Superstar country music trio Rascal Flatts, in conjunction with AEG Live and NCM Fathom, held a one-night only special theater event in New York City on Thursday evening, titled "Changed," to coincide with the release of the band's eighth studio album of the same name, which hit retail two days earlier. The film was broadcast to over 600 theaters nationally.
The trio -- Jay DeMarcus, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney -- were in attendance at the Red Carpet VIP screening at AMC Empire Theater in New York's Times Square among a crowd of record label executives, radio programmers, industry luminaries and - fitting for the theme of the documentary/performance hybrid -- family.
Produced by Shaun Silva and directed by Don Lepore, the film opens with the act taking questions from an intimate audience at the Franklin Theater in Franklin, Tennessee prior to a performance at the venue. The initial feeling that "Changed" will be nothing more than a taped Q&A/concert footage file subsides quickly as the film takes the viewer into the personal lives of each band member with separately taped interviews which are interspersed with performance footage from the Franklin Theater as well as more low-key song renditions taped at a Nashville studio.
DeMarcus, LeVox and Rooney speak from the heart about a host of subjects, starting with poignant memories of their parents and grandparents who knowingly or unknowingly nudged them into a music career. They reminisce about childhood memories and the passing of loved ones, and reflect on how, after 13 years together, they have gone from three single men trying to succeed as a band to husbands and father, a path which has made them more grounded in their personal and professional lives.
It is the clips of the Flatts guys at home with their families that struck the largest chord with the audience, as each member became visibly choked up discussing how much the love they received from their family growing up has now been passed on to their young children. You can see the joy and pride in each of their eyes as they discuss what their family means to them and how the life of a musician often-times plays havoc on the quality time a father and husband longs for with his family.
Speaking to Billboard after the showing, Rooney stated that the showing "was the first time we all got to see the finished product. We really didn't discuss what was said on camera with each other. It was interesting that we were all experiencing similar feelings, both about the group and our families. It was certainly emotional watching it."
The trio also recounts the crossroads the band faced in 2010 when their long-time record label Lyric Street folded, leaving the act to question whether they were ready to continue together. At the time, the band was in discord, with LeVox stating, "We were not talking to each other. We communicated through our manager. It was like a marriage gone bad."
After some soul-searching, the band committed to going forward and mended whatever fences that were broken over time. They were also reinvigorated by their move to Big Machine Records, led by President/CEO Scott Borchetta which resulted in the act's sixth No. 1 on Billboard's Country Album charts with "Nothing Like This" and its first Country Songs No. 1 since 2009 with lead single "Why Wait," one of three tracks from that set to reach the top three. Not long after moving to Big Machine, Flatts made what they call "one of the most difficult decisions we ever had to make," when they decided to leave the their long-time time management company Turner Nicholls & Associates, later signing with Spalding Entertainment.
So aptly, the title of the film and just released album -- which could very well become their seventh No. 1 on Country Albums when the charts are released April 11 -- certainly signifies a 'change' on many levels. It's the first album produced under the supervision of Big Machine, first with new management and it's a step up musically than what they've put forth on recent releases. I wouldn't call it a reinvention of the Rascal Flatts sound, but more of a reinvigoration.
And rest assured that the music was a big part of the "Changed" movie as well, with exclusive performances of a half-dozen or so tracks from the new set featured (it is release week after all!) as well as some classic Flatts tunes thrown in for good measure. Of the new titles, the fun an sexy "Hot In Here" and rocker "She's Leaving" stood out among the up-tempo tracks, while "Come Wake Me Up" and the inspirational "Changed" resonated among the ballads. Label executives told Billboard at the film's after-party that they are leaning towards one of the two ballads as the follow-up to current top 10 single "Banjo."
So while "Changed," the movie, served as a suitable documentary of the history of the most successful country group of the last decade, where it really soared was in bringing the act's fans into the personal worlds of DeMarcus, LeVox and Rooney where their public amiable personas were confirmed, but also accentuated by their passion for music, for their families and, after 13 years, for each other.
- Country