Interview: Rascal Flatts Go Back to Their ‘Roots’ for 2016 Las Vegas Residency
Rascal Flatts are headed back to their roots (no pun intended) with their upcoming Las Vegas residency. The country trio says that Rhythm & Roots, their second stint at the Joint at Sin City's Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in as many years, reminds them of their early days together.
"We started out as a bar band, so we’re used to playing in front of 20 people sometimes," Flatts member Jay DeMarcus told The Boot and other reporters at a recent media event. "There’s elements of those days that we talk about all the time that we miss. You can’t manufacture the feeling of being in front of a small crowd and connecting on every single level to the very last person in the very last row in the back. I think when you start to evolve into a headline act, and things get bigger, some of that intimacy and some of that energy is lost a little bit."
DeMarcus and bandmates Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney now headline large arenas and amphitheaters, so performing at the Joint is a fond trip down memory lane.
"When we first started out, doing covers down in [Nashville's] Printer’s Alley, one of the most fun things was to be able to see the crowd dancing out there and know what the crowd wanted next, and feed off of it and know how to take the crowd on a ride with you," DeMarcus continues. "When you do an arena show, and the lights have to sync up to the sound and the sound has to sync up to the music and all of that, things are a little bit more mapped out, and you lose some of that spontaneity. With the crowd with the Joint, you can keep some of that spontaneity and some of that energy and some of that freshness."
Still, the guys admit that it was a daunting task last year to adapt their concerts to a venue that only has 4,000 seats.
"We’re used to, over the years, playing amphitheaters and arenas -- that’s, like, 15,000 plus -- so everything has to be a little bigger. Movements have to be bigger, the lights have to be bigger, the music has to be bigger," DeMarcus explains. "It was fun for us to sort of rein it in a little bit, pull our band guys a little closer to us, and do a more intimate show, where we felt like we were connected with the people in the room."
After performing in Vegas last year, the Flatts realized that they actually liked the feel of the smaller venue more than that of the large stages, and it helped influence their 2015 summer tour.
"We kept the band close and intimate, and we kept doing the show similar [to what] we had done in Vegas, and found out that worked really, really well and gave the fans different experiences than they previously had seen us in the past 10 or 12 years," DeMarcus notes. "And it was pretty refreshing, and it really even re-energized us.
"Doing the same songs for so many years, sometimes you get into a rut," he adds. "But changing it up and mixing it up like we did last year really helped us have a new energy for what we’re doing as well."
For their 2016 residency, the Flatts are once again looking to a recent contestant on The Voice to serve as their opening act. After taking Season 7 winner Craig Wayne Boyd with them for 2015's residency, this year, they've invited Season 9 contestant Barrett Baber, who finished in third place.
"It feels fantastic, because that same blessing was given to us when we were first coming up," LeVox says of inviting Baber to join them. "It’s awesome when somebody takes a chance and gives you a shot -- a lot of times it’s all that people need. And we’ve been fortunate to have a pretty good track record of opening acts who have gone on to do great stuff, like Luke [Bryan] and Jason [Aldean], Blake [Shelton] and Taylor [Swift]."
Quips DeMarcus, "None of them return our phone calls now, but it was great to give them a stage to perform on."
Still, fans who saw Rascal Flatts in Sin City in 2015 shouldn't worry that they'll spend all that money only to have the same experience this year.
"I don’t want to give too much away, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but we have some really fun, unexpected moments in the show that we built in there," DeMarcus teases. "Let me say this -- there’s one thing I can say about this show: You’ve never, ever, ever seen Rascal Flatts this way.
"Last year’s background vocalists were great, and it was awesome, but this is a very unique experience," he adds. "And we did it deliberately, so people would come see the show in Vegas and not sit back and go, ‘They’ll be in St. Louis in July. I can go see them then.’ You will never see us like this."
While the Flatts are pouring their hearts and souls into Rhythm & Roots, they have no plans of following in the footsteps of artists such as Shania Twain and Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn and becoming a permanent Vegas act.
"One thing that’s different for us is that we’re still a touring act," LeVox points out. "A lot of people that have the residencies aren’t touring, and that’s the only place you can be seen. It’s kind of a different hand for us, because instead of them flying to Vegas, we’re probably going to play in their town at some point throughout the year. So that makes it interesting. But it’s a great way to start the year off."
Rhythm & Roots is scheduled to run Feb. 17-March 5. Tickets are available on Rascal Flatts' website.
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