Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2016

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The Joint:

Rascal Flatts’ Joe Don Rooney talks new Hard Rock run, country music in L.V., golf and Steven Tyler

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Sheryl Nields

Rascal Flatts — frontman Gary LeVox, guitarist Joe Don Rooney and keyboardist Jay DeMarcus.

Rascal Flatts

Rascal Flatts performs at Nikon at Xfinity Theater on Saturday, May 31, 2014, in Hartford, Conn. Launch slideshow »

Rascal Flatts, Craig Wayne Boyd at Hard Rock

Rascal Flatts and Craig Wayne Boyd at the Joint on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, at the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Rascal Flatts at the Joint

Rascal Flatts kick off their mini-residency “Vegas Riot!” at the Joint on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Award-winning country music trio Rascal Flatts — frontman Gary LeVox, guitarist Joe Don Rooney and keyboardist Jay DeMarcus — are trading their history-making “Vegas Riot!” mini-residency at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel one year ago for “Rhythm & Roots,” their mini-run beginning tonight and continuing through March 5 at the off-Strip music venue.

“We want to perform something different for fans who’ve seen us before,” Rooney said. “ ‘Rhythm & Roots’ will be a unique take on our catalog of 15 years.”

Rooney talked over the phone Feb. 5 ahead of the “Rhythm & Roots” run and discussed his favorite song(s) to perform, Britney Spears, his addiction to golf, his respect for Garth Brooks, The Dixie Chicks and George Strait — and more.

It’s been nearly one year since Rascal Flatts’ “Vegas Riot!” made history in becoming the first country residency at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel here in Las Vegas. Why return?

They called and invited us back, and we said, “Absolutely!” It’s a great way to kick off the New Year. It’s the first thing we’ve been working on since November, and we’ve been focused on the show.

How will the new run, “Rhythm & Roots,” differ from “Vegas Riot!”?

We’ve changed our band personnel as well as the setlist from last year. We want to perform something different for fans who’ve seen us before. “Rhythm & Roots” will be a unique take on our catalog of 15 years.

It’s the three of us, plus our longtime drummer Jim Riley. And we have a new member who is a multi-instrumentalist. He is extraordinary and brings something new and fresh to the band. He’s a shot in the arm for us, and we’re really excited.

What is a favorite memory from the “Vegas Riot!” run?

Steven Tyler! He’s such a sensational guy, a legend. On our last night, Vince Neil of Motley Crue was there. We performed “Kickstart My Heart” on a Motley Crue country tribute album for Big Machine Records.

I thanked him for attending our show, but he lives in Las Vegas. He said, “Hell, I live two miles down the road!” That’s a good pairing: Vince Neil and Las Vegas.

What is your favorite song to perform?

We like to take fans on a roller coaster ride emotionally. “Life Is a Highway” is uptempo and fun, and the crowd knows the song. Then on our ballads “What Hurts the Most” and “Bless the Broken Road,” we can peel it back and showcase Gary’s voice and piano skills. “Life Is a Highway” will never get old for me.

I’ve seen Rascal Flatts outdoors in San Diego and indoors in Las Vegas. Do you prefer indoor or outdoor shows?

No preference. Playing outdoors in San Diego is awesome, obviously, but either way is fine with me. The Joint is an incredible venue. It’s beautiful, and there we can be dialed in during our run. Nothing changes in three weeks, the gear stays the same, nothing moves. Everything is right in life — it’s a nice problem to have.

What do you love most about your job after all this time?

Not to sound too cliche, but knowing that we have affected people’s lives. It’s incredible to hear that our songs have helped people move on from suicide, drug problems and more. I love that “Bless the Broken Road” has become a popular song at weddings and “My Wish” at graduations.

From Garth Brooks to Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn to Route 91 Harvest and Rascal Flatts, why do you think country thrives in Las Vegas?

I don’t know, Don! I love that country artists are doing residencies in Las Vegas. I think that it ebbs and flows through time. I think people in the U.S. love country because of where it’s rooted and what it exemplifies — home, family, love and appreciation of our country.

Country music is thriving, it’s good medicine, and Las Vegas is keen to it. I’m really blown away by it.

Have you seen the lineup, so far, at the new T-Mobile Arena opening in April on the Las Vegas Strip? The Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, George Strait.

That is awesome. It’s good to have The Dixie Chicks back. We need them in country music. I cut my teeth on Garth Brooks. I saw him in Kansas City in 1993 at Kemper Arena, and there’s nobody who entertains better than him. And of course George Strait is one of the greats. We would be there in a heartbeat for their shows and to perform.

Tell me one thing fans would be surprised to learn about you.

I love golf — I’m addicted to golf. I’m about to play in the pro-am at Pebble Beach for the third year; I’m really excited about that. We’re dark Thursdays, so I can play golf. I’ve been to Shadow Creek, Cascata, TPC Summerlin — Las Vegas has so many great golf courses.

What would you tell a country musician starting out in the music industry in 2016?

Know who you are, know what you want to say, and don’t be afraid to say it. Work hard, keep the pedal down, and don’t look back. Make certain that your decisions are the best decisions, and take your time making decisions. It’s your career and your name on the line. At the same time, know when to take it slow and be wise with every decision. You’re leaving behind a legacy.

Who are some of your favorite artists and inspirations?

Garth Brooks as an entertainer in any genre. He knows what he stands for, and he’s not afraid to say it. The Eagles — it was sad to lose Glenn Frey recently. Their harmonies and the way they wrote songs and sang from the heart. Like The Eagles, we aim to party, but with a Rascal Flatts’ heart.

The first month of 2016 has ended. What is one of your resolutions and/or goals in 2016?

I’m really trying to get in the best shape of my life. My wife and I are really making a commitment. It’s more important than ever to be in stage shape. It’s high energy and a lot of singing, so I want to be prepared. We are so thrilled about Las Vegas. I want to get and stay in shape — be healthy and committed.

What is on your must-do list in Las Vegas when you’re not working?

There are so many shows I want to see since we’re dark Thursdays. I really want to see Britney Spears. The Cirque shows, too. The golf courses, of course. My wife loves the shopping, there is a great shopping, and the kids love the High Roller at the Linq. We’ll be back for the ACM Awards in April. Any reason to be in Las Vegas is a slam-dunk.

Rascal Flatts’ “Rhythm & Roots” run kicks off at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel tonight and continues through March 5.

Don Chareunsy is the Las Vegas Sun’s arts and entertainment senior editor and has been a journalist for nearly two decades.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

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