Richie McDonald, former lead singer for the country group Lonestar has never played a Tennessee State Fair until five days from now, yet it will be a homecoming of sorts.
“Fairs in general are probably my favorite venues to play because of the family atmosphere and the smell of corn dogs and manure,” laughed McDonald, who previously resided in Wilson and Smith counties.
“We used to live out in Brush Creek and take our kids to the Wilson