A version of this story appears in the 2013 Oklahoma State Fair special section of The Oklahoman.
Eli Young Band returns to the Oklahoma State Fair
The Texas country-rockers will play Sept. 20 as part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Xtreme Bulls Tour.
When the Eli Young Band played the opening day of the 2011 Oklahoma State Fair, fans were just starting to go crazy over “Crazy Girl.”
Two years later, the Texas country-rockers are enjoying a new level of success thanks to their double-platinum breakout ballad, which became the group’s first No. 1 hit, Billboard’s the most-played country song of 2011 and the Academy of Country Music’s 2012 song of the year. The uplifting follow-up single “Even if It Breaks Your Heart” also topped the charts and notched platinum sales.
“I remember that show, and there was just so many people (who) came out to support, which was awesome. But Oklahoma’s always been good to us and we’ve been playing there for a long time,” said the band’s guitarist and co-founder James Young, in a recent phone interview from Illinois, where the quartet was wrapping up its summer stint as openers on Kenny Chesney’s tour.
“I guess what’s really changed with us is with the success of ‘Breaks Your Heart’ and ‘Crazy Girl’ we’ve been able to travel all over the world and play music and have people sing it back to us. It’s just been great. We always wanted to tour all over the world, so it’s enabled us to do that.”
The quartet — singer/guitarist Mike Eli, bassist Jon Jones, drummer Chris Thompson and Young — will return to the Oklahoma State Fair when the band plays as part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Xtreme Bulls Tour Sept. 20 at Jim Norick State Fair Arena.
“It’s exciting. You know, this Chesney tour has taken us all over, but it’ll be great to get back home to Texas and Oklahoma. I mean, we consider Oklahoma home, too,” Young said. “It’s been a blast this summer, but it’ll be fun to get back to our own crowds and playing our full set.”
Along with trekking across the United States on tours with Chesney and Dierks Bentley, the group made its way into Australia last year.
“They love country music over there. We played a few festivals, and then we went out and we did a handful of dates with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, which was amazing. It’s pretty awesome. We’re getting to go back next year,” Young said, adding that he and his cohorts hope to make a United Service Organization jaunt to Japan, too.
Their wider success also afforded them the chance to appear alongside country superstars like Toby Keith, Trisha Yearwood and Rascal Flatts on the new tribute album “Alabama & Friends,” which also features two tracks from influential and recently reunited hitmakers Alabama.
“We did ‘The Closer You Get,’ and Randy Owen and a couple of the guys were in there. It was just amazing to be there with one of your musical heroes growing up and being in the studio recording and laying down that song with them right there in the control room. So that’s definitely been a perk,” Young said.
In addition, he and his bandmates have been working on a new album of their own, the follow-up to 2011’s “Life at Best,” which featured their breakout hits “Crazy Girl” and “Even if It Breaks Your Heart.” They released “Drunk Last Night,” the lead-off single from their upcoming project, over the summer, and it notched their highest debut on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, bowing at No. 23.
“When we first started playing it this summer, nobody really knew it before it started getting radio play — and it’s still in its infancy on radio right now — it was one of those songs that people grabbed a hold of and started clapping and trying to mouth the words,” Young said, adding the band hopes to have a few new songs ready to play by the time they arrive at the Oklahoma State Fair.
“The reaction’s been amazing, and once it starts to get up the charts a little bit on country radio, I think it’ll really resonate. I mean, it’s a song that kind of resonates with people; you know, it’s a true-life kind of deal.”
He said the lyrics about giving in to a painful memory of lost love might have extra resonance for the band members after they indulge in a few deep-fried fair delicacies.
“It’s usually after the show is over and we’ve had a few cocktails. And your willpower breaks down a little bit, and you go for that corndog or, you know, whatever fried on a stick there is,” Young said wryly. “We may have to write a modified chorus for fair and festival season.”
PRCA Xtreme Bulls Tour and Concerts at the Oklahoma State Fair
Featuring: PRCA Xtreme Bulls and Eli Young Band.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20.
Where: Jim Norick State Fair Arena.
Information: 948-6700 or www.okstatefair.com.