By Josette Keelor
The Eli Young Band of Texas has completed a U.S. tour with country singer Kenny Chesney and plans to travel to Australia next year with Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, but in between, on Aug. 25 at the Shenandoah County Fair, the four friends get to be themselves.
Bass guitarist Jonathan Jones said it feels like he and other band members Mike Eli, James Young and Chris Thompson are always on tour. Playing the big venues is exciting and great for business, but at the smaller ones the band can focus more on itself.
"I think there's something more intimate about playing the smaller venues," Jones said in a recent phone interview. Those are the times when he can meet the people, hop off stage and afterward go have a drink with fans.
It's been awhile since the band has been "out on our own," he said.
For their performance at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds in Woodstock, Jones said he expects to be able to play material they've had to pass on while touring with Chesney, to keep their sets to 45 or 50 minutes.
"All those songs we haven't been playing will be fresh and new," he said.
"We're playing our new single, which is called 'Drunk Last Night,'" a song he said has great energy behind it. "We might work up a couple songs from the record we're working on right now."
The new record, their fifth, is in the early stage of what Jones called "that fun point working on a record," when the band can search through its entire trove of music while considering tracks. It's their chance to pull from records that didn't make it, he said.
"There was just material that wasn't quite right for us before," he said.
The record will be a mix of new and old, but with touring taking up most of the band's time, Jones said they've had to learn to write on the road.
"We've written more songs for this recent [record] then ever before."
Still, being on the road keeps them in a certain mindset.
"The current single is the one we can't get out of our head right now," Jones said, and that's fine by him. One of the best feelings is hearing fans sing the band's words back to him and his friends, and everyone's favorite song right now is "Drunk Last Night."
"We've had a few hits," Jones said, "a couple of number ones." It's all the more momentous since the four of them started as college buddies who decided to form a band.
Their success "has gone far beyond expectations," Jones said. In 2011 their song "Crazy Girl" won song of the year at the Academy of County Music Awards, and the band earned a breakthrough artist win at the MusicRow Awards that year.
In the beginning they started out small -- just "book a show," Jones said. Now, 13 years later, their goals have grown with them, and Jones said so far they've been lucky enough to meet those goals.
"I think next year would be a good time to prove ourselves as a headliner," he said. "I think it's time to go out and play for them [the fans]." He said doing a USO tour is also something they're planning, something they've always wanted to do.
But right now, he said, coming off one tour with Chesney to begin another on their own feels bittersweet.
The big tours are orchestrated by managers and record labels pairing headliners with bands that complement them, Jones said, but touring alone, doing their own thing -- that's when Jones, Young, Eli and Thompson get to make the magic happen.
"With Kenny, we beat him for an award a few years ago, and he took notice that night."
Jones said that's when Chesney had to admit, "The Eli Young boys kicked my butt."
The Eli Young Band will perform at the Shenandoah County Fair at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25. Track tickets are $40 for just the show or $46 with the gate; grandstand tickets are $33 or $39. For more information, call 540-459-7300 or visit www.shencofair.com.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org