Concert Spotlight: Interview with Rascal Flatts

Country Hitmakers Close Out Summer, Reflect on NYC Milestones
Rascal Flatts

Rascal Flatts remain one of the most highly regarded musical acts across any genre, not just country music. Their timeless songs appeal to every emotion, whether celebrating with friends (“Summer Nights”), drowning in your woes (“What Hurts The Most”), looking for an escape from the 9-to-5 grind (“Banjo”) or falling hard for someone (“Take Me There”), the Nashville-based trio has something for everyone. Vocalist Gary LeVox, bassist/pianist Jay DeMarcus and lead guitarist Joe Don Rooney have sent every one of their albums to #1 (save their debut, which was #3), they scored their 30th Top 10 hit this year with “I Like The Sound of That” and just hit a milestone of 10 million tickets sold while on their current Rhythm & Roots Tour.

Beyond the fame and bright lights, Rascal Flatts have been known as a magnet for attracting emerging talent in the country genre, with previous tour openers like Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton and Little Big Town. This time around, bombshell Kelsea Ballerini and newcomer Chris Lane have joined forces with the trio. Guitarist Joe Don Rooney (who also hits the high octave harmony notes) spoke with NYC Monthly about the talent that they have come up with over the years, their upcoming Christmas album and Rascal Flatts’ great memories over the years of New York City…

You have a whopping sixteen #1 hits on the Country charts. What do you attribute yours, Jay’s and Gary’s longevity with Rascal Flatts to having broken numerous records and selling 10 million concert tickets, 23 million albums, 31 million downloads?

I don’t know – I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but we’ve had a relationship with our fans, we meet-and-greet with them as much as we can, and build them a party and help celebrate them on the stage, it’s just one of these wonderful marriages between artist and fans. We always just try to be true to us and find the best song possible to record. I think there’s a lot more diversity in country music, lyrics are very poetic. The lyrics might be simpler or more tongue-in-cheek but then you’ve got some depth…”I’m Movin’ On” and “My Wish” and “Broken Road” – they’re all different, only in country music can you get away with so much diversity.

It’s kind of cosmic, the ingredients that make up success. Our Rascal Flatts team is so damn good too, consistent management and business management and record labels. Big Machine, they’re young and hungry and they’ve got our back. We’re at a place in our career it’s like a wave’s been ridden but it doesn’t even feel like that long, we’ve been headliners for 10 years. In the first five years we opened up for some great artists that paved the way for us. In 2002, Toby Keith put us on tour and he was huge back then, and then Brooks & Dunn in 2003, and in 2004 Kenny Chesney put us on tour. By 2006 we knew we were pretty much ready to start headlining.

Over the years you have appeared on shows in New York like Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, TODAY and more, have headlined Madison Square Garden and back in 2005 you won one of 6 consecutive Vocal Group of the Year awards when the CMAs were at MSG. Do you have a particular moment in all of your years together that stands out as really special in New York City?

Well, yeah I think a couple of those were very special. Let me go back in time here for a second, we were the last band to play the World Trade Center. The first week of September 2001 a country station [WYNY] did a summer concert series, we were the last artist to play there.

Flash-forward, 2006 a new station opened up and the guy that used to be Party Marty was the PD, he brought us DVDs of that day. I forgot they filmed, so there was a camera guy walking through part of the World Trade Center with us, there’s a moment on this DVD where we were doing “I’m Movin’ On,” the camera starts panning around at people walking around and you see all the ethnicity and all the different people from all over the world walking in that moment. To think what happened a week after that, what happened to these people or how these people moved on.

New York City has always been near and dear to our heart. One of our first memories was getting to play there, it was a life- changing experience and a terrible tragedy for so many. But “I’m Movin’ On” became an impactful song because people needed to hear that, it was just medicine for the soul.

Definitely playing Madison Square Garden and selling it out in 2006 was just incredible. It was just so special; New York City has been amazing to us.

You’ve been known to select opening acts for your tours that end up becoming huge stars – from Taylor Swift and Little Big Town to Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean. Are there any surprises in store for the Rhythm & Roots tour when it comes to Jones Beach and can fans expect a duet with Kelsea Ballerini and Chris Lane?

They are incredible man, just to have a couple of young, hungry fresh-faced artists, they are just so ready to go. We bring them out on a song at the end of the show and they are so happy to amp up the crowd with us. But for us it keeps us young in spirit at least, it’s so neat to have that, and they look to us which is so crazy and they watch our show from the side of the stage. I remember taking notes from Kenny Chesney and Brooks & Dunn.

This particular tour, we tried to strip things back, we had a really big band, a nine-piece band, back-up singers. This year we decided to strip things back to just the three of us, a drummer, multi-instrumentalist and like the club days in Nashville back before we were signed to a label. It’s been a challenge for us to take our hit songs and change them up so you can notice what they are but the beats are a little different, arrangements different, it’s definitely been this really cool journey for us to freshen ’em up.

Do you anticipate any special performances of your Christmas music around holiday time? Also why is Rascal Flatts cozying up to the idea of a Christmas album now after years of original material?

We are just now putting some stuff together, there is talk of doing a show in New York in November. It’s so wild, recording Christmas music in the summertime, all the music is done and recorded and next week they are mixing the songs. The fans want to hear it, to be quite frank – our mothers want to hear it. It’s something we’ve wanted to do forever, and now we finally got it done, it’s coming in mid-October.

Summer Nights, on the water at Jones Beach, the sea air, the final weeks of summer. What do you think Rascal Flatts would say is the perfect Summer Night in New York City based on your experiences here?

There’s nothing like hitting some good restaurants in New York City, it’s just an amazing place. We’ve had so many parties we’ve gotten to go to, red carpet events. But for me, there’s nothing better than coming to New York City and playing our Rascal Flatts music. There’s a lot of history there, I remember four years ago when Hurricane Sandy came through, that venue [Jones Beach Theater] took a pounding and they renovated some of it and about eight months later they opened and we were the first band to play after being beaten down. We just can’t wait to get back there ’cause there’s nothing like being outside in the summer and throwing a party with our music, and we don’t take it lightly.