'CMA Music Festival': Little Big Town gets big gig hosting Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood

little-big-town-400.jpgThe Country Music Association is so television-connected these days, if it's given you an award, chances are good it will call on you again.

Little Big Town now knows that for a fact. The reigning vocal group of the year after last fall's CMA Awards, the foursome that recently scored its second platinum-selling album ("Tornado") presides over the annual ABC special "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" Monday, Aug. 12. Taped in June during a four-day Nashville event, the 10th-anniversary edition sends its hosts around the city to interview artists and introduce performances.

"We had such a good time," Little Big Town member Karen Fairchild -- who's married to band mate Jimi Westbrook -- tells Zap2it of doing the program. "A year ago, we wouldn't have dreamed of getting the chance to host this, and what a great experience it was. There's no energy in the world like the energy when you step out to sing or host there. Or do anything there."

"It felt like the ultimate pat on the back," fellow group member Phillip Sweet claims of being recruited by the CMA for the job. "When they want to talk to an artist about being a host, there's a lot of trust put into that relationship, among all of the people involved. It made us feel really, really good, and it gave us confidence. It just felt really nice."

Kimberly Schlapman adds the demands of hosting the special impacted what she and her Little Big Town colleagues normally would do at the CMA Music Festival "in a huge way. We were involved all day long, every day, and we had a lot to memorize. We realized how easy it is to memorize a song and sing it, and how hard it is to memorize lines that you just have to say. It was so much fun, though; we caught the bug, and we want to do it again."

Among the many other talents featured in the ABC telecast: Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, spouses Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Hunter Hayes, Zac Brown Band, the Band Perry, Jake Owen, Darius Rucker, Kellie Pickler and Kacey Musgraves. Also included are several stars not necessarily considered "country," Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz and Jason Mraz. 

Notable on the bill, too, is a friend of Little Big Town: nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow, who releases her first country album, "Feels Like Home," on Sept. 10. It already has yielded the single "Easy," and on the "CMA Music Festival" special, she teams with the members of Little Big Town on a mash-up of her "Soak Up the Sun" and their "Pontoon."

"I'm a huge fan of theirs," Crow says, confirming she first got to know Schlapman because their children go to "the same play place. We sit in a circle and sing with our kids, and that is what Nashville is like. It's a great place to raise kids and to be an artist ... and to be surrounded by people who are keeping it real."

Crow counts Little Big Town among them, and she maintains, "I don't ever want to sing 'Soak Up the Sun' without them now. When they hit the chorus in four-part harmony, it's stunning. They breathed incredible new life into a song that's been around for quite a long time. Luckily, there are a lot of people in my fan base who listen to country music predominantly, so many people there knew the song. And having Little Big Town on it, it sounded perfect."

As for the overall CMA Music Festival, which has its roots in what used to be called Fan Fair, Crow says she was "thrilled to be in that lineup. It's a really cool thing they do in country, a show like this that's free to the public and where all the artists sign autographs. It's exactly what I thought music would be like in general when I started. Country artists love their fans and show up for their fans, and the fans show up for them. It was really special for me to get to be involved in that."

The presence of Little Big Town in the CMA Music Festival - both in person and on television - also helps to promote the band's latest "Tornado" single, "Your Side of the Bed." But the group certainly worked for that showcase.

"One of us would be backstage," Fairchild reports, "or two of us would be down in the middle of a field with the fans. And Kimberly went up in a helicopter. I think that was good for the show, that versatility and the ability to have us in different places. We were right in the middle of it all, and it was a good intense."

Through the end of October, Little Big Town is on a concert tour in support of "Tornado," its fifth studio album ("The Road to Here" being the first one that went platinum). The schedule has been organized to cluster several days of performances together, then several days off, and Schlapman is hugely appreciative.

"We all have families," she explains. "Most of the time, our families travel with us, but they stay home sometimes for those short runs. It's just nice to be able to get a taste of home every week. I love to do laundry and cook and that kind of stuff. We get to live a dream life on the road, then we get to go home and be sort of normal."
Photo/Video credit: ABC
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