Say What?-Kristian Bush of Sugarland

sugarland27_v_e1Entertainment Weekly writer Whitney Pastorek shares exclusive new touring information about her favorite country act, Sugarland. Kristian Bush says about the tour,

 “You may see Jennifer Nettles play the piano or a bass guitar. I love throwing down the challenge to all the other country musicians. Sometimes you have to choose the fork in the road: the entertainer, or the musician. You go down one road long enough, and you end up Alison Krauss and Union Station. And you go down the other road, and you end up Kenny Chesney. Not to say that Alison isn’t a great entertainer or Kenny isn’t a great musician, but a lot of times that was traditionally the choice you had to make. We’re gonna challenge it, and say, ‘We wonder if you can do both.'”



  1. I think he means playing those instruments well. Most mainstream country artists play acoustic guitar, but you can’t hear it in their music- it seems to be just for show. Alison Krauss however is a true artist, not just an entertainer. I think it’s possible to do both, but incredibly difficult. I would hope Sugarland could do it, but I don’t see it really happening.

  2. “Throwing down the challenge” reminds me of Top Chef. Do country stars have to decide what they specialize in, musicianship or showmanship, nowadays? The HOF just named Barbara Mandrell and Roy Clark, who obviously multi-tasked. I thought the genre was built on legends that could do both. My bad.

  3. “Eventually what you get is: ‘I can’t figure out which George Strait record to buy because I don’t know which song is on which record. All 50 of them are great, but you can’t tell them apart.’” -Kristian Bush

    Not a knock on Strait at all, but it does present Sugarland as an act that will not remain restrained within just country.

  4. Oh yeah, it’s all coming back to me now… I went back and forth about how I felt about that quote. It just seems that Bush has figured out a lot of country artists that he doesn’t want to emulate and keeps going public with it. I suppose it’s okay, but I don’t know that it’s really good form. He has a right to his opinions, of course, but I can’t help but think that saying things like “nothing against so and so” or “I love blah blah blah” is used to soften or veil an insult. Then again, I can’t really argue with his thoughts on Strait…so who am I to talk?

  5. “HOF just named Barbara Mandrell and Roy Clark, who obviously multi-tasked. I thought the genre was built on legends that could do both. My bad.”

    Yeah, what Blake said.

  6. That’s kind of a puzzling statement. I’m glad Sugarland is taking the initiative to play their own instruments – and not limiting themselves to just the guitar. But that’s not exactly a novel idea.

    Has Kristian Bush never seen Ronnie Milsap play the piano? Or Phil Vassar? Or have they never witnessed a Barbara Mandrell show? She plays every instrument on the stage. Alabama played all their own instruments on tour. Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart are masters at almost any stringed instrument.

    I’ve always applauded Sugarland for their originality – and for being willing to take risks. But just as much as he lets Jennifer have the mic in concert, I think Bush should probably let Jen take over in interviews as well. He seems to be inserting his foot in his mouth nearly as much as John Rich these days. And sooner or later, something he says is going to come back and ‘kick him in the teeth’.

  7. I was not aware that an artist playing an intrument was a new concept. Nor did I know that it was challenging for an artist to perform while doing what they have always known what to do, but have chose never to put it out there before.

    There are many artist that play in concerts not just acoustic guitar for show, one’s that can actually rock an electric or even play the unimaginable piano, just because they don’t record their intrumental talent does not discredit their ability to play. I do not in any way find this a challenge. What may be a challenge would be Kristian taking the lead and singing and releasing a whole song with his vocals.

    I find that maybe he make these random condesending statements in order to come out of Jennifer’s shadow and say “hey I’m here too”.

  8. And sooner or later, something he says is going to come back and ‘kick him in the teeth’.

    Ha. I wonder if I’m the only one who’ll get that reference…

  9. After reading multiple interviews with this duo, I can say this: Sugarland does not lack chutzpah! I think Sugarland already considers itself bigger than the country audience. It definitely says something about a group when they want to be a “Bon Jovi type” act and continuously downplay their country influences, as this one does. Shoot for the stars, I guess. I wish them luck.

  10. Alright now, I think we’re being hard on the guy. I know what Bush means – most modern country superstars aren’t known for displaying a wide range of musical talent in their shows (Brad & Keith are the only exceptions that come to mind), and he wants Sugarland to be one of the ones that does. I agree that his wording makes it sound like it’s a totally brand-new concept that he thinks he dreamed up, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he just misspoke. I don’t think he’s stupid or pompous enough to really think that musicality and a good stage show have been mutually exclusive until now.

  11. I agree with Lynn that they may consider themselves bigger than the country audience, very well put. I suppose the are looking to go in a different direction maybe, hense the short tour in europe, as is another country artist right now that is leaning more towrds the pop crowd lately.

  12. “I know what Bush means – most modern country superstars aren’t known for displaying a wide range of musical talent in their shows (Brad & Keith are the only exceptions that come to mind), and he wants Sugarland to be one of the ones that does.”

    Why can’t he say that without dissing other artists at the same time? I’m no fan of Kenny Chesney but I really do hate it when artists publicly badmouth each other, epecially when they name names. As Leann said, it’s bad form.

  13. Interesting comment! Of course it’s possible for artists to be entertainers and musicians at the same time. Has he ever been to a Keith Urban or Brad Paisley show?? If not, then he really should becaues those two are consistently nominated for Entertainer of the Year at both the CMA’s and ACM’s. So that part of the comment I think is just stupid. I love Sugarland and hopefully Kristian’s mouth won’t cause any harm to their careers because I think country music would lose one of its biggest acts.

    As for his whole Strait comment, if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it! Strait’s stuff may sound the same, but why change a formula when you have what 56 number one hits?? That was just a stupid comment.

  14. It is one thing to play an instrument while singing, etc. It is another thing entirely to be really proficient on that instrument and to also be a notable singer.

    Barbara Mandrell is proficient on five instruments..her words not mine…but she could pick up most any instrument and learn to play it well enough to perform a song with it. And, it would not take her long to do that. But, this would not make her proficient on that instrument. The same is actually true for her sister Louise Mandrell. I do not think there are too many singers that are proficient on more than one instrument if they even are on that one instrument.

    But, keep in mind what I am saying. One can play an instrument well during a show and the audience will come away convinced they are proficient on that instrument.

    I am out of my depths on this but I think it would be easier for a musician to pick up the singing than for a singer to become proficient on instruments.

    I really think very few artists are proficient at both…singing and the musicianship. And, of course the same is true with songwriting. There are some very successful singers who are also fabulous songwriters but they are also few and far between.

    I do not think it is a matter of a singer today having to make a choice..sing or play instruments. I think it is more that there are just not that many people who really can do both extremely well.

    Saxophone, steel guitar, banjo, bass guitar and dobro..for those interested, these are the five instruments Barbara is proficient her own words. These are the ones she regularly played in her shows. Yes, she would use a rhythm guitar once in awhile and at times, she used the double neck guitar but not on a regular basis plus if you can play any kind of guitar you can certain play the rhythm guitar. The double neck…well, easy enough to play it if you can play the base but you certainly also to have the natural coordination to move from neck to neck along with a partner who can also do it.

    I loved watching Roy Clark and Barbara Mandrell do banjo numbers together! And, it was even better the few times I saw Ronnie Stoneman join them.

  15. Razor,

    I don’t think Bush was “dissing” anybody. He mainly was saying that Sugarland wanted to be more than just an entertainer (using Chesney as an example) or well-known proficient musician. He wants to be both.

  16. I don’t see Bush as being a jerk about the whole issue, but he could economize his words a bit better.

    One of the big issues with country nowadays is that you have your arena acts (Chesney, Paisley, Urban, Sugarland, etc.) and your festival/smaller venue acts (AKUS, for example). I think he’s absolutely right in the point he’s trying to make—the dividing line is longer now than it used to be when Mandrell, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, etc. were superstars.

    Now, being entertaining is judged quite a bit by how well you can fill a big arena. Country stars just didn’t do that kind of business 30-40 years ago. A number of artists are now writing or performing a number of songs mainly designed to sound good in a larger audience, and some of the musicianship is lost.

  17. Ooo, good tip-off Matt B.! Matt Nathanson would definitely up the appeal of a Sugarland show for me, although I suspect I’d enjoy one anyway.

    I have to say, though, that I don’t know how Nathanson is going to be able to play to Sugarland’s family-oriented crowd – never seen him live, but I hear has quite the potty-mouth (and uses it to hilarious effect).

    That’s an interesting news bit, though. I think Sugarland are establishing themselves as country’s best current ambassadors to the rest of the mainstream music community, although I hope they’ll experiment more with traditional/bluegrassy fare on future albums.

  18. I do agree that Keith Urban and Brad Paisley are great examples of true artists who are also excellent entertainers..I’d also add Dolly Parton to that list., but I’m also referring to entertaining personalities not just instrumental proficiency.

    I’ve been to several Paisley concerts, and here is a guy who doesn’t NEED smoke and mirrors or bells and whistles…but he employs such stagecraft very artfully, and really pulls it off for a hugely entertaining show.

    Re. Sugarland, I agree there is a lot of talent there, but I think sometimes they way overdo it on the entertainment side, and risk trivializing their art by contrast. What was up with the gerbil balls that Kristian and Jennifer inserted themselves into, and used to roll over their audience? That was just plain silly, and if that was all I knew of Sugarland, I would never give them a listen.

  19. There probably wasn’t a negative connotation meant, but I always think it’s better to use a positive rather than a comparison that can be open to a negative interpretation. Like saying we want to be great entertainers AND musicians like Brad Paisley or Keith Urban versus saying who they don’t want to be like.

  20. From what I understand, if we’re talking proficiency in instruments….Jennifer has played different instruments before Sugarland hit it big. A few of her solo songs included the flute, piano, Guitar, and Bass….all of which, she played….pretty darn good if you ask me.

    As for Kristian…I agree, he should have found a way to word that better, so as not to insult anyone…God forbid we hurt anyone’s feelings, or make another entertainer feel inadequate or “less than”. I’m sorry, if other entertainers or even the fans of the entertainers get insulted by outside comments, you’re reading too much into it…..basically making a mountain out of a mole-hill.

    I’ve been to a Sugarland concert, and they are entertaining, but they also play their instruments…which is great. I’ve been to concerts before where the act just stands there…or simply holds the guitar (kinda like George Strait….) and strum it every once in a while. Sugarland is ALL OVER the stage, engaging ALL of the fans in the venue. You leave their concert knowing that it was money well spent.

    I’m sure that there is some compitition between some of the acts, and each new touring season brings the motivation to go bigger, and better than the last year. You’ve heard Kenny say…”oh…we did this last year, so we’re going to change it up and do it bigger.” If you listen to early interviews with him right before he started his first “Stadium tour”…he was ready to ‘Go Big’….to do something that was new-ish…and now he’s known as an “arena act”….each year adding something new, or something a little extra.

    Same goes for Sugarland, I’ve seen a huge change since I saw them in concert two years ago, and I look foward to seeing whats new this year (they’re coming back to my city!!!). I’ve seen major changes in stage design, set lists, and audience engagement. Two years ago, they still seemed to be coming into their own when touring. I’m excited to see what comes next, and I hope they blow us all away….because I know they can.

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