It was, said Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman, “an emotional day” for her group – an understatement, to be sure.
First, the Grammy Award-winning quartet offered a wrenching performance of the national anthem at the funeral Thursday of fellow Grand Ole Opry member Troy Gentry, who died last week in a helicopter accident. And now, less than four hours later, here they were in a park in downtown Nashville, accepting one of the city’s highest honors: a star on the Music City Walk of Fame.
The long-planned award ceremony actually had to be moved back in the afternoon to accommodate so many people who wanted to attend both events.
Adding even more poignancy, the group was being inducted by Keith Urban, the man who jump-started the group’s career when he invited the then-unknowns to open his tour 11 years ago. Urban, too, had been among the mourners at the funeral, which was held a few miles away at the Grand Ole Opry House; also an Opry member, he was still wearing a Batman bracelet evoking Gentry’s passion for the superhero.
In the shadow of this loss, it was no wonder that Urban, Schlapman and her bandmates – Phillip Sweet and married couple Jimi Westbrook and Karen Fairchild – lingered on the preciousness of family in their remarks during the ceremony. For Little Big Town, of course, it is a family of choice.
Urban, 49, called the group “the closest thing to a family band that are not related that you’ll ever meet. It’s that sound that’s not connected by blood or last name – well, in the case of Jimi and Karen, now it is – but there is no connection except the spirit. That’s what I feel when I hear Little Big Town … That’s what makes them family. That’s what makes them connected. It’s what makes somebody like me feel their music immediately when they sing to me.”
In turn, Schlapman, 47, described how the group “actually became family” at the start of their career. Those were the days they piled into a minivan and drove in search of any audience that would listen to them. “In those long van rides, when it was just the four of us,” she recalled, “we learned so much about each other, and that’s where the family started.”
“We played [the game] ‘I Have Never,’” she added with a wide smile. “I’m not gonna tell you any secrets, but Jimi and Phillip … There’s nothing they have never!”
Westbrook, 45, jokingly tried to stop Schlapman. “Shh! My momma’s sitting over there,” he entreated.
“Your momma,” Schlapman retorted, “already knows that.”
In fact, there was an entire bevy of family members who came to witness the honor, including Schlapman’s and Sweet’s spouses and the group’s four children.
Fairchild, 47, also recalled the group’s lean years and dedicated the honor to “all the dreamers out there: the songwriters who haven’t gotten a cut yet, the artists who can’t get a break, the artist whose car doesn’t start in the rain – or who doesn’t have a car. We knew we made it when Phillip got a car. We could stop picking him up everywhere. It was like a morning ritual. ‘Who’s picking Phillip up?’ But you know what, we were driving these same streets, and now we’re here with you guys, and so it really can happen. You just have to believe.”
Little Big Town received the 79th star on the Walk of Fame. Inductees are recognized for their significant contributions to music and to the city’s musical heritage. The group continues their year-long, multi-date residency at the historic Ryman Auditorium with two sold-out concerts on Friday and Saturday.