Not that it’s a contest, but Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild wouldn’t mind rivaling Carrie Underwood’s legendary CMA Awards outfit changes when the quartet returns, for a second year in a row, to host the CMT Awards on Wednesday night.
“When you’re with this girl,” bandmate Kimberly Schlapman says, wiggling a thumb at Fairchild, “you know you’re gonna have a lot of wardrobe changes. It’s her favorite thing about the show.”
Fairchild, unable to stop those competitive juices from flowing, factors in that Underwood’s show is a bit longer than the CMT event. “So proportionally,” Fairchild tells PEOPLE, “we might have her beat!”
Of course, glamour aside, music will always be the star of the show, and Fairchild, Schlapman and bandmates Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet say they are most looking forward to the collaborations of the evening.
Just for starters, they will be performing “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” with Thomas Rhett, and New Orleans jazzman Trombone Shorty will join their fun. Thomas Rhett and LBT recorded the “super-funky” song — as Fairchild describes it —for his just-released album, Center Point Road..
Brett Young and Boyz II Men will be reprising their memorable mash-up from March’s CMT Crossroads. Maren Morris will team with one of her idols, Sheryl Crow, for another joint appearance. Toby Keith and Cole Swindell will partner up for a Keith classic. And Americana torcher Brandi Carlile will be joining forces with country legend Tanya Tucker; Carlile, who just picked up three Grammys in February, co-wrote and co-produced Tucker’s upcoming album, her first new material in 17 years that’s set for release this summer.
Other artists expected to perform include Carrie Underwood (who’s won a record 18 CMT Awards and is up for two more), Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Dan + Shay, Luke Combs, Kane Brown, Kelsea Ballerini and Zac Brown Band. Up-and-comers Jimmie Allen, Tenille Townes, Runaway June, Jordan Davis, Morgan Wallen and Mitchell Tenpenny also will get their moment in the spotlight on a side stage.
With their hosting debut under their belt in 2018, the Little Big Town members say there won’t be any jitters this time around. If they learned anything last year, Westbrook says, it was “just to relax and have fun. I think that was the biggest lesson. There’s a little bit of the unknown when you walk into it, but it was a lot of fun. I remember thinking at the end of the night, man, that was awesome!”
Over the years, the quartet has delivered many memorable performances on the show, including 2014’s “Day Drinking,” which ended with the four enduring a rainbow blast of spray paint.
“And then weeks later we found paint in our ears,” Fairchild recalls.
“Ears and nose,” Schlapman amends.
No matter. “It was fun,” Fairchild says. “I would do it again.”
“I would, too,” Schlapman concurs.
Perhaps their most memorable performance was the least amount of fun for Sweet. For their first solo turn on the show, in 2012, they performed their mega-hit “Pontoon” on the upper deck of an actual pontoon. Moments before going on stage, Sweet put on his prop sunglasses so his eyes could adjust, and in the dim light, he took a step — off the deck. Fairchild estimates it was a four- or five-foot drop.
“Two big dudes lifted me up and stood me back up,” Sweet recalls. “My sunglasses were sideways, and they were like, ‘Get it together!’” Sweet just gasped for air: “It knocked the wind out of me.”
Does he even remember the performance? “Kind of,” he says. “I was in a daze.”
“He was a clutch performer,” Fairchild says. “He was in so much pain, but you would have never known. He put his sunglasses back on and just played and sang.”
“Thank goodness I had a shot of whiskey before I went on,” Sweet jokes. “It probably helped, too.”
Be sure to follow PEOPLE’s full CMT Awards coverage to get the latest news on country’s big night.
The CMT Awards are decided by fans, and voting is underway at CMT.com through 11:59 EDT Tuesday. Fourteen videos were nominated for the coveted Video of the Year; five finalists will be announced Wednesday morning, and fans can vote for their favorites all day and throughout the show at CMT.com and on Twitter. The awards show airs live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena at 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday on CMT.
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