Italy, plus stops in France, Germany, The Netherlands, England, Scotland and Ireland. Besides the Escape Together Tour dates, there’s also been appearances with Kenny Chesney on the Sun City Carnival Tour.
“After we complete our dates in October, we’re really looking forward to taking a couple of months off,” Bush concluded. “It’s been a great year, but we do need a little down time. But once that’s over, we’ll get back to writing and working on the next project. We’ve never felt any pressure to repeat things in terms of enjoying success. Instead, our pressure is to keep on trying things, keep pushing toward the edge. Our audience has always supported us when we’ve done that, and they expect us to keep on experimenting and being willing to try fresh things rather than repeating what we’ve done before.”
What: Sugarland/Keith Urban in concert
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Sommet Center, 501 Broadway
Cost: $20, $52.50 and $82.50