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Little Big Town savoring hard-earned success

Little Big Town — Phillip Sweet (from left) Karen Fairchild Kimberly Schlapman Jimi Westbrook — are touring behing their latest

Little Big Town — Phillip Sweet (from left), Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman and Jimi Westbrook — are touring behing their latest album, “Tornado.” | Photo by Williams + Hirakawa

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♦ 7:30 p.m. March 21

♦ Rialto Square Theatre,
15 E. Van Buren, Joliet

♦ Tickets, $37-$70

♦ (815) 726-7171;

Updated: March 14, 2013 6:21PM

There was a time, not so long ago, in which the smiles on the collective faces of the members of country foursome Little Big Town seemed to hide any hint of frustration. Their names weren’t being called up to the stage at the major awards shows, despite huge hits such as “Boondocks” and “Little White Church.” Their strongest songs weren’t finding their way to the top of the charts, despite the undeniable emotions behind tunes such as “Shut up Train” and “Kiss Goodbye.” And despite years of opening for country music’s biggest acts, they had yet to earn their place as headliners..

“We had albums where we would get that ‘big’ hit, and then nothing else would catch on,” explained Karen Fairchild from backstage at their recent tour stop at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Mich.“Sometimes, the stars just don’t align. But with ‘Tornado,’ they finally did.”

Indeed, 2012 brought Little Big Town the success that had eluded them for so long. It was if members Karen Fairchild, Phillip Sweet, Kimberly Schlapman and Jimi Westbrook’s collective hints of frustration twisted into a furious “Tornado,” their fifth studio album, which spawned a CMA win for “Vocal Group of the Year” and a Grammy win for best duo/country performance for “Pontoon.”

“I remember people coming up to us at the ACMs at this time last year, asking what was different about us,” recalls Schlapman, who also just celebrated the second season of her cooking show “Kimberly’s Simply Southern” on GAC. “We had just got out of the studio from recording ‘Tornado’ and collectively, we knew what we had.”

“We were definitely standing up a bit straighter,” adds Westbrook, who will spend the summer on tour with Keith Urban. “Everything felt different.”

More than ready to bring their headlining “Tornado” tour to the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet on March 21, the group seems to have hit the sweet spot of their career. The album’s title track reached No. 1 on the country music charts earlier this month, and the eerie, yet realistic upcoming single, “Your Side of the Bed,” sits poised to make more noise on the charts in the coming weeks.

Little Big Town also seems to be enjoying the chance to vocalize their support for newcomers such as “American Idol”’s Kree Harrison, country breakout star Kacey Musgraves and tour opener David Nail.

“We love being able to be at the point of our career where we can bring people out on tour with us that we personally support, in the same way so many artists supported us through the years,” says Fairchild.

And while the success of the past year has kept the four from having much time to devote to a new album, they say some ideas are naturally beginning to flow.

“We definitely would love to have something out sometime next year,” admits Sweet. “I’ve been storing some ideas in my good ol’ iPhone. [Laughs] We are just enjoying where we are right now.”

Indeed, the group says they plan to enjoy that sweet spot for the foreseeable future, both professionally and personally. Just a few short weeks ago, Westbrook and Fairchild’s son, Elijah, celebrated his third birthday with a gift close to his musical parent’s hearts.

“Yep, a three-year-old has his own electric guitar now,” laughed Westbrook. “I spruced up a Marshall amp and we got a custom strap made for him. He wouldn’t take that strap off for days.”

“It’s been pure joy,” smiled Fairchild.

Tricia Despres is a local free-lance writer.

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