Little Big Town At Pacific Amphitheatre

So Felice and I are sitting with John McBride in catering, catching up.

THIS guy’s a character. Martina McBride’s husband has got his hands in seemingly more enterprises than Warren Buffett. While he’s on the road with his family he’s overseeing his Blackbird Studios, where the White Stripes cut their last record, Clair Brothers Nashville, and he even finds time to mix Martina’s live sound, with a smile on his face!

And with a baby on his hip, John’s telling us his life story. The son of a lawyer turned Ph.D. who taught at Wichita State, John was fascinated by stereo magazines. But when he got wind of "Modern Recording", he became a gearhead, he found his life’s work. And when Martina came through from her farm on the range, to rehearse in his room, they joined forces and at her insistence moved to Nashville, where within a year he was out with Garth Brooks and she had a record deal.

Ambition. You could taste it when Martina took the stage. She needed this, she wanted this. And she got it. THAT’S the American dream. Employing your bare hands and intellect to claw your way up the ladder. As we agreed after the show, talent is only fifty percent of it. Martina’s got the other half, RAW DESIRE!

And I figured John was a crusty old bastard, a good old boy. Based on his e-mail and a couple of late night phone calls. But this guy waiting for us in the parking lot was wearing a T-SHIRT! He hadn’t put on his look. It was what was on the inside. I felt he was a KINDRED SPIRIT!

And they used to eat what was served. Now they take along a caterer. And, as I was scarfing up some lamb, from seemingly inches away, I heard a sound… And I knew I had no choice, I had to jump up, I had to get closer, I was GOOD AS GONE!

The room was about three quarters full. Well, if you consider a shed a room. And now I know why everybody’s down on these outdoor venues. THEY’RE SHITHOLES! In a land where everybody’s gone upscale, where even kids pay five bucks for a cup of coffee, where you can’t buy a car without electric windows, sheds look like they haven’t been updated since they were built. The color scheme…I don’t think you can BUY THAT ANYMORE!

Not that the place wasn’t clean. But, the room didn’t matter. Because what was pouring from the speakers was MUSIC!

Music. You remember music, don’t you? Stuff played on real instruments. With untreated vocals. Without staging histrionics. Little Big Town were direct descendants of every act that played the Fillmore all those years ago. It was solely about the music. The only difference being the sound was so much BETTER!

Yes, P.A.’s are quality now. And the level of playing is absolutely stellar. Listen to so many of those "live" recordings of the sixties and seventies. Especially the bootlegs, that haven’t been cleaned up. You had to be there. But if you got a soundboard recording of Little Big Town’s show on Saturday night, you’d feel like you WERE there!

And who wasn’t there was Kim. One quarter of the band. Who, rolling into Phoenix a couple of nights before, lying in her bunk, felt her water break. She went into the bathroom and confirmed it and the bus pulled into the nearest town, where she entered the hospital and had her baby, three weeks early.

So what’s a band with only three members supposed to do?

Get really depressed, but carry on.

Oh, they’re thrilled that Kim’s delivered. But they’ve got such intricate harmonies. But you could barely tell the difference even if you knew the record, they covered so well.

After the show the band told me how they’d had to alter the gig. They usually start a cappella, kind of like "Seven Bridges Road" on the Eagles live album. But they scotched that…

Not that I knew I missed it.

And the sun is still setting. The full moon is waiting for Martina’s set. So, the gig has got the feel of a lazy afternoon rather than an intimate evening affair. But it was intimate. Because this was my favorite album of the year, COME ALIVE!

And you’re probably wondering what a boy from Connecticut is doing listening to this shitkicker music. Well, the drummer was wearing a Skynyrd t-shirt. And the bass player sported one from Aerosmith. This ain’t your father’s country… This is one step over from Crosby, Stills & Nash. If you remember that mellifluous sound and blend it with a dose of Fleetwood Mac, you’ve got Little Big Town.

