Brooks & Dunn slow down for Faster Horses
Ronnie Dunn was in Cancun, sitting inside a hot tub at Reba McEntire's home, reflecting.
It was 2014, four years after he'd called it quits with Kix Brooks, with whom he'd spent 20 years as part of Brooks & Dunn, the hugely successful country music duo that racked up 20 No. 1 country hits.
Since splitting with Brooks, he'd relefased two solo albums but hadn't found the same success he had with his partner, and he was OK with that. He was 61 years old and it had been a hell of a ride.
He had a glass of wine in his hand and not a care in the world. The sun was going down, both over the horizon and on Dunn's career. He turned to Narvel Blackstock, McEntire's husband and manager at the time, and told him what was on his mind.
"I said, 'Narvel, I don't care if I ever sing again, man,'" says Dunn, on the phone last week from his Nashville home. "I said, 'I'm over it. I did it. I lived through it, and I'm just going to lick my wounds and roam off into the sunset.'"
What Dunn didn't know is Blackstock was already in discussions to launch a show with McEntire in Las Vegas, and he wanted Brooks & Dunn as the opening act to seal the deal. And sure enough, six months later Dunn found himself back on stage with Brooks, playing hits "Boot Scootin' Boogie" and "Play Something Country" for tourists in Vegas, like the hot tub come-to-Jesus had never happened.
The Vegas deal was for one year, which has since turned into four. In addition, Brooks & Dunn do occasional dates outside of their Vegas commitments, which brings them to Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn on Saturday night for a headlining spot at the sixth annual Faster Horses Festival.
It will be Brooks & Dunn's first Michigan performance since 2010, which was supposed to be the duo's last stand. But don't call it a comeback: There are no current plans for the group to record any new material, and the group is mostly staying focused on its Vegas show.
"Those official reunion things kind of make me itch, and Kix feels the same way about that," says Dunn, who turned 65 last month. "We made such a big deal about ending it."
But in Vegas — the residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace lasts through December and includes six shows every other month — the group is able to celebrate its legacy without the rigors of tour life.
"We're loving it. It's that scenario that you dream of as you're out there on the road for years and years," says the Coleman, Texas, native. "It couldn't be better, because for the first time in a long time you can have a life outside that, and still honor what we're lucky enough to have been able to establish."
Dunn isn't ruling out another full-fledged Brooks & Dunn tour — "I'm certainly not going to say never, I've learned the hard way not to do that" — but for now he's enjoying the speed of his career. He's taken up photography as a hobby in recent years, and he's currently working on material for a solo project.
When he stepped in the studio last week, Dunn and his band started with five songs and ended up working on 12, mostly cover songs by classic rockers such as Tom Petty ("Won't Back Down") and Bob Seger ("Against the Wind").
"The label (Big Machine Records) said, 'Go record whatever you want to do,' and I've never heard that before," Dunn says. "It's an unusual circumstance for someone to say 'go record whatever you want,' so when they did, we really jumped in on all fours."
The Petty song hit especially close to home; Dunn saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer last year on his final tour, just a few months before he died.
"He was on his game, I'd never heard him sound any better," Dunn says. "It's a sad thing; he was a real artist, the real deal. It makes me feel that life moves by really fast."
with Blake Shelton, Brooks & Dunn, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Billy Currington, Dustin Lynch and more
Michigan International Speedway
12626 U.S. 12, Brooklyn, MI
$230 at the box office