Old Dominion was at the top of the world.
In 2018 alone, the country music hitmakers had performed 136 shows via a wildly successful arena tour, a slew of festivals and a slate of dates with superstar Kenny Chesney. They had been named both the ACM and the CMA Vocal Group of the Year, powered by the success of songs such as “Hotel Key,” “Written in the Sand” and “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart.” And if that wasn’t enough, they had announced plans for their 2019 headlining arena tour.
There was just one problem: lead singer Matthew Ramsey had to undergo leg surgery — soon.
“The timing of it all was not ideal,” Ramsey tells PEOPLE of the need for the procedure, which led to the band postponing three February dates on the current tour. “I have been playing with a considerable amount of pain for a while now and I just couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to get it taken care of.”
And that’s just what he’ll do come February.
“It’s not really clear what exactly I did and trust me when I tell you that I wish there was some cool story as to how it happened,” Ramsey, 41, says with a laugh. “It’s been an ongoing thing. I have a few tears there in my leg. I’m just ready to handle it and get back to rocking.”
And then, Ramsey takes a deep, thoughtful breath.
“It’s just really been weighing me because I don’t know what the other side looks like once the surgery is over,” he says quietly. “I’m just looking forward to putting it behind us.”
This sort of honesty and realness is something that has proved to be one of Old Dominion’s greatest characteristics. And it’s this authenticity that shines through each and every thing they do, both on and off the stage.
“It’s always been very important, as the guy with the microphone, to be real and honest with our fans,” says Ramsey, as Old Dominion’s current single “Make It Sweet” makes its way up the charts. “We are not really good at acting like something we are not. We want to always talk to our fans and engage with them.”
Because when it comes right down to it, the band has one simple goal for their live show — make their fans happy.
“I know that seems so simple, but in this day and age, I think it’s so important,” says Ramsey about the tour, which will also include special guests Mitchell Tenpenny, Morgan Evans and Jordan Davis. “It’s not lost on us that this is not a cheap night out for most people. Their time is valuable. Babysitters are expensive. We just always want to make sure our fans get their money’s worth. We truly want them to leave with good memories.”
Indeed, the shows on their 2019 Make It Sweet Tour will not only include a good amount of authentic banter, but also a taste of the new music that the band finds themselves currently working on, including the just-released “One Man Band.”
“We always look forward to playing new music, basically so we can test it out with our fans,” explains Ramsey, whose band broke onto the country music scene back in 2015 with the hit single “Break Up with Him.” “Our growth has been so big and so fast as of late, especially in terms of the size of venues we are playing. That energy and that fan base … there is just nothing like it. To feel that energy firsthand really solidifies what we have going right now.”
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And what they have going on right now is propelling them both physically and emotionally as they put the finishing touches on their new record, a follow-up to the wildly popular Meat and Candy and Happy Endings.
“We are almost done with a new album,” Ramsey tells PEOPLE of the project. “The fact is that we end up getting so excited about new music that we just end up finishing them and putting it out once we finish something. We just want to get these songs out there and start playing them for our fans.”
Of course, while this rapid growth has its share of high points, it also comes with its fair share of challenges.
“There are a lot of songs that we have played for a long time that are now falling onto the cutting room floor,” Ramsey admits. “Taking those songs off the setlist that longtime fans are used to hearing can be rough, but it’s those new elements that keep things exciting. And that’s what we are always trying to do … keep things exciting.”