.For the Love of Country

Old Dominion headliners at Country Summer Music Fest

With nearly two dozen acts—including headliners Little Big Town, Jordan Davis, Walker Hayes, Brett Young and Jo Dee Messina—the Country Summer Music Festival in Santa Rosa (June 14-16) has assembled the crème de la crème of contemporary country. The cherry on top is Old Dominion.

And with several hits over the past decade, like “Break Up With Him,” “One Man Band” and “Memory Lane,” it seemed the good times (and tunes) would go on indefinitely. But like many bands, Old Dominion had their world turned upside down when the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, and touring shut down. The situation nearly sapped the life out of Old Dominion altogether.

“We found ourselves doing a lot of the stuff that it takes to be in a band that is not fun, without being able to do the stuff that was fun,” lead singer/guitarist Matthew Ramsey recalled in a recent phone interview. “It just became, every decision and every meeting, it’s tough to connect over Zoom and conference calls, and we just lost that connection.”

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

Today, the good times are back for Ramsey and his bandmates, guitarist/keyboardist Trevor Rosen, guitarist Brad Tursi, drummer Whit Sellers and bassist Geoff Sprung, as they have maintained a busy schedule of touring ever since the band got the green light to tour again. Ramsey said the good times are rolling—perhaps more than ever—for Old Dominion.

“It’s been better than I ever could have imagined, honestly,” Ramsey said. “It’s been really great and really fulfilling and just an amazing sight every night to walk out and see (the crowds).

“I feel like in a lot of ways we’ve sort of finally gotten our lives back a little bit, and we feel like when we walk out on stage, we set the intention that we want people to leave the show feeling better than when they came,” he said. “That’s what we want. We want people to feel lighter. We genuinely love what we do, and the best way to connect with people is to just be authentic on stage and have a great time doing what we love. That tends to rub off on people. Even my mom mentioned seeing some videos, going, ‘You guys seem like you’re really energetic out there.’”

Formed in 2007, Old Dominion included a trio of established country songwriters in Ramsey, Rosen and Tursi, whose credits included songs recorded by Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney, Kelsea Ballerini and the Band Perry. Initially, the band was meant to merely be a vehicle for performing their songs around Nashville.

The group members, however, discovered they could make money by playing shows outside of Nashville. More shows kept happening, and eventually, the thought of getting signed as a band and recording albums as Old Dominion came around.

Old Dominion showcased for a variety of Nashville record labels, only to be turned down one after another as many of the labels viewed them as songwriters and not as a band that would generate hits of their own and be a compelling live act. Finally, RCA Records signed Old Dominion in February 2015, but only after the band had independently released a self-titled EP that included a single, “Break Up with Him,” that gained some airplay on Sirius XM Radio.

It didn’t take long for Old Dominion to prove the early airplay was not a fluke. Shortly before the November 2015 release of the band’s RCA debut album, Meat and Candy, “Break Up with Him” completed its run as the album’s lead single to the top of “Billboard” magazine’s Country Airplay chart. Meat and Candy went on to produce two more hit tracks, the chart-topping “Song for Another Time” and “Snapback,” which reached No. 2.

The band’s next two albums added five more No. 1 singles to the catalog, and along the way, Old Dominion began what is now a six-year string of winning Vocal Group of the Year at the ACM and CMA Awards.

But there was a period during the pandemic when Old Dominion’s momentum stalled, and life became difficult for the five band members. Their rebound began in September 2020, when the band members arrived at Echo Mountain Recording studio in Asheville, North Carolina, created a bubble to be together safely and set out to rekindle the creative spark.

The musicians agreed to convene with no songs, start writing and see what happened. With no firm deadline to finish an album, the band members had time to explore various stylistic and sonic song ideas, and the entire experience was less pressurized.

To their delight, Old Dominion emerged from the Asheville session with a finished album, Time, Tequila & Therapy, whose songs mostly have an easy-going blend of pop and country and an upbeat lyrical personality that reflects the spirit of the session.

“I think it was probably a product of us being together in that little three-week bubble and enjoying what we were doing,” Ramsey said of the album. “It was so much fun, and it was honestly a dream that we’d always had, to be able to go into a studio with no songs, and what we wrote and recorded is what you get. That seemed to be something that had eluded us (before) just because of our schedule. So we had the time, and we were in a place of joy. I think that’s what you hear is a band just having a really good time together.”

The burst of creativity that began in Asheville has continued since, as the band rolled right into their next project. Four tunes were released in January on the EP, Memory Lane (Sampler), before getting folded into an 18-song album, Memory Lane, which was released last October.

“We have a really good problem of too many songs. And we have, thankfully, a lot of hits that fill the set. So of course, we want those in there,” Ramsey said of the set list. “And then we try to make space for new material, and we have a few spots in our set where we try to make it interchangeable with some of the old material too, because we want to honor our fans with that. We keep track of socials and peoples’ requests, and people bring signs, so we try to fit in what people want to hear in particular markets.”

The gates to the Country Summer Music Festival open at 3pm, Friday, June 14, and at noon on Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16, at the Sonoma County Event Center At The Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Rd., Santa Rosa. For more information, including a complete lineup and tickets, visit countrysummer.com.

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