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♦ 7 p.m. June 15 at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, 19100 S. Ridgeland Ave., Tinley Park, Ill.
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Updated: July 15, 2013 6:33PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida Georgia Line already had a chart-topping country hit with “Cruise” when rapper Nelly got hold of it and helped transform it into a crossover smash.
The two acts teamed to close the CMT Music Awards on June 5 with a pyro-filled production, placing themselves firmly in a long, proud line of cross-cultural collaborations that trace back to Jimmie Rodgers recording with Louis Armstrong in 1930.
FGL’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley have discovered — like Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and a few other country acts — 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.”
A year ago, “Cruise” went No. 1 on the country charts and the band 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.
As of press time, FGL’s remix was No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs chart.
Because of it, the band got its starring role at the CMT Music Awards, where they were up for three trophies (including video of the year for “Cruise”); FGL won for duo video and breakthrough video.
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.
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.
Kelley — a hunky 27-year-old blond with short-cropped hair and from Ormond Beach, Fla. — was a college baseball player with a guitar hobby on the side. He had bounced around a bit before landing at Belmont.
Hubbard — a hunky 26-year-old with longer hair and an edgier vibe and from Monroe, Ga. — wanted a business degree and liked Nashville. He also played guitar and figured he’d go for a music business degree.
A friend introduced them and they found they had similar backgrounds and interests. More importantly, they meshed perfectly when they picked up their guitars to write together that first time.
“We wrote our song and thought, ‘This is pretty cool. We’ve got something special here,’ ” Kelley said.
Nelly heard that something special from his labelmates when the duo’s management pointed out the then-countrified version of “Cruise.”
Asked why he got involved, he smiled and said, “I love hits.”
“They’re great kids,” he said later. “They’re great guys. They’re young. They have energy. They’re excited. I told them, ‘Enjoy being the new guys because you only get to be the new guy once.’ ”
FGL is trying to take that message to heart while ensuring progression past that “new guy” phase.
But every once in a while, the distance the band members traveled at light speed during the past few years catches up with them.
Not so long ago they lived together frat style with three other people.
They awoke in the morning and wrote songs, then would head off to paint houses or wash cars before returning to the house to write more.
“We’ve definitely been blessed the last few years,” Hubbard said.