Kimberly Schlapman and Karen Fairchild were trying to make it in the competitive world of country music in Nashville, Tenn., when they suddenly had a revelation.
"Wouldn’t it be more fun if we had good-lookin’ boys in the band with us?" Fairchild said.
Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet joined the two college friends, and in 1999, Little Big Town came to life.
"We got the cutest two in Nashville, and they can sing," Schlapman said.
Known for their harmonies, the band has had arguably the best 2012 of any in country music, with its single "Pontoon" rocketing to No. 1 on the country charts and numerous accolades following. They drew thunderous ovations while performing with Kelleigh Bannen, Josh Thompson and Dustin Lynch at the WRNS Guitar Pull last week at the Cherry Point base theater.
But the trip from fledgling band to country superstars was long. Their first record deal didn’t produce, and their best single, "Don’t Waste My Time," on their first album peaked at No. 33 in 2002.
Then, their record company folded, and the band members endured personal tragedies, including the deaths of family members and divorces.
Still, they persevered and in 2005 released their second album that produced top 10 hits "Boondocks" and "Bring It on Home."
After a 2007 release, Little Big Town came back in 2010 and scored a top 20 hit with "Little White Church."
But the release of the single "Pontoon" earlier this year struck a cord with many, and upon hearing Westbrook play just the first five characteristic notes of the song on his mandolin, the crowd at Cherry Point erupted into shouts and screams.
"We felt it should be the first single. We felt that comfortable about it, but you never know," Westbrook said of the success of the first song the band recorded for its fifth CD "Tornado" that was released in September. "None of that is a given, and we probably never would have dreamed that it was as big as it was. It was really a fun summer, that’s for sure."
Little Big Town had its first No. 1 hit, a song that resonated with large crowds as the band toured over the summer with super group Rascal Flatts.
Then just three weeks ago, Little Big Town earned its first ever Country Music Association awards. "Pontoon" won for single of the year and the band was named CMA vocal group of the year.
"I jumped on top of my chair and screamed so loud I think I ruined my voice," Sweet said of the awards. "We had the best time. I lost my mind."
Westbrook said the band is still celebrating.
"It was an incredible night," he said. "We’ve been on cloud nine ever since."
The band’s latest single, "Tornado," showcases the group’s vocal harmonies and is steadily climbing the country music charts.
"We can’t believe it," Sweet said of the single’s success. "It’s just really fun to watch that happen. We’re excited."
But the band isn’t resting on that success, playing one night at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., and the next at Cherry Point in front of 1,701 people, many of whom were Marines and sailors.
"We love playing shows for the men and women who work harder than anybody," Fairchild said, adding the group had just played on the USS Bataan as part of the inaugural Navy/Marine Corps Classic basketball game on Nov. 9. "We get the pleasure of doing it several times a year, and it’s the best shows we ever play. These are our favorite nights for sure."
Little Big Town will be headlining its own tour for the first time this spring, with concert dates running from the end of January through July, when the quartet will then join Keith Urban for a summer tour, which includes a stop in Raleigh on July 26.
"We’re going to work this record to death," Fairchild said.
But for the band, it’s a good kind of work as they bask in the recent success and think about the long road to it.
"It’s been an amazing journey," Schlapman said. "We’ve hit every high and every low you can imagine, but it’s brought us to where we are today. It took us 13 years to get our first No. 1 record and that was a long time, but I think if it had been a different road, it would not have been as sweet as it is right now. We’re just incredibly thankful and we wouldn’t trade a minute of it."