When Rascal Flatts announced that they were hitting the road once again this summer, it couldn't have come as much of a surprise to the country music trio's fans. A consistent presence at amphitheaters throughout the country during the past 18 years, Flatts' live performances are perhaps the only thing that rivals their harmonies for what they're best known for.
We spoke with Gary LeVox, lead vocalist for Flatts, before the June 16 show at Raleigh's Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek.
With an eye toward those 18 years spent on the road, among the things we discuss are setlists, resting on your laurels and fighting off the competition within your own tour.
Q: You guys are hitting the road for yet another summer tour, in a career during which you've sold over 10 million tickets. During the planning stages for this year's tour, how hard is it to keep the performances fresh?
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A: It gets tougher and tougher to try to do something different and unique each year, and production-wise you can do so many different things. We take the songs that could be considered our staples (like "Bless the Broken Road" and "What Hurts the Most"), and try to do them in a way they haven't been done before, and try to do some songs that the fans have asked for that haven't been covered by us as often in concerts lately.
Then we'll throw in a medley of some of our hits — we actually have two medleys this time out — just to make it a show that we would like to go see ourselves. We all grew up in the lawn seats, and we haven't forgotten where we come from. The people in the front may be getting a good show, but we look after the folks in the back, too.
Q: I was a little shocked to see that you are coming up on 20 years in the career of the trio, as I still remember you as newcomers. If there is one way to tell that an act has been around for a while, it's when medleys have to be used during a show, right?
A: It's crazy, buddy, I know! It doesn't feel like its been 18 years at all, but you sit there and look at our songs, and you just start to realize how many songs we may have forgotten about there for a second that were actually hits for us. We'll be talking to ourselves about it, going, "Maybe we should find room to fit 'Mayberry' back in the set somewhere?"
Q: How much does it help having an act perform right before you that may have a ton of buzz, like Dan + Shay ("Tequila") this time out, and you know they're coming out full speed every night? I can't help but think that when you surround yourself with support acts looking to make the leap to headliner, it keeps you on your toes as a performer.
A: We tell them every night that they'd better by giving it their all. We were so lucky early on to be a part of great tours at the start of our careers: Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn and then Kenny Chesney. We've told them, "We're coming out here every night to kick your butt, and take all of your fans with us." Since we've been headlining, every opening act we've ever had has been told, "Your job is to come out here and steal every single fan we have from us. You have to give it 100 percent every night, or you're going to look awfully silly, because we're bringing everything we've got."
Q: Your other supporting act on this tour is Carly Pearce, who has made such a name for herself in just a little bit of time. I always ask the openers what they hope to learn from headliners when I interview them, but as the headliner, what do you hope your openers learn from you?
A: I hope that they learn that, if you make mistakes onstage, you'll be the only one to know as long as you don't draw attention to it. Give all that you've got to those folks that paid for a ticket to come see you, because if it wasn't for those fans, none of us would have our jobs. They deserve your absolute best each and every night, you've got a platform to showcase the talents you've been given, and you need to lay it all out there for the folks paying money to come see you. And never forget that it's all always about those people in the seats, because they are our employers.
Who: Rascal Flatts with Carly Pearce and Dan + Shay
When: 7:30 p.m., June 16
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road
Cost: $33.75 to $98.50
Info: 919-831-6400 or LiveNation.com