For Country Power Couple, Family Comes First
Friday, July 6, 2007
These are the figures that make Tim McGraw and Faith Hill country music's reigning power couple: combined sales of more 60 million albums, a barnful of awards, a dozen No. 1 albums and three dozen No. 1 singles. Last year's "Soul2Soul" tour did okay, too: With 74 concerts in 56 cities, it grossed nearly $89 million on sales of 1.1 million tickets, making it the top-grossing tour in the history of country music.
This summer's "Soul2Soul" trek is a bit shorter (43 shows, including Saturday's at Verizon Center), but it's just as big, and we mean big: It's using the same stage, shaped like a cross with a circle in the middle and four long catwalks that allow McGraw and Hill to be close to pretty much everyone on the floor or in the lower stands (better for those cellphone photo opportunities).
There's a mini-village beneath the stage, with his-and-her dressing rooms, band rooms, bathrooms, caterers and wardrobe rooms, though you wonder how much room McGraw needs for his trademark black hats, T-shirts and black jeans. There's also plenty of play space for the stars' three daughters, ages 5 to 10 and each with her own dressing room.
The armada bringing "Soul2Soul" to Verizon consists of 14 buses, 22 trucks and a staff of 120.
"It takes that amount of personnel to put together the staging and everything," Hill says. "You have to create a well-oiled machine in order to move such a massive set from city to city."
The song list is pretty massive as well: About three dozen songs follow their opening duet cover of Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars." Hill does a hit-laden set, McGraw does a hit-laden set and the segues and bookends are hit-laden duets, closing with their most recent collaboration, "I Need You." It's a nonstop, generous three hours of "your hits or mine?" that's not just a rerun of last year's record-setting tour.
"We change the set list, but there are certain songs we can't get away with not doing," McGraw says. "There's no way to fit them all in for either one of us. We try to pick the ones that we like performing and the ones people like to hear."
All this is a long way from the early days when McGraw and his longtime band, the Dancehall Doctors, all traveled in the same van with a trailer attached.
"I have the same band, and we still have that van -- my guitar player has it at his house -- so those days are very fresh in our minds. We talk about them all the time," he says. "Darran [Smith] and I have been together the longest, almost 18 years. We look at each other sometimes, look around at the audience and we'll raise our shoulders -- 'I don't know!' 'Cause we'll be thinking about the times when there were only 50 people in the club for days on end."
Hill, a native of tiny Star, Miss., got to Nashville first, in 1987, and worked various jobs, including as a receptionist at a publishing company; she famously failed an audition as a backup singer for Reba McEntire before beginning to make a name for herself on demos and recording sessions, breaking through in 1993 with her first No. 1, "Wild One." McGraw, from Start, La., arrived a few years later and did the familiar Nashville two-step: starting with a publishing deal, looking for a record deal. He finally broke through in 1994 with "Indian Outlaw" and "Don't Take the Girl," the latter the first of his 27 No. 1 country hits.
As it happens, McGraw did take the girl -- for a drive, that is. Jeep is sponsoring this year's tour, partly because it doesn't hurt to be part of such a hugely successful run and partly because it was in a red 1978 CJ6 Jeep that McGraw and Hill had serious discussions about their future in March 1996 during their first tour together. McGraw was the headliner, Hill the opening act as the prophetically titled "Spontaneous Combustion" tour arrived in State College, Pa.
They'd both been new faces at a Nashville radio seminar the year before, and, Hill says, "we only just met quickly, and no sparks were flying. I thought he was very attractive and a real gentleman, but that's as far at it went. [When we toured together], that's when it became obvious that, oh, my gosh, there was a serious connection, a serious spark."