NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — “New York? They don’t like country music up there.”
Before Dean Sams had ever been to the Empire State, he was surprised to find that his group Lonestar was playing there. But once he arrived, saw the landscape and met the people, the musician’s mind was changed.
“Ironically, some of our best crowds, some of our biggest fans, are in New York,” Sams, who plays keyboards and guitar for the four-time Grammy nominees, told me the week before an upcoming show at the Riviera Theatre.
Sams co-founded the band 31 years ago, and over the last three decades, Lonestar has amassed 22 top 10 hits, ten of which went to number one on the Billboard charts.
The first was “No News” in 1996, and songs like “Amazed” and “I’m Already There” followed. Playing these songs night after night, the band was bound to make some changes over time when it came to the live shows.
That’s what inspired their new album, TEN to 1, where Lonestar not only re-recorded, but re-imagined all ten of their number-one hits. Part of that rearranging comes with a new voice at the front of the band after the departure of Richie McDonald. Drew Womack took over on lead vocals in 2021, lending another fresh element to the reimagined songs.
“It was truly a blast and very scary all at the same time,” Sams says. And by that, he means, “We didn’t want to go in and mess them up,” being songs that had reached their level of popularity.
On the other side of the coin, Sams called the experience “liberating.” The band even found some influences for the newly-recorded tracks outside of country music, while still staying true to their sound.
Sams spoke of a Lumineers show he attended, where he heard a song that struck him with ideas for “Come Cryin’ To Me.” It included a pulsing bass drum and new background vocals fitting for a modern folk pop song. Overall, the tracks reflect how the band plays them live these days, like the addition of an extended guitar solo from Michael Britt at the end of “Tell Her.”
In the band’s early days, Lonestar felt a lot more pressure to get their name on the map.
“We’re just having more fun because I think in the early days, you’re always trying to prove something,” Sams said. “Even though we were having fun, we were always like, ‘OK, how can we get a number one, how can we do this, how can we do that?’ Now, we really just enjoy the music. We enjoy the fans a lot more. We enjoy being around each other. There’s just not that pressure.”
For the first time ever on a tour, Lonestar’s playing all ten of their number-ones every single night. But don’t let that spoil the setlist. There are surprises, too, with Sams describing the end of the show as “epic.”
“The surprises, you wouldn’t really expect from us, and let’s just say it rocks,” Sams says.
The musician is excited to be back in New York, where he says “country music is alive and well.”
“If you’ve been to a Lonestar show, this is one you’re going to want to come to,” he says.