Sugarland brings a night of country fun to the Iowa State Fair's Grandstand
Sugarland discusses their newest "Mad Men"-inspired music video featuring Taylor Swift for their song "Babe" backstage at the 2018 CMT Music Awards. Ayrika L Whitney, The Tennessean
Don't let a few years off fool you: Sugarland still knows how to have fun.
The Grammy Award-winning country outfit played the Iowa State Fair Grandstand Friday night, part of the duo's massive "Still The Same" summer tour, which kicked off last May in Oklahoma.
The group — comprised of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush — played to a Grandstand crowd of 8,311. The tour comes in support of the band's first studio release in eight years, "Bigger," which dropped June.
It's Sugarland's first trip around North America in a half-decade and, as the name of the tour suggests, fans still got the same heartfelt country storytelling that enamored 'em years ago.
"It's been a while since we’ve been on tour," Bush joked. "A lot of people maybe think we’ve been on vacation."
Sugarland was scheduled to perform at the fair in 2011 with Sara Bareilles, but the concert was canceled in response the stage collapsing at group's show at the Indiana State Fair the night before, killing seven people. The group previously played the Grandstand in 2010, a concert featuring Little Big Town.
All they wanna do ... is entertain: Backed by a six-piece band, Sugarland took the stage around 9:45 p.m. to "Bigger," the new album's title track.
But they didn't stick to the new stuff for too long. The crowd was singing along to Nettles' "who-oh-oh-oh-oh" by the night's second song, 2008's chart-topper "All I Want To Do." They kept 'em singing along, too, kicking straight into 2010's "Stuck Like Glue" and 2006's "Want To."
Nettles, Bush and company played a 22-song set in total, spanning about 110 minutes. They didn't pander by dedicating songs to "the beer drinkers!" or proclaiming the night's audience — their 40th show in three months — "the best ever."
Instead, they simply entertained.
The duo fed off each other, dancing playfully and sliding between sections of the stage. Nettles would step back as Bush took a guitar solo during "Incredible Machine" and Bush would let Nettles' marquee vocals shine during the acoustic ballad "Stay."
They let each other play solo numbers — "Trailer Hitch" for Bush and "Unloved You" for Nettles — and still came back together for heartfelt duets, such as the 2006's "Settlin'" or "Come Talk To Me," a Peter Gabriel cover.
More on Iowa State Fair music:
- Once a talent show reject, ‘Idol’ winner Maddie Poppe returns to open the Iowa State Fair
- Iowa songwriter Lissie talks farm life, new music and her first Iowa State Fair show
- For a Grandstand crowd of 14,000, Reba McEntire is Iowa State Fair royalty
But it was the audience that led the night's most touching moment: Fans held up signs during "Little Miss," a tradition that launched before the band's hiatus. Started by a follower in 2011, the signs capture what Sugarland's music means to fans.
Signs that said the song guided a family through tough times and that Sugarland fans are also "still the same" flashed across the Grandstand screen while Nettles sang the line "sometimes ya gotta lose 'til ya win."
"It really is a blessing to remember that it will be alright," she said after the number.
Let's go crazy for an encore: The show hit its high point during a four-song jam that kicked off with Sugarland's 2018 number "On A Roll" before Nettles led the band through a trio of classics: "We Want The Funk," "Billy Jean" and "Express Yourself."
The group followed the medley with a take on the latest single and Taylor Swift collaboration, "Babe," before closing the initial set with a wave of hits: "It Happens, "Stay," "Baby Girl" and "Something More."
Sugarland left the stage only to return for a two-song encore starting with 2018 ballad "Not The Only."
The night ended with a cover of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," which included Bush taking lead on the Purple One's "we are gathered here today" monologue.
"Thank you all so much," Nettles proclaimed a final time.
Opening acts Lindsay Ell and Frankie Ballard joined in for the last number, a jam some could say was a half-decade in the making.
Sugarland's Grandstand setlist:
- All I Wanna Do
- Stuck Like Glue
- Want To
- Already Gone
- Lean It On Back
- Little Miss
- Tony (Patty Griffin cover)
- Trailer Hitch
- Unlove You
- Incredible Machine
- Let Me Remind You
- On A Roll/We Want the Funk (George Clinton)/Billy Jean (Michael Jackson)/Express Yourself (Madonna)
- Come Talk To Me (Peter Gabriel cover)
- It Happens
- Baby Girl
- Something More
- Not The Only
- Let’s Go Crazy (Prince cover)