Little Big Town Is a Class Act

Little Big Town at Belmont University: (from left) Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet photo by JOHN RUSSELL/CMA

“Some people take the really short road to success, and some take the really long road,” Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild told students at Nashville’s Belmont University yesterday (March 14). “We are a band that took the long road.”

The members of Little Big Town met with students to share tales of their musical journey as part of the Country Music Association’s new education-based initiative, CMA EDU. Karen, who is a CMA Board member, jumped at the chance to be involved with educating students in the music business.

“I think for anyone, whether they want to be an artist or on the business side of things, the more exposure you get to all sides of the business, it will make you well-rounded,” said Karen.

Belmont University hosts the pilot program for the initiative, which includes workshops, seminars, leadership training and networking opportunities. More than 100 students are currently signed up for the program.

Little Big Town’s own journey began in college. Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman met while performing in college ensembles together at Samford University in Alabama. After moving to Nashville, they added Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet.

“Kimberly’s voice has a pure tone and a bluegrass quality to it, so we thought, ‘If we could find a guy who sounded like he smoked all day, that would be great.’ We were looking for this gravelly, blue-eyed soul singer,” said Karen. Phillip’s voice fit the bill.

The group shared some of the hard-learned lessons they've learned while riding the ups and downs of a career that has included stints at four different record labels and three managers, along with a No. 1 album and two Top 10 songs. The foursome conceded that having a solid vision of themselves as a band and sticking to that vision has been a key element to their success.

“If you don’t have in your heart a vision for who you are as an artist, someone will have a plan for you, and you will end up singing songs you don’t want to sing,” said Karen. Phillip agreed, “It’s hard, because in the beginning [of your career], you are still figuring out who you are. We felt that at least one of our albums [in the beginning] sounded compromised musically, because we were still figuring that out. If you are an artist, you want it to be real, because people see through it if you are not.”

“We didn’t have anything like a CMA EDU to have a community,” continued Karen. “There was no Facebook. We started out and had to find a manager and publisher. We’d hang out at the Bluebird [Cafe] and we saw Rascal Flatts when they weren’t [huge sensation] Rascal Flatts and Billy Currington before he had a record deal. We were all just down there hanging out and hoping that something would give for one of us. It did for all of us. It’s a tribute to a lot of hard work.”

Jimi agrees that the CMA EDU initiative is unique. “Being in the business now and knowing the people that you will get to be in front of is truly amazing,” he told students. “There’s no other thing that is like this. It really lets you see behind the curtain.”

“If we’d have had this in college, who knows where we’d be today,” said Kimberly. “We’d be running this town,” Karen quipped, laughing.

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