After a crazy 2011, the dreams just keep on getting better for Eli Young Band in 2012.
Fresh off a March trek to Australia for their first international tour, the Texas country-rockers got a great April Fools' Day surprise when their platinum-selling, chart-topping breakout smash “Crazy Girl” also won song of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.
“‘Crazy Girl' going No. 1 nationally, that was a big win for the year, and then that leading up to three nominations, we just thought it really couldn't get any better than that,” bassist Jon Jones said. “And then we were like, ‘That means we're gonna have really good tickets for the show!' So we were real excited about that. Then we get to Vegas after going to Australia, which was the highlight of our year up to that point, and they tell us that we're presenting for album of the year. And we're like, ‘That's great. We get some camera time; we get to be on stage at least once.' And then we win the first award of the night,” said Jones, still sounding amazed almost three weeks after the ACM Awards.
“So really it was the best night that we've ever had as a band.”
The breakout success has been a long time coming for the Denton, Texas-based quartet — singer/guitarist Mike Eli, guitarist James Young, drummer Chris Thompson and Jones — which started back in 2000 at the University of North Texas. This week, the band will play a familiar gig that sort of sums up their 12-year journey to mainstream country music success: the 21st Annual Calf Fry at the Tumbleweed Dance Hall in Stillwater.
“Calf Fry for us is one of those events for us that we've done a handful of times and it's one of those festivals where we've played everywhere from the opening slot when the doors are opening and people are filing in and we're the band that's basically testing out the PA to a middle slot when the sun's still out ... to the headliner of the night when everybody's focused on the band and just going crazy,” Jones said last week from Montana. “We love the town and the energy the fans bring. It was the first town outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth area we ever really played ... so it's been our favorite home away from home for a very long time.”
The sweet ballad “Crazy Girl,” the leadoff single from the band's 2011 album “Life at Best,” slowly gained a following, eventually selling more than 2 million copies, garnering 10 million-plus YouTube views for its video and earning the Billboard top country song of 2011 title. For many country music fans, it even became the wedding song of choice, which surprised the band's bassist.
“We're suckers for a good love song, but why we loved that song was because it just has a slightly different take to it. ... You hear ‘crazy girl,' and you're thinking one thing, but no, it's a love song. But it's a very endearing song, and people were really falling in love with it and making it their own.”
The follow-up single, “Even if It Breaks Your Heart,” seems a bit prophetic with its lyrics “some dreams keep on getting better, gotta keep believing if you wanna know for sure.” The rousing anthem has raced to No. 18 on the Billboard country songs chart, becoming the group's fastest-moving single at radio, though Jones laughingly claims that's fairly easy.
“‘Crazy Girl' took almost a whole year to get up the charts, which is partially why it was the No. 1 song at country radio last year, because it just stuck around for such a long time. But ‘Even if It Breaks Your Heart' feels like the perfect follow-up to ‘Crazy Girl.' Even though it's a song we didn't write, it really tells ... our story.”
The band opened last month in Australia for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, is continuing to tour nationwide with Dierks Bentley through May.
“I think Calf Fry would be the right place to go right now. I don't know, we just keep on telling ourselves, ‘You know, it can't get better than this,' but I think now (it's about) having longevity and keeping the momentum going. I think the biggest thing for us right now is realizing that it doesn't happen on its own at any point in time, that it doesn't go on cruise control, our career. This really is opening lots of doors and lots of opportunities for us ... ‘cause more people are playing our music right now than ever have before. So we feel like life in a lot of ways couldn't get better than it is right now, but there's still a lot to learn.”
IF YOU GO
21st Annual Calf Fry
Featuring: Eli Young Band, Randy Rogers Band, Gary Allan, Cody Canada & The Departed, Wade Bowen, Kevin Fowlerd and more.
When: Thursday through Saturday. Show starts at 5:30 p.m.; doors at 4 p.m.
Where: Tumbleweed Dance Hall, Lakeview and Country Club roads, Stillwater.