The duo performs a good mix of new and familiar favorites

Sugarland is back after a five year hiatus and Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are making sure they’re throwing the biggest party they can to celebrate! The duo brought their Still The Same Tour through Bakersfield last night (Fri, June 15th) and the fans were on their feet singing and dancing the entire night!

They opened with the title track of their new album, Bigger, and wasted no time moving into familiar territory with the sing-a-longs “All I Want To Do” and “Stuck Like Glue” before slowing things down with “Want To” and “Already Gone.” Seven of Bigger‘s tracks, including their latest single “Babe” (sans Taylor Swift, much to my daughter’s dismay who attended with me) were performed throughout the night with a mix of hits and covers.

Nettles and Bush rushed from edge to edge of the circus-themed stage all show long. The show was quite interesting inside the tent, which featured a thoughtfully planned overhead lighting truss that acted as the top of the tent. The duo was backed by a six piece band with the drummer dressed as the Ringmaster.

A cool moment of the night was when Nettles invited a group of fans on stage for a picture. They were chosen after sponsoring a child for $39 via World Vision that was prominent all over the arena. One of them garnered a laugh from Nettles as she tried to sneak a selfie as she exited the stage.

The night got a bit weird with “Bird In A Cage,” but, hey, what’s a circus without a little weirdness? Nettles appeared on stage sporting a bird-like outfit holding a gold birdcage. She walked it to the front of the stage and let it float slightly overhead for the duration of the uplifting song.

One of the night’s most prolific performances came mid set when they performed Patty Griffin’s “Tony” in response to the bullying epidemic overtaking America these days. Uplifting words graced the large screen behind them as they sang, “Hey Tony, what’s so good about dying, He said I think I might do a little dying today, He looked in the mirror and saw, A little faggot starin’ back at him, Pulled out a gun and blew himself away.” The arena erupted with large applause as they encouraged folks who have suicidal thoughts to seek help.

Nettles and Bush each performed a song apiece from each of their solo records. Bush sang his only solo hit, “Trailer Hitch,” while Nettles sang one of her biggest, “Unlove You.” The hits continued as “Settlin’,” “It Happens” and “Baby Girl” were all performed to a dancing crowd. “Stay” was by far the biggest song of the night as the crowd sang every word with Nettles, often overpowering her monster vocals. “Something More” rounded out the main set before they reconvened for an encore that included another Bigger track, “Not The Only,” and a take on Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” with opener Clare Bowen from TV’s Nashville.

I was hooked on Sugarland when they burst onto the scene in 2002, but they lost me a bit when they went more pop in later years. I do have a new appreciation for them after seeing them live for the first time. Nettles is one of country’s greatest powerhouses and her talent stands out like no other. The singer not only plays guitar much of the set, but also dabs at the piano briefly during the night. Kristian Bush, who joked about not being able to hear him sing during the intro to “Trailer Hitch,” was outstanding. Everyone could tell that no one was having more fun on that stage than him.

Bowen, who plays Scarlett on Nashville, kicked the night off a 7 o’clock sharp with her husband, singer and songwriter, Brandon Young. The couple performed a 20 minute acoustic set with Bowen speaking between each song. Young has quite the vocal chops himself, but the pair make a great duo.

Brandy Clark was on deck for a 50 minute set that included her hit “Stripes” and “Girl Next Door.” Many may not realize who Clark is unless they hear Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which she co-penned with Nashville tunesmith Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves, and sung last night. She also wrote The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” and others. She’s quite the singer and songwriter and should get more play at country radio.

Sugarland’s Still The Same 2018 Tour is not one to miss! The production is outstanding, the band is tight and Jennifer and Kristian are sounding better than ever. Surprisingly, the show wasn’t sold out, but the trove of fans who were there put as much effort into the performance as the headliners. Reciting nearly every word to every hit, the fans proved Sugarland are still the same with the love they poured them!