Sugarland’s Bush goes solo at Delaware Junction

HARRINGTON — Kristian Bush can see it in their eyes.

“I’ll get folks saying ‘I know you. I love you. I love your band.’ But then they get really nervous. ‘But I don’t know what you sound like. Is this going to be terrible?’ And then the tension sets in,” he says with a laugh.

Mr. Bush, one-half of the platinum-selling country duo Sugarland, is out on his own these days without Jennifer Nettles, whose voice fans are used to hearing on most of their hits down through the years.

“Once the show starts, their eyes pop open and it’s a beautiful thing. Just watching people discover that maybe I can sing. Oh my gosh. It’s just the best,” said the affable 45-year-old Tennessee native during a phone interview Wednesday morning prior to a show in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Country singer Kristian Bush comes to the Main Stage of Delaware Juction in Harrington armed with songs off of his first solo album "Southern Gravity" and tunes from his ongoing career with Sugarland. (Submitted photo)

Country singer Kristian Bush comes to the Main Stage of Delaware Juction in Harrington armed with songs off of his first solo album “Southern Gravity” and tunes from his ongoing career with Sugarland. (Submitted photo)

He performs today at the inaugural Delaware Junction country music festival at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington.

Fresh off the spring release of his debut solo album “Southern Gravity,” Mr. Bush will be on the main stage at 3:35 p.m.

He playfully refers to the album as his “third first record.” In the 1990s, he was part of the critically acclaimed folk-rock duo Billy Pilgrim, with Sugarland following that.

“The best part of that is having the knowledge of what’s required of your first record,” he said.

“It’s going to have to be infectious and really memorable and make you feel really good. Most of the time you’re hearing me in the distance in a bar while you’re getting a beer or I might get 20 minutes opening for Kenny Chesney.

“You have to design and create these small, quick bursts that tell the audience who you are.”

The first song off of the record “Trailer Hitch,” released last year, was a top-20 country hit.

The tune with a “you can’t take it with you” message that contains the refrain “Never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch” is an example of the upbeat, breezy feel that the album imbues.

“In a lot of ways it sounds like a Sugarland song except I’m the one singing,” he said.

“I’ll get people coming up to me saying ‘What are you doing in town?’ and I’ll say ‘I’m a playing a show and have a song on the radio called “Trailer Hitch.”

“They’ll say, ‘Shut up. That’s you? I love that song.’ I think it’s really important in unfolding your story to connect one to the other and help people realize who they are listening to and looking at.

“It’s all very humbling. Music is the soundtrack to people’s lives and I’m very honored to be a part of it all.”

The album, which reached No. 16 on the Billboard Country charts, has met with great critical acclaim. Rolling Stone recently pegged it No. 20 on a list of 30 Great Country Albums You Probably Didn’t Hear.

“I totally freaked out when I read that. I just about lost my mind. I’m like a 15-year-old with most of this stuff. I really am,” he said excitedly.

The album’s second song “Light Me Up,” a love song, was released in June.

The buoyant, cheerful nature of the album comes as a bit of a surprise given the last few years of Mr. Bush’s life and career.

In August 2011, a stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair just prior to a Sugarland show killed seven people and injured 58 others.

Three months later, he and his wife Jill ended their 12-year marriage. And by the end of the year, Ms. Nettles decided to take a break from Sugarland to start a family and record her own solo album.

The next two years saw Mr. Bush dive into songwriting like he never had before. By the time he was ready to record “Southern Gravity,” he had written or co-written an astounding 300 songs.

“Suddenly what took me months to do took only a day. I got to the point where I was writing one song every other day. It was almost as if I had a disease where I thought, ‘If I stop, (songwriting) won’t come back to me. I had friends and family saying, ‘Is he OK? Does he need a sandwich?,’” he said.

“This album was born out of the rough times in my life. We narrowed the songs down to 17 or 18 really great ones and then started pulling out the really sad ones and I suddenly realized how much sunshine was on this album.”

Looking back on the experience, he says it was therapeutic, just as it is now to go out and perform them.

“After the fact, I realize that this album is so very much me, the guy who went through the hard times,” he said.

Although Sugarland has taken a hiatus, Mr. Bush reassures the group’s fans that they are not finished by a long shot.

“We’re still a band that’s going strong. I love my band and as soon as Jennifer is ready, we’ll get back into it,” he said.

Mr. Bush said festivalgoers at today’s Delaware Junction show can expect a power-packed set.

“I love festival crowds. Country audiences are so open-hearted and open-minded about so much of the music that’s out there now,” he said.

“You’re going to see me work harder that you’ve seen me work in a long time. I just can’t wait to make you guys dance.”

Along with performing his new solo material, he promises a healthy dose of Sugarland as well.

“If I wrote it, I’m going to sing it,” he said.

Delaware Junction gates open at 1 p.m. today through Sunday with the music starting at 2:15 today and 2:45

Florida Georgia Line closes out Delaware Junction with a show Sunday night.

Florida Georgia Line closes out Delaware Junction with a show Sunday night.

Saturday and Sunday.

Headliner Jason Aldean plays tonight at 9:20 with Toby Keith Saturday at 9 p.m. and Florida Georgia Line ending the weekend at 9:20 p.m. Sunday.

DJ Silver will keep the music going on the Next From Nashville stage after the headliner sets tonight and Saturday.

Three-day General Admission passes are available at $199 with VIP experiences costing $399 and $799. Camping options are available as well.

For more information, visit

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