Musings on folk, Americana, country, bluegrass and newgrass

Sugarland’s Kristian Bush and Asheville’s Caleb Johnson among free entertainment at Lexington Barbecue Festival

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The 31st annual Lexington Barbecue Festival is set for Saturday, Oct. 25. Organizers of the festival are expecting some 150,000 people to attend this weekend’s festivities that include music, food, craft vendors and children activities. Among the free performers will be Sugarland’s Kristian Bush and 2014 American Idol winner Caleb Johnson, who is a native of Asheville. Find the entertainment schedule here.

Following is an interview with Bush that I wrote for The Fayetteville Observer in April 2007.

Life gets sweeter for Sugarland

It seems that country duo Sugarland is everywhere.

The band, comprised of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, kicked off the 2007 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament, which used its current hit, ““Settlin’”,'” as its theme song. Nettles won a Grammy in February with Bon Jovi for their duet, “”Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”” ““Settlin'”’” is working its way up the charts, where it sits at No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. And the duo’s sophomore album, “”Enjoy the Ride,”” has been riding steadily on Billboard’s Top 200 since its November release.

But if you want to see them live, the pair has teamed up once again with Kenny Chesney on his Flip Flop Summer Tour. The tour stops in Greensboro on Thursday and returns to North Carolina in August. They will play in Charlotte on Aug. 2 and at Raleigh’’s Walnut Creek Amphitheatre on Aug. 3 and 4, 2007.

Sugarland grabbed the attention of country fans as a trio less than three years ago with the debut hit single, ““Baby Girl.”” The group originally was made up of three singer-songwriters from the Atlanta area: lead singer Nettles along with Bush and Kristen Hall, who left the group in early 2006 to pursue her songwriting career.

The road to Nashville and mainstream recognition took much longer than a night, Bush said in a recent phone interview from the porch of his Atlanta home. Bush, who is 37, signed his first deal with Atlantic Records in the early ’90s.

““Lightning struck twice for me,”” he said. “”I got lucky. Staying here depends on how hard I work.””

The guitar and mandolin player caught Atlantic’s attention when he was with the group Billy Pilgrim.

“”We were part of the folk-rock movement coming out of Atlanta at the time,”” Bush explained.

During those days Bush says he learned from the best. REM gave him advice on how to get his music played on college radio stations.

“”It was that kind of environment that I was raised in musically,”” he said. ““I was taught the music business from the side that said it’s not impossible, no matter how big you dream. It all seemed possible.””

About a year after Billy Pilgrim dissolved, Bush told Nettles’ husband he was looking for a singer. Her husband owned a bar that all the songwriters played at, and he suggested Bush talk to Jennifer.

“She sat down, and it was really easy to write together,” Bush said. “”And from the moment we got on stage the first couple of times, it was pretty obvious that it was going to work out.””

And like their current single’s title, neither Nettles nor Bush wanted to settle for anything but the top.

“”We said, ‘Let’’s go for it,”’” Bush said. “”We both know what it’s like to do this in a van. If we’re going to do this, let’s make it count.””

And they have. Sugarland’’s first album from 2004, “”Twice the Speed of Life,”” went double platinum and spawned such hits as “”Something More,” “Just Might (Make Me Believe)”” and “”Down In Mississippi (Up To No Good).”” The first release off their current album, “”Want To,”” gave them their first No. 1 hit.

In addition to Kenny Chesney, they have toured with Brad Paisley and Brooks and Dunn. And they have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Grammy for Best New Artist.

But Bush said he knew he had made it when he and Nettles were among the five musical groups asked to appear on ““Sesame Street.”” In the past, he had talked to Bono of U2 and was up for an award with The Killers. Those two accomplishments didn’’t faze him as much as the “”Sesame Street”” offer.

““Up until that point I had held it together,”” he said. “”Jennifer and I live in a pretty healthy state of denial. But when the manager turned to me and said, ‘You’re going to be on ‘’Sesame Street.’’ I lost it. When you’’ve made it to ‘’Sesame Street,’’ you know you have made it.””

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