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Lonestar's Richie McDonald - standing beside bandmates Dean Sams, Michael Britt and Keech Rainwater - stares at the group's new state-of-the-art tour bus and reflects on earlier times, eight years ago.
"I remember our first tour bus," he says with laugh. "It was nice, but it was just a bus that somebody let us use. That was a time though, when beggars couldn't be choosy."
Certainly, begging is no longer required - not after No. 1 smash hits like "Amazed" and "I'm Already There" and a CMA Vocal Group of the Year award. With that kind of stardom comes advantages - like a new bus to whisk the guys around the country in first-class style!
"The front is more like a living room with leather couches and full carpeting," says Dean, who the guys elected to take charge of the bus design. "I added some curved counter tops to give the area some flow. The entry is a granite floor with the Lonestar logo etched into it. So there's no mistaking whose bus you're in."
Dean pauses and chuckles. "I have actually wandered into other artists' buses before," he notes. "They do tend to look alike from the outside."
But once inside the new chariot, you'll find every guy's high-tech fantasy. "There's a 48-inch plasma TV in the front lounge, and a 36-inch one in the back," says Dean. "Each bunk also has a 15-inch pull-down TV with its own DVD player and satellite receiver, so you can watch whatever you want while we're traveling. We even have a small recording studio in the back lounge."
And that's not all. The TVs can also be tuned to a satellite positioning system, which gives the exact location of the bus and the distance to the next destination. "I thought it was important," says Dean, "because it helps you plan a little better."
Dean's master plan was to provide comfort and style. "I'm not really a tech guy," he says, "though I am fascinated with cool gadgets. The main thing was for everybody to be comfortable. Before, we were trying to cram everything into a couple of closets. So I asked for extra tall bunks and a big closet for each guy, and everyone has a big drawer underneath his bunk for extra storage. I tried to think of everything."
He clearly succeeded. "Everybody had their own input, of course," Dean says. "But they kind of let me take control because I'm the neat freak of the group. The guys seem to like what I came up with."
Richie gives Dean's design a thumbs-up. "You spend so much of your life on a bus that you want to try and make yourself as comfortable as possible," he says. "Dean did a good job of that.
"And there were those little things, like having separate closets, that I really liked," raves Richie. "That's a big deal for me, because I always bring the most clothes - I don't know why that is. But you don't want your stage clothes to get wrinkled, so that big closet is extra nice."
When it came to requesting extras, the sky was the limit. "We have a trailer that we pull along behind us," explains Richie, "and I asked if we could load a basketball goal onto that. The guys thought I was crazy! But the company that built the bus thought they could do it, and they came up with this retractable goal. So now we can get out and shoot hoops!"
The Lonestar boys love their highspeed toys - and with the new bus, they're free to load 'em up. "We put all our motorcycles on the trailer, which I have now nicknamed 'the toy box,' " laughs Dean. "Actually, Keech is more of a dirt-bike rider, and Michael has a scooter. But Richie and I both have Harleys, so we look like a pretty mean machine going down the road."
Their new bus doesn't just represent where they're going, it's also a reminder of where they've been.
"This is something we have worked hard for," says Dean. "All those years of struggling and sacrificing have paid off to where we can have something like this."
Adds Richie, "We all remember where we started. But now we've had some success that allows us to travel in style."
Dean takes a good long gaze at the bus and breaks into a grin. "People ask how much different this one is from our old bus," he says. "Well, it's like comparing a puddle jumper to the Concorde!"
- Bob Paxman
To see pictures of Lonestar's bus , pick up your copy of Country Weekly on newsstands now!