And they actually played "Go Your Own Way", referencing their duet on CMT "Crossroads" with Lindsey Buckingham. But I wasn’t interested. I wanted to hear the originals. The songs from the album.

This ain’t no iTunes. This ain’t a hit and shit. This isn’t one song you hear in rotation, this is something you want to sink your teeth into, you want the WHOLE THING! Not because the songs flow together and tell a story, not because each song on the album needs the other, but because they’re so damn GOOD!

And that’s what the band was…GOOD!

And the vocals.

Listen to the Woodstock album. CSN were more right than wrong, but they weren’t always right. Little Big Town was right.

And the range of emotions was complete. There was the heaviness of "Bones", bringing us right back to the seventies, when we had more questions than answers, when drugs accompanied every move. And the fuck you for dumping me feeling of "Good As Gone". And the pure joy of reveling in one’s identity of "Boondocks".

I feel no shame
I’m proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks
One thing I know
No matter where I go
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks

I was not raised in the boondocks. Anything BUT!

I was raised in a land of sophistication. But my life took a left turn when I heard this MUSIC! All those courses in school, not only high school, but COLLEGE, they didn’t matter. I was only interested in the MUSIC! The music not only set me free, it pulled me, strongly, right off the anointed path.

And it’s been a rough road. Following your dream is scary. Because there’s no manual, no mentor, no one to tell you how to do it. You just go by instinct, fly by the seat of your pants.

And then when you finally get some traction, you oftentimes find what you were heading for no longer even exists.

Used to be there were six major labels. The men who ran them were gods. Everything flowed from the label. Agents and promoters followed their direction. As did we.

But then too much money got involved. It became about how you looked, not how you played. And suddenly, the labels merged and cried for help and the music you wanted to listen to WASN’T released on a major label.

Like Little Big Town’s "Road To Here". The majors rejected it. The band had failed once. They were too old. They’d blown their chance.

But, with sheer persistence and the belief of an indie label they made it to the top of the chart. And what did it was the MUSIC!

I’m sitting next to Felice in a box by the soundboard and she asks me if I know these songs. EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM EXCEPT THE NEW ONE!

That’s a fan. However long the band plays for, it’s too short.

You want to know each and every player’s name and story. You want to get closer, to the people who made the music. You want to know everything about the act, you NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT THE ACT!

Not whether they flashed their cutie patootie in the back seat of a Bentley on the way to a Hollywood nightclub, but how they GOT HERE!

Little Big Town wasn’t discovered in the Mickey Mouse Club. Kim and Karen went to college together. And ended up in Nashville pursuing their dream. Doing day jobs.

You remember day jobs, don’t you? The gigs that ALLOW you to pursue your dream. You don’t need a check from a label, you don’t need an investor, you just need your wits. And hard work. "The Road To Here" was recorded on favors. And to have favors, you’ve got to have friends. And when you succeed EVERYBODY is happy. As Karen told me after the show, they were doing it for all the struggling musicians of Nashville, their peers.


When I hang out at the rock show, I feel like a voyeur, a watcher, not a participant. But Johnny McBride was a guy who could be a friend in high school. And Little Big Town. They were sans all the airs and attitude prevalent throughout the music emanating from north of the Mason-Dixon line. Where hangers-on are necessary to produce the show, where you need a stylist as much as a guitar tech.

I sit at home in front of a computer monitor, I don’t need to meet these guys. The records are enough. I worry about meeting these people. I don’t know how to act, what to say. But that was not a problem with Little Big Town, these were regular people! Not accountants with retirement plans, but musicians. You know, those guys who pick and play, who are constantly fucked over. Because this is all they know how to do.

Not the punks who come into your office and recite a ten year plan. Who’ve micro-analyzed the market. Little Big Town are about playing, and seeing where the music takes them.

The music took them clear across the country Saturday night. And this boy had a smile on his face, not a care in the world, as their acoustic-based music washed over me, cleansing me of the bullshit of life and leaving just the pure core, that resonates with greatness.

Even without Kim, Little Big Town were great.

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