The marriage of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill wasn’t just a celebrity match made in heaven. It was a concert promoter’s dream date.
Ten years after a spring tour together led to an autumn wedding, country music’s powerhouse pair hit the road last summer for the inaugural Soul 2 Soul tour, a blockbuster run whose $88 million gross made it the year’s third-highest grossing show - and the biggest country trek of all time.
In a country music world where don’t-fix-what-ain’t-broke traditions hold sway, it was no shock when McGraw and Hill announced they’d be reprising Soul 2 Soul to take the visually rich, three-hour show to more than 60 cities.
But that doesn’t mean McGraw is content letting anyone think this is more of the same-old same-old. The production has been tweaked with new video, lighting and stage decor. And the set list has been revamped to include both new material and old chestnuts - songs from the days before McGraw commandeered the country throne made available in the late 1990s by the self-exiled Garth Brooks.
“It’s essentially a brand-new show on the same stage,” McGraw tells the Detroit Free Press. “We were all just learning the stage by the end of the tour last year and what it was capable of doing. All the mental notes everyone took during the tour about what could be better and cooler are being implemented, so everything is up a notch.”
At home, it may be a marriage of equals, but inside the nation’s arenas, the power balance remains as it was on that long-ago tour in `96: Hill performs first, with McGraw - just named the world’s 37th-most-powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine - in the headlining slot. The two appear together toward the end of his set to duet on several songs, including the old-school stomper “Shotgun Rider” from McGraw’s new album, “Let It Go.”
That record, released in March, may prove to be one of the highlights in what’s been a storied - and massively successful - career for the 40-year-old singer. Traditional but not forced, crafted but not slick, it is in many ways the ideal Tim McGraw album, seamlessly merging his love of country and classic rock.
“I knew I wanted to go in with a real organic, earthy kind of feel, and when I mixed the record, I wanted that `70s feel,” he says. “I think we really accomplished that - in the song selection, in the tones while laying down the record and sonically in the mixing of the record. It just all came together the way I wanted it to.”
It was a natural step, says McGraw. He insists - emphatically - that he deliberately keeps his head down, eyes focused, avoiding any analysis of Nashville trends when he heads into a project.
“If I paid attention to that, I wouldn’t be able to make the kind of music I make, which I’ve always thought is a little different than everybody else,” he says. “I just go in with blinders on, pretty much. I don’t even listen to music for months before I go in to record. I don’t want to be influenced. I’d rather go in with a fresh, clear head without any agenda except what I want to do with these songs.”
As the highest-profile parents in country music, McGraw and Hill certainly draw ample attention in the celebrity press, much of it focused on the couple’s life with three young daughters. The daily calendar can be frantic these days, especially during the nine months when school schedules share equal billing with studio sessions and promo appearances. “I look forward to getting on the road to get some rest,” McGraw jokes.
He may not be entirely kidding. The exercise-obsessed star now hits the road with a traveling gym, a semitrailer that folds out into a full-fledged fitness center complete with a sauna and basketball hoop. Between the weights and the pickup ball games, McGraw reckons he works out up to five hours a day while on tour.
For all the magazine covers and gossip-page chatter, McGraw still knows where his paycheck - and passion - comes from. He’s a musical perfectionist at heart, continuously logging notes as he looks to raise his own standards. It’s a mentality that propelled him from just-another-singer-with-a-hat in 1993 to the top of the country kingdom in 2007, and he’s confident the future has only more musical adventure in store.
“We always think we can get better every album. We try to get better every album,” he says. “I certainly think that I’m only 30 percent as good as I can be or want to be. But that’s what keeps me motivated: wanting to keep getting better all the time.”
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