To find out what old friends are up to, most of us have to scan alumni magazines, or perhaps try to turn up some interesting news on Google. Not so my boyfriend. He needs only to turn on the radio, because two of his childhood chums from East Tennessee, brothers Kristian and Brandon Bush of the Atlanta-based country-music outfit Sugarland, are darlings of the airwaves.
Multi-instrumentalist Kristian and singer Jennifer Nettles are the Sugarland duo proper, and Brandon, also of the rock band Train, plays keyboards in the pair's backing band. My boyfriend knew the brothers when they were only yea high.
Which is why, last night, we found ourselves in the basement of Dane County Coliseum, where a great many fans had turned out for the Sugarland concert. Thanks to a random encounter on MySpace, my boyfriend has lately been in touch with his old friends, and as a result, a couple of VIP badges were waiting for us at the box office.
Now, long gone are the days when I would have been breathless at the mere idea of VIP badges to a live-music event, any live-music event. But let's face it: Backstage passes are exciting.
And I was curious about Sugarland. Contemporary country music is not my greatest passion, but I do regularly listen to the local country stations. I like what I have heard of Sugarland, especially their marvelous celebration of misbehaving at Gulf Coast casinos, "Down in Mississippi (Up to No Good)."
Still, my passing familiarity with Sugarland's music did not quite prepare me for the scene backstage. It was cheerful bedlam, and I'll wager that most of the fans who had gathered were not, like me, simply curious about the group.
No, a long line of elated people had formed for the duo's "meet and greet," a ritual that is, I am told, mandatory in large-scale live music these days. (Many fans had won the opportunity to meet Sugarland from the radio station Q106.) We joined the receiving line, and keyboardist Brandon joined us, so he and my boyfriend could get caught up on old times.
Soon it was our turn to greet the stars. One Sugarland worker took our coats, and another stood poised with a camera. Someone grabbed my elbow and led me to Kristian and Jennifer, and for a moment the popular duo regarded me quizzically. I wasn't sure what protocol to follow.
Finally I introduced myself, and there was a happy reunion when Kristian recognized my boyfriend. Hugs were exchanged, our picture was quickly snapped, and then we were sent on our way. There were many more people to greet.
It was a surreal moment, and an energizing one. Fame and success are such fickle things in entertainment, so it was delightful to see this person to whom I am vicariously connected doing well, and pleasing his fans.
As for the show itself: I obviously am a little biased, but I enjoyed Sugarland's headlining set very much. Jennifer Nettles, who handles most of the vocals and is an engaging frontwoman, was poised and humble, while Kristian Bush, who plays guitar and mandolin, looked happy simply to run back and forth across the wide stage.
Like much modern country music, Sugarland's sound is more pop than honkytonk. No one played fiddle or pedal steel guitar, and the lyrics generally hewed to positive themes. (There was no Hank Williams-style existential despair.) The young musicians, comfortably dressed in jeans, smiled throughout the set, and the audience members -- among them a great many children -- also smiled, and sang along.