"Twenty years ago, when we put this little band together to play in some bars and make a little money, I dreamed it pretty good," admits keyboard player and songwriter Dean Sams. "But I never dreamed it quite this good."
Known for merging their country roots with strong melodies and rich vocals, Lonestar has amassed RIAA-certified sales in excess of ten million album units since their national launch in 1995 and achieved ten #1 country hits including "No News," "Come Crying To Me," and their crossover smash "Amazed" (which was also #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first record since 1983's "Islands in the Stream" to top both charts). The band's awards include a 1999 ACM Single of The Year for “Amazed” (the song also won the Song of the Year award) and the 2001 CMA Vocal Group of the Year.
But it isn't hit records and trophies that have kept Lonestar going strong. On the contrary, says lead singer Richie McDonald. "Honestly, through it all, the one thing that has kept Lonestar around is that we're just four good old boys from Texas." All four members originally hail from blue collar households, and place a premium on the value of hard work. "No matter how much success we've had, it didn't change us as people."
Originally formed in Nashville in 1992, Lonestar played over 500 shows before landing a recording contract. "We traveled for two and a half, maybe three years, just playing in bars," Britt recalls. "We were starting from zero back then." But all those gigs paid off. By the time they released their self-titled debut album in 1995, they already had an enthusiastic fan base. Their first single, "Tequila Talkin'," went Top Ten on the country charts. It's follow-up did even better: "No News" would be the first of many #1 singles for Lonestar.
Lonestar continued to ascend in the years that followed. Their third album, 1999's Lonely Grill, was certified multi-platinum in both the United States and Canada. In addition to "Amazed," which was #1 with country audiences for eight weeks in a row, Lonely Grill yielded three more #1 country hits: "Smile," "Tell Her," and "What About Now." The 2001 release I'm Already There topped the country album charts, as did the band's 2003 retrospective From There To Here: The Greatest Hits, which produced yet another #1 single, "My Front Porch Looking In."
For all their record and ticket sales, the biggest accomplishment of the band's storied career has been witnessing the impact of Lonestar songs in the lives of others. "Music is a very powerful tool and can help people going through both good and bad times," observes McDonald. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the group's performances for U.S. armed forces stationed overseas in Iraq and Kuwait, where classics like "I'm Already There" have elicited powerful emotional displays from men and women who've put their lives on the line defending America.
"When you can truly say that what you do can make a difference, that it really can impact somebody's life in a positive way, that's the greatest thing," admits Sams.
That timeless appeal transcends nationality, too. A recent string of European dates with Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs, and Little Big Town found Lonestar thrilling audiences in England, Ireland, Switzerland, and Germany. In a four-star review of their performance at Wembley Arena, UK daily The Guardian noted that Lonestar "got an even bigger welcome than McEntire," and praised how "they reminded us of country’s greatest strength: picture-painting, story-based, tear-your-heart-out lyrics that are the most direct and lucid in popular music."
Lonestar is currently hard at work making a new, self-produced album. "It's kind of a no-brainer for us to come along at this stage in our careers and say, 'Yes, we can produce our own music.' After all, nobody knows what Lonestar should sound like better than Lonestar," says drummer Keech Rainwater. "I'm proud that as a band, collectively, we're smart enough to know what we need to do and how to get it done."
The new material sounds as thrilling as any of the band's classics. "The songs we've already recorded, I'm more proud of those than anything we've recorded in our careers," says guitarist Michael Britt. "And not just because they're new. I feel like we're as good or better now than we've ever been."
The as-yet-untitled full-length is the follow-up to 2010's Party Heard Around the World, which was recorded with singer Cody Collins, who stepped in after McDonald left to pursue a solo career in 2007. Parting ways with an original member—even temporarily—could've spelled the end for many bands, but not Lonestar. "We've been very fortunate that a lot of our fans have stuck with us through the good and the bad," says Sams. "You know who your true friends are by who stands by you during the low times, and we found out we have a lot of friends."
With McDonald now back in the fold, Lonestar is starting its third decade of making music together with a bang. The best may be yet to come. "I'm so excited to think about the songs that are going to come out of the next chapter of Lonestar," concludes Rainwater. "And I'm looking forward to another twenty years of great music."