Warner Brothers duo Dan + Shay have played to huge arena crowds, thanks to their opening slots on tours with Blake Shelton and Hunter Hayes. But recently, the guys got a chance to take their music someplace it had never gone before, and Dan Smyers says the experience was unbelievable.
In late October, the duo performed as part of the annual Musselman's Apple Sauce Family Skating Tribute taping. "That was really a big deal," Smyers tells Billboard. "It was cool for us to meet all of the skaters. They were all so kind, and it was so cool to learn that some of them were fans of our music. I remember seeing so many of them on TV during the Olympics," he says of the group that included Scott Hamilton and Nancy Kerrigan. Watching the skaters at work was something Smyers won't be forgetting anytime soon.
"I have so much respect for what they do," he says, humorously adding "I couldn't put on a pair of ice skates and stand up, so I didn't even dare get out there on the ice."
Smyers raves about getting a chance to perform in a different musical landscape. "The last two years have been so amazing for us," he explains. "We got to appear on The Bachelorette and Dancing With The Stars, which is a little bit different of an environment than we're used to - which is fun. It's good to shake it up. We got to perform in my hometown arena because I grew up in Pittsburgh. There were skaters doing these insane tricks and moves right in front of our eyes, and we were somehow trying to concentrate on remembering the words to our song... The fact that they choreographed their dances to our songs was very rewarding for us."
Though the skaters and Dan + Shay perform different kinds of art, Smyers said there are some similarities between the two: "I think it's a lot of the same of what we do. They are all very focused, and there is so much practice that goes into it. I was talking with Nancy Kerrigan, and she was talking about all of the hours - before school and after college - you're on the ice at four in the morning... We do a lot of the same thing. You go to a skating event or a concert, and you might think 'That looks pretty busy,' but there's so much preparation in advance. We are out here rehearsing for days and weeks in trying to come up with the right set list or to record the right songs."
The duo just began their Obsessed tour, and Smyers says they are having a blast: "We kicked it off [The Ogden Theatre] in Denver, and it was absolutely insane. The show was sold out, and from the moment we got on stage, the fans were singing at the top of their lungs."
That kind of fan reaction can be quite emotional, he says. "I had a couple of moments where I was getting choked up. We're sold out for the next few shows, and we're so thankful. We moved to Nashville to write songs, and the fact that people have received them so well and that they come out and see us at the shows is a dream come true. We've worked at it for a long time, and to watch it all come to fruition is cool."
Opening for the guys on the tour is newcomer Walker Hayes. In the past, acts such as Cam, Kelsea Ballerini, and Canaan Smith have opened for them, and they feel that Hayes will be a crowd-pleaser, as well. "I feel we've got a pretty good gauge on what's cool, and we love Walker's music," Smyers relates. "He's so unique and fresh, and such a nice guy, so we decided to take a shot and bring him out. His set was so great, and the fans seemed to like him too."
What do the duo want their opening acts to gain from them that they gained from people like Shelton and Hayes? "We've learned so much from those artists," he stresses. "I think the main thing is just how to treat people. It all starts from the top down - Darius Rucker told us 'If you're a good person, it's going to translate all the way down to everyone who is on the road with you.' We want to treat our opening acts well, and let them do their thing... If you're afraid of getting upstaged, then you have to step your show up. It makes the show better when everybody is full force. Hopefully, they can pay it forward on their headlining tours."
The duo has a new single on the radio, "How Not To," which is No. 42 on the Country Airplay chart (dated Nov. 26). "That's one of my favorite songs we have ever recorded, and it's one that we didn't write," says Smyers. "We wrote one hundred and fifty songs on the album, and we've always said 'Let the best song win, because there are many so great songwriters in Nashville.' A buddy of mine sent that song to me 7:30 in the morning, before we were going in to cut at Ocean Way. I thought the song was a smash. I played it for Shay, he agreed, and we cut it that day."
Wrapping up their 2016 leg of the tour December 17 in Boston, Smyers said they will be more than ready for a few weeks' break. "We will have done 190 or so shows by the time the year has ended, so it will be good to get home. Then, we'll get to go see our families for Christmas and the New Year. We'll recoup, and get ready for next year. 2017 will be a big year for us tour-wise, so to be off and see the family will be a really nice way to spend the holidays, and to get ready for the upcoming year."
Musselman's Apple Sauce Family Skating Tribute will air as part of the Colgate Skating Series of broadcasts on November 27, on ABC at 3 p.m. ET.