When Sugarland was just starting out, the duo, made up of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, earned a coveted slot on Kenny Chesney's Flip-Flop Summer Tour in 2007, where their tour boss made a surprising concession for his opening acts. Now, 11 years after that tour, Sugarland is headlining their Still the Same Tour, with Brandy Clark, Frankie Ballard, Clare Bowen and Lindsay Ell serving as the tour openers, and both Nettles and Bush extend the same freedom.
"We learned this a long time ago from Kenny Chesney," Bush tells Billboard. "If there was a conversation about what we could or couldn't use – like speakers or lights, he would say 'Use everything. Blow me off the stage.' I have always remembered that, so it's what I tell these guys. Do your best show, blow it up. Shame us, you know? I love it."
Nettles and Bush famously disbanded after their In Your Hands Tour in 2012, to work on their own projects. But contrary to how their break has sometimes been reported, both musicians insist there was never any animosity between the two.
"We always said that door was open, but the media loves a scandalous spin," notes Nettles. "I think they've been so accustomed to when people do solo work that they never work together again because they have had a falling out. Neither of those things were the case with us."
Much has changed for Sugarland since their freshman Twice the Speed of Life album was released in 2004 – perhaps, most importantly, their ability to captivate a crowd.
"I think that there's a certain amount of relaxation about our performance," Bush says. "I remember always being in complete panic thinking that we always had to get to the next song. At first, you only have 20 minutes in front of another act. Then suddenly you have 35 minutes, and then you're the headliner, right? So, you're so concerned about making sure that everything works like clockwork. Now, I feel it's happening with so much more confidence. We're not pushing it so hard."
Nettles and Bush relish the chance to perform their music night after night, but even more the chance to share themselves with the audience.
"I wanna be remembered for storytelling and for stories that touch people, and that connect people," Nettles says. "And that connect them to themselves and to each other. Mostly I want them to be reminded of what they want to become. And sometimes we think about that, or sometimes that becomes more clear as we think about where we've been."
Find a list of all of Sugarland's upcoming shows by visiting their website.