Little Big Town made history on Friday night (Feb. 24) when they kicked off the first-ever Ryman Auditorium residency. Dubbed “Little Big Town at the Mother Church,” the band’s stay was initially announced for six nights and then extended to nine due to overwhelming popularity.
Each of the band’s nine shows at the Ryman will feature different support acts and surprise special guests and the residency’s start did not disappoint. Both Sam Hunt and Chris Stapleton graced the stage while Brent Cobb opened the show. Throughout Little Big Town’s set, the country quartet performed their new album, The Breaker, front to back as well as threw in several older fan favorites. Meanwhile, the excitement and the honor to be the first act to play a residency at the famed venue was not lost on Little Big Town.
“Oh my goodness were at the Ryman everybody!” Kimberly Schlapman said three songs into the set. “And we’re here all year long! We are so excited about this night y’all. We worked on this record for over a year and we’re so happy. We’re going to do this two times. We’re going to play this record once tonight and tomorrow and that’ll be it the whole way down. So thank you for being here. We hope we remember the words but you won’t notice if we don’t!”
Friday was a special day for the quartet as it marked the release of their seventh studio album, The Breaker. In celebration, Little Big Town played the entirety of the record track by track kicking things off shortly before 9:30 with the upbeat Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters-penned “Happy People.” The spotlights shined brightly on all four members throughout each song as their voices echoed within the venue’s church pews and stained glass windows.
Highlights included the stunning “Free” which showcased the quartets striking harmonies, the beautifully nostalgic “We Went to the Beach” and the synth-heavy ’80s rock throwback “Drivin’ Around,” which Audra Mae was a co-writer on. Following the band’s energetic performance, Karen Fairchild called out the songwriter who was in attendance.
“Maybe you should come tomorrow night and sing it with me,” Fairchild suggested. “If you’re not from Nashville you might not know, but we have the best songwriters in the world. So many of the writers are here tonight who collaborated with us on this record. We are really blessed and fortunate that we get to live in this town and we get to create music with these people. Thank you to all the writers that are here tonight, thank you for sharing your talents with us.”
Moments later the band segued into a familiar song, but it wasn’t off The Breaker. It was Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road,” who also happened to be the first surprise guest of the evening. The audience at the Ryman were on their feet for the urban influenced track while Little Big Town assisted on the chorus. Hunt wasn’t the only surprise during the evening, though.
After the band finished the first half of the set, which included their most recent No. 1 “Better Man,” the stripped down “Beat Up Bible” that had Schlapman on lead, and the poignant “The Breaker” which saw Phillip Sweet at the forefront, then it was time for Little Big Town to play some songs they love.
While the four singers began to harmonize the opening line to “Tennessee Whiskey” a spotlight panned to the left side of the stage where Chris Stapleton was plugged in with his electric guitar and began to riff with the band.
Moments later his vocals entered and the audience erupted and were on their feet, where they were planted for the remainder of the show. Stapleton stayed to assist on the driving “Front Porch Thing,” a song he wrote and the band recorded for their 2012 Tornado album.
The remainder of the band’s set turned into a party where everyone in attendance sang along to fan favorites “Pontoon,” “Tornado,” “Boondocks” and “Girl Crush.” Before closing the night a capella with “The Beginning,” a song about all the people who believed in Little Big Town from the start, the band shared their gratitude to the sold-out crowd.
“We will never, ever forget this night. Never, ever, ever! Thank you for being here,” Schlapman said.
Meanwhile, Fairchild thanked the Ryman for asking them to be the first band to hold a residency on the hallowed ground.
“I don’t know why they asked us but I’m sure glad they did. 125 years of celebrating this beautiful place where all the greats have stood right here on this hardwood floor. There’s no words to describe to you what this means to us,” Fairchild conceded.
Little Big Town’s residency continues Saturday night (Feb. 25) at The Ryman.