June 25, 2009 — When the Judds reunited at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville earlier this month, Naomi Judd took a moment to address the crowd while a gospel choir kept "Love Can Build A Bridge" going in the background.
"So many of you are having hard times," she told the crowd. "There is a word: hope."
The next night, Sugarland popped up on the same stage with mostly buoyant material and made it clear: Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are filling Wynonna and Naomi's shoes as country's uplifting duo of the moment. "Settlin'" treats joy as a mission, "All I Want To Do" is light and silly and even "It Happens" — a three-minute laundry list of things gone wrong — makes a bad day sound like a good time. Make no bones about it: Sugarland is on a mission of good cheer.
"Our goal has always been, since we put this band together, to reach as many people as we can with what we're saying," Kristian told The Roanoke Times. "I think what's happening is we're moving from a culture of acquisition of things into a culture of acquisition of meaning. And I think t he world is moving in that direction. I see it in our shows. I see it in the faces of the parents that I drop my kids off next to. People are looking for meaning more than they're looking for more money to buy another whatever. And we are that band."
Naomi and Wynonna are symbols of overcoming fear. Naomi tackled the terror of her hepatitis C diagnosis in the early 1990s and entered a new period in her life as a parent and a public figure. Wynonna, practically forced to accept a solo career, did the same.
Kristian and Jennifer have had their own fears, which are pretty much ingrained into any artist. They've been supportive to each other as friends and performers, and it's made a huge difference in allowing them to overcome those fears and continue building on their talents.
"Sometimes you don't know what kind of talent you have in you until someone tells you that you have it," Kristian said. "It's strangely a fear-based place. If you're not scared to walk out and play guitar hero on a stage, then you do it, and all of a sudden, you're it."
Sugarland follows in the Judds' footsteps in one other way. Wynonna and Naomi had their first television special, "The Judds: Across The Heartland," 20 years ago. Jennifer and Kristian have theirs, "Sugarland: Live On The Inside," ready to go on ABC Aug. 3.