Florida Georgia Line storms gates in Nashville
Brian Kelley, left, and Tyler Hubbard, right, of musical group Florida Georgia Line, and Nelly perform at the 2013 CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, June 5, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Donn Jones/Invision/AP)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The guys in Florida Georgia Line thought they were riding a whirlwind when their first single improbably made it to the top of the country charts late last year.
Now that Nelly has entered the picture and "Cruise" is rocketing up the pop charts, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley have discovered — like Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and a few other country acts over the years — that there's nothing like the ride of a crossover hit.
"I think it's kind of like pouring gas on a fire," Hubbard said. "It's been wild."
They hold a coveted headliner's spot during the Country Music Association Festival's nightly concerts this weekend, a sure sign you've made it in the world of rhinestone twang.
A year ago they played a small stage outside LP Field promoting promising acts as fans streamed in to watch the top stars later that night at the four-day festival.
Since then, "Cruise" went No. 1 on the country charts, they won the Academy of Country Music's best new artist award, scored coveted opening slots on tour with country's hottest acts Swift and Luke Bryan, and met Nelly.
Their remix is currently No. 5 on Billboard's Hot 100 songs chart. Because of it, they had a starring role at the CMT Music Awards, where they won a leading two trophies Wednesday night. They're one of the most visible acts in Nashville in a week when every star is in town.
"I don't think it gets any better," Kelley said while standing in an arena hallway after CMT Music Awards rehearsals Monday night. "It's been crazy to see this ride take off."
Few artists have risen so quickly in the fairly stagnant world of country music. Fans are loyal, but they aren't always quick to adapt. Top stars like Jason Aldean and Eric Church, for instance, were at it for a decade before hitting the top reaches of country music.
Tyler Hubbard, left, and Brian Kelley, of the group Florida Georgia Line, arrive at the 2013 CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, June 5, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP)
Hubbard and Kelley started playing the game in earnest in 2009 after meeting at Belmont University, the private school near Music Row that's been the starting point for many musicians and music business employees in town. Unlike that legion of aspiring artists, managers and publicists, neither Hubbard nor Kelley came to town with designs on the spotlight.