Sugarland enjoying the ride

From winning a couple of Grammys earlier this year to playing at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Sugarland’s been on a sweet, sweet ride.

Jennifer Nettles

From winning a couple of Grammys earlier this year to playing at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Sugarland’s been on a sweet, sweet ride.

Sugarland’s startling success over the past few years, including a slew of chart-topping singles and country music awards, has sometimes left the Atlanta-based country-rock duo feeling as starry-eyed as their fans.

Lead singer Jennifer Nettles was recently asked, while appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, when she finally felt like she’d hit the big-time.

“Right now is a good moment,” replied the blond, who seemed awed to be there.

Nettles had previously described being on Oprah as “so huge that I’m sure if Jesus comes back in our lifetime, he’s probably going to go there to get the word out.”

The powerhouse vocalist who performs with her Sugarland cohort Kristian Bush at Red Deer’s Centrium on Wednesday, grew up in the small town of Douglas, Ga.

She sang in her Baptist church choir and soaked up a wide range of music from her Mom’s radio — everything from Billy Idol to The Eagles and James Taylor.

Nettles counts among her earliest influences Linda Ronstadt, Rita Coolidge and Juice Newton. She later added Emmylou Harris, Tori Amos and REM to the list.

“I love REM,” the singer has said, but the bouncy optimism behind much of Sugarland’s music probably owes more to Newton, of the bubbly ‘80s hit Queen of Hearts.

Nettles sounds more twangy when she sings than when she talks. But her unique vocal stylings have paid off, since Sugarland has coasted on critical and popular acclaim since being formed in 2003. So far, the group’s charted four No. 1 singles: Want To, Settlin’, All I Want To Do, and Already Gone from the albums Enjoy the Ride and Love on the Inside.

Sugarland was originally founded as a duo by Bush, formerly of the group Billy Pilgrim, and fellow musician Kristen Hall, who frequently toured with the Indigo Girls. The two musicians got to know Nettles through the Atlanta folk-rock scene and soon brought her onboard, becoming a trio until Hall left to do her own writing in 2006.

Turns out Bush, who’s based in Atlanta, is not only a mean guitar and mandolin player — he was also once the anticipated heir of a fortune in legumes.

The best-selling U.S. product, Bush’s Baked Beans, was his family’s business until a “feud” resulted in his grandparents selling their interest in the company when Bush was 12 or 13.

It’s just as well that he didn’t spend his life as a bean tycoon, since Bush admitted to Oprah he’s always hated baked beans. Conversely, the musician loved being complimented by former Beatle Paul McCartney a while back. “I was pinching myself,” stated Bush, who undoubtedly made the right career choice.

Even his grandparents, he said, were ultimately “extremely proud” of his musical success.

Who: Country-rock duo Sugarland, with special guest Billy Currington

When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 22

Where: The Centrium

Tickets: $69.50 from Ticketmaster

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