Little Big Town

Remember when tour buses were sex on wheels, a rolling series of "Almost Famous" moments, synonymous with good times and bad judgment, free love followed by trips to the free clinic?

No, Jimi Westbrook doesn’t either.

The dirtiest thing on his band’s bus?

The diapers. ? As one-fourth of country vocal quartet Little Big Town, Westbrook travels city to city in what could be termed diesel-powered day care.

"It’s fun to wake up in the morning and see the little ones running through the bus with their smiling faces," Westbrook says, noting that two of his bandmates, singers Kimberly Roads and Philip Sweet, have kids and spouses on tour with them. "What a unique way for children to grow up and be able to experience the world at such an early age."

Should Westbrook start a family of his own, no doubt the kids will join him on tour: He’s married to the other member of the group, vocalist Karen Fairchild.

Romance on the road?

It can be a pot-hole strewn ride.

"When you’re living amongst 12, 13, 14 other people every day, sometime it’s challenging to feel like a couple, because there is no just-you time," Westbrook explains. "You have to steal away moments for yourselves. When you roll into a town, maybe just the two of you go out and see what’s going on in the little town that you’re in, check out the sights and do that together. It’s something that you have to work on, because it’s not something that comes naturally when you’re living with so many people on the road."

In a way, it’s almost fitting that Little Big Town involves an inner-band relationship, as their earthy, sunshine-flecked multipart harmonies recall acts such as Fleetwood Mac and the Mamas and the Papas, which also were marked by romantic liaisons among group members.

It lends a familial vibe to the band’s spit-shined Americana, which is contemporary sounding in its production values with polished hooks high in the mix, but also reminiscent of classic country — and pop and rock — of the ’70s, with a warm, rootsy feel, self-penned songs and lithe, winsome vocal interplay.

"That’s the music that we love, that was what we loved growing up," Westbrook says. "All of that music from that era and further back, the rootsier and more organic types of things where country music started, is to me the greatest music there is. We want to reflect all of that."

As such, they’ve become something of a gateway act among the current country ranks, a band that resonates with Nashville and routinely earns their share of Academy of Country Music nominations, but whose appeal can reach those who tuned out country radio as it became increasingly slick-sounding and rock-and-pop-skewing.

"It’s been interesting seeing who’s coming out to shows," Westbrook says. "It’s a wide range of people. It’s not just your country fans. There’s a lot of people who come up to us after the shows, and I always love hearing, ‘You know what? I never really listen to country music, but I love what you do.’ For us, that’s exciting, to maybe be the ambassador of country music to people who haven’t really looked into that kind of music. Then they begin to discover new things in the country circles."

Of course, not hewing to the current Nashville template has meant that the band has taken a long, winding road to establishing a fan base. They were dropped from their first label, and it wasn’t until their second album, 2005’s "The Road to Here," that Little Big Town broke out and went platinum.

Along the way, they’ve weathered their share of triumphs and defeats, death and divorces, and managed to stick together — you know, just like family.

"We definitely didn’t take the easiest path, but that’s OK," Westbrook says. "When things are unique, sometimes it takes a little longer. Maybe in the early days, we were a little bit delusional to how things would play out, but the journey that this band has been on — this is our 10th year — I think it was all necessary. It’s like life in general, when you take a path that is a little bit harder, I think you become more grounded in who you are."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ or 702-383-0476.

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