sugarland express

kristian bush and jennifer nettles of sugarland. photo by kim powers.

kristian bush and jennifer nettles of sugarland. photo by kim powers.

To flaunt clout and credibility in the world of contemporary country music, an artist has to first be a fan.

That’s the requirement set down by Kristian Bush, guitarist and co-vocalist of Sugarland. The country-pop duo, completed by lead singer Jennifer Nettles, returns to town for its first headlining concert at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

“You have to be a fan,” Bush said. “You need to engage in fandom.

“I was in Boston at Fenway Park for the second of the Police shows this year. I was up there. That mattered. I’ll never forget that experience. That’s why I want to have that experience be something that our fans can take home every night.”

In just over four years, Nettles and Bush have fashioned Sugarland into one of the leading new generation voices of pop-conscious, commercial-savvy country music. The duo has scored numerous chartopping singles (Want To, Settlin’ and the recent All I Want to Do) high profile side projects (Nettles’ 2006 duet hit with Jon Bon Jovi, Who Says You Can’t Go Home) and maintained consistent visibility at awards shows (Sugarland is up for five Country Music Association trophies in November, including honors for Entertainer, Single, Vocal Duo, Music Video and Musical Event of the Year).

But for Bush, maintaining a link to “fandom” means striving to offer a sense of discovery that ignites audience engagement with any music – country or otherwise.

“Especially within commercial country music, most people get it wrong,” Bush said. “They think that what you’re selling is a CD, a concert ticket or a t-shirt. What you’re really selling, what you’re really exchanging with people, is the discovery of something. I know that when I get a new record, I’m up and down the hallways backstage going, ‘Hey guys, have you heard this?’ You get to a point where you want to turn your friends on to what you have discovered. That’s what being a fan is all about.”

That sense of discovery has definitely carried over into two of Sugarland’s more high profile performances of late.

At an event dubbed the Orange Peel earlier this month at Oklahoma State University, the duo headlined a concert/pep rally where it confronted a largely uncommitted demographic: a college audience.

“You never know what a bunch college kids really think about you,” Bush said. “As a commercial country band, things could go horribly off track. You don’t know if all they really want is (indie pop fave) Margot and the Nuclear So-and-So’s. But it was unbelievable how the crowd raised the roof off that place.”

The other concert was at Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in August, when Sugarland was billed with Sheryl Crow and the Dave Matthews Band. While the performance served as a kick off for the Democratic National Convention, its theme was environmental awareness. That, not an endorsement of a political party, was what put Sugarland on the Rocks.

“It’s pretty fascinating that environmental issues are part of our political process now and have a platform at a convention – any convention,” Bush said. “But imagine what it’s like for us to pop our heads above into pop culture and be billed between Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews. I had to go. ‘Are these my peers now? If so, I own all my peers’ records.’ “

Sugarland’s infatuation with fandom also plays out in two very different tunes from its recent Love on the Inside album.

The first is called Steve Earle. Take a wild guess at what that one is about. Turns out Bush, an avid fan of renegade songsmith Earle, began work on the tune largely as a lark with Nettles.

“Jennifer is a fan, but I’m an absolutely stupid fan,” he said. “I started to explain to her, ‘I think he is on wife no. 6 or 7 now, even though wives 1 and 4 were the same woman.’ Jennifer just said, ‘Really, this dude is a country song.’ “

And has there been any response – good, bad or vitriolic – from the none-too-soft spoken Mr. Earle?

“We wish. We sent it to him, but thought if the song pisses him off, let’s not put it on the album. We are bigger fans than we are insistent songwriters. The response we got was that Steve doesn’t read anything – reviews, anything at all – about himself, so why would he listen to a song that has been written about him? We thought, ‘Genius! We love him even more.’ But his manager explained to him what we were trying to do. We were told he laughed. That, in itself, is a triumph.”

The other fan-savvy tune, included on Love on the Inside‘s “deluxe edition,” is a cover of the 1985 pop hit Life in a Northern Town by England’s The Dream Academy. Performed with help from fellow country popsters Little Big Town and Jake Owen, the song couldn’t be more removed from country tradition. It was penned by Dream Academy chieftain Nick Laird-Clowes, who initially co-produced the tune with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour as a tribute to fabled British folk songwriter Nick Drake. Sugarland’s version earned the duo its Musical Event of the Year nomination at the upcoming CMA awards.

“Country music isn’t so much about where you live anymore as it is about a certain attitude of celebration, of sharing an appreciation for a certain kind of story. Country isn’t a sub culture anymore.

“Our version of Life in a Northern Town is a translation. It’s an American take on a British song. I was maybe 14 when I first heard it. Even then I thought it was magic.”

In this case, the response from the song’s composer was immediate and favorable.

“Nick from The Dream Academy wrote us a really beautiful letter. He said the song was a creation that could only ever exist in a studio and that he didn’t think anyone would ever be able to cover it. Then he said, ‘You have proven me wrong.’ “

Perhaps the final word on Sugarland’s sense of fan devotion is being reflected on its current tour. Nettles and Bush regularly include cover tunes in their shows. But among the more recent entries have been songs by The B-52s (Love Shack) and R.E.M. (Nightswimming), bands that share a common thread with Sugarland. All three hail from Georgia.

“The nod to both of those bands was intended,” Bush said. “Cover songs are supposed to give you a frame of reference for yourself and the music you have listened to. You get to feel at least a distillation of who that artist is – providing you’re a fan, of course.”

Sugarland, Kellie Pickler and Ashton Shepherd perform at 7:30 tonight at Rupp Arena. Tickets: $35.50 and $48.50. Call (859) 233-3535.


Infantry January 1, 2007 | Nelson, Edwin B RESOURCES CAN HELP PREPARE SOLDIERS BEFORE DEPLOYMENTS The car rapidly approached the checkpoint. The Soldier signaled he driver to slow down by pumping his hands palms down, arms outstretched toward the ground, but the driver failed to respond. The Soldier then signaled the driver to stop by holding his arms out and his palms up towards the driver; again there was no response. The Soldier then fired warning shots in front of the oncoming car, but the driver merely swerved away from where the bullets impacted and sped up. Interpreting this action as hostile, the Soldier then fired at the driver, killing him. Surviving occupants of the car said they were only trying to get away from a hazardous area. When questioned on why they did not slow down or stop, they said that they did not know what the hand signals meant and that they thought the first shots fired were intended to hit them but missed. To an Iraqi, the hand signal for slow down is to clasp all four fingers together with the thumb over them, palm up and extend your arm with the back of the hand toward the driver (See illustration). go to website army e learning

The incident cited above is real; it occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom 1. It is an illustration of a lesson learned about an aspect of war that the U.S. Army has had to relearn in numerous wars – cultural awareness.

The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said, “Know thyself but not thy enemy, find level of loss and victory.” Cultural awareness is one aspect of knowing your enemy; it is also a force multiplier in ongoing stability operations in Iraq. Soldiers with knowledge of Arabic and appreciation of Iraqi customs and social mores are more effective in these operations because that knowledge gives them more options in situations requiring rapid decisions.

A large part of the insurgents’ fight against coalition forces consists of information operations (IO). These operations take the form of graffiti, posters plastered on walls, videos posted on internet sites, and word of mouth. Coalition forces must conduct their own information operations to defeat the insurgents. To make these operations successful, Soldiers must have some idea of how a message will be perceived by the Iraqis. Cultural awareness training is designed to provide Soldiers with basic knowledge enabling them to understand why an Iraqi might not receive the message intended.

RESOURCES * Graphic Training Aid, GTA 24-01-003, Iraqi Cultural Awareness Smartcard. The smartcard is intended to be carried by Soldiers in a pocket as a reference. The card includes information on useful phrases, religion, etiquette, customs, cultural attitudes, gestures, social structure, ethnic groups and other information designed to keep Soldiers from making social gaffes. go to site army e learning

* The Defense Language Institute (DLI) has produced several language guides with words and phrases spelled out in English, Arabic and phonetic spelling. The guides are oriented towards different military organizations (e.g. air crew, military police) or specific military operations (cordon and search, civil affairs).

* The Foreign Language Center of DLI also maintains a Web site called On this site, Soldiers can access more than 1,000 lessons in 13 languages from the Global Language Online Support System as well as area studies called “Countries in Perspective.” * Rosetta Stone, a company that manufactures and sells computer-based language programs has developed a series of Arabic lessons for Army use. The program is run by Army e-learning and is accessible through the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) Portal. Soldiers can learn more about this program online at https:// usarmylogin.cfm.

* CALL has published a report on how cultural awareness impacts battle command. The report is a discourse on how cultural awareness should be incorporated into the military decision-making process and training. It is the end product of a CALL collection and analysis team (CAAT) mission to Iraq for the specific purpose of examining how a commander’s knowledge of culture affects his success in battle and in subsequent stability operations. The report delineates how cultural awareness is a part of all lines of operation and examines methods of training Soldiers in cultural awareness at different times in the deployment cycle.

* CALL provides numerous links to papers on the geography, politics, demographics, religion and other area study information developed by the TRADOC Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (DCSINT).

A request for information (RFI) can be submitted directly to CALL if Soldiers do not find the information they need already available on the CALL Web site. CALL has also created a network of more than 40 analysts assigned to operational and institutional units. These analysts can assist a commander’s training preparations by researching lessons learned and compiling information on critical subject areas. (see related article on page 46).

Many wars produce tragedies like the one cited at the beginning of this article, memories of which stay with the Soldier forever. The purpose of these cultural awareness programs is to enable Soldiers to interact with indigenous peoples and eliminate some areas of friction, reducing the chance for future incidents.

All wars fought by the U.S. Army since the Spanish-American war have required Soldiers to have language skills and some level of cultural awareness. Cultural awareness training should be embedded into other training events as future wars promise to continue this trend. Continual exposure to foreign language and culture within the framework of normal training events will habituate Soldiers to the conditions prevailing when deployed. The end result will be that Soldiers are prepared to make rapid decisions based on sound knowledge and experience gained in training, averting tragedy in war.

[Sidebar] A Soldier with the 8th Battalion, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, talks with a shepherd during a cordon and search mission in Iraq.

[Author Affiliation] Edwin B. Nelson entered the Army in December 1977. He served with numerous infantry units including the 1st Ranger Battalion, 101st (Airborne) Division Pathfinder Detachment, and the U.S. Army Sniper School. His last assignment was as command sergeant major of the 5th Ranger Training Battalion in Dahlonega, Georgia. He is currently a contractor working as a lessons learned analyst with the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Nelson, Edwin B

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