This year won’t be one Chris Young soon forgets. The RCA recording artist added songs such as No. 2 Country Airplay hit “Hangin’ On” to his already-loaded arsenal, and an added bonus was getting to perform such songs on his Losing Sleep tour -- his first arena headlining stint.
“It was fun saying that I had more than one show on this tour crack 10,000 [tickets] sold,” Young told Billboard in his dressing room before the Nov. 29 date at Knoxville, Tennessee’s Thompson Boling Arena. “Nashville was obviously the biggest seller, with it being almost 14,000, but we had Minneapolis that was over 10,000 and Grand Rapids [Michigan] was right there at 10,000, and it's just been really, really cool to see those markets.”
Of course, it wasn’t always packed stands and hit records. After winning Nashville Star in 2006, it took three years for his career to hit the fast lane in 2009 with “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song).” He chuckles remembering the early years, when capacity crowds and chart-topping hits seemed a lifetime away.
“There was one club in Texas that we played after I had my record deal for a couple of years. My tour manager walks up on the bus. He was just covered in sweat. I'm like, ‘What's going on?’ He says that the club hadn't turned the air on in the building yet. It's dead of summer and the stuff that they showed up with was never going to work. He had been in there stripping wires all day. On top of that, the lighting was like three Party City light trees. There may have been 14 people in the building, and only six of them were there to watch us. If you'd asked me on one of those days if I thought I would be on an arena tour and have 11 No. 1s and a bunch of other hits, I'd have thought you were crazy.”
Young says no two days are the same, but a headlining date such as Knoxville is a little different from a fair date, and though he may not be onstage, he’s working just the same.
“A friend of mine texted me and said, ‘Hey, man, we're gonna be there for lunch.' I told him that was cool, but I would be working all day. On headlining tour days, there's so much stuff going on. He had texted me at 1:30 p.m., and I just got done in the gym. Then, I had to iron my clothes, and we had sound check at 2:30. After that, we had the radio station meet and greet with listeners. I went back, got ready, came here and am doing this interview. Then I've got VIP with fans at 5 o'clock. Then I have dinner,” he said.
But with Knoxville amounting to somewhat of a local date, given its relative proximity to Nashville, there is an upside to the day. “My family's here. My dog's here, and a lot of other people are in, so I’m going to go around and high-five everyone and thank them for coming.” At 9 p.m., it’s showtime. “It’s a lot of fun, but does make for a long day,” Young says. Making the day memorable for the singer was the presence of Darius Edwards, a music education student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Through the efforts of the CMA Foundation and Young, the student -- who went to high school in Nashville -- was the recipient of a silver saxophone, as well as several other instruments.
Building his career in a slow but steady manner is something Young takes pride in -- though he admits he didn’t plan it that way.
“I only know what my career has been. I can't speak to what other people have done. The thing that I do love about my career is I do love every minute of it, for the most part. I love writing and producing. I love being in the studio. I love touring. I love being able to go look at what our staging for next year is going be. I love sitting in a board meeting with people talking about stuff about music. So maybe it started a lot slower, but hopefully I've got the kind of career that's going to last for a very long time,” he says. “You never know when your day in the sun's over. There's a billion euphemisms and phrases we can throw out, but you’ve got to make hay while the sun is shining.”
Young is already looking forward to what the coming year has in store. “We’re talking about next year, making it bigger, and trying to one-up what we did on [2017’s Losing Sleep] album,” he says.
New music is on the way with new single “Raised on Country” coming soon. “It's a bit of a name-dropper in the chorus, which is not something I've done a whole lot,” he says. “It evokes what I grew up on, whether that's more recent artists like Joe Diffie or artists that were from a different time in the genre like Willie Nelson. It’s just a straightforward party country anthem.”
But the new material is not all upbeat. Young says he wrote “Drowning,” another new track, “about a friend that I lost. So there's some different topics that I haven't necessarily touched on,” he says.
Fans can rest easy that the type of songs that have made him an arena headliner will also be present. “There's going be love songs. There's going to be a sexy song on the record. I think if I didn't put at least one love song and one straight-out sexy song on the record, people would be like, ‘Is he OK?’ I've been so successful with them. But there will be a lot topically that maybe hasn't been touched on before in my songwriting, and definitely just opening up a lot to people and showing them more of me.”
Young wraps up his 2018 tour Saturday at SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. The singer will head to Scotland and England in May for a four-date run, with Lindsay Ell lending tour support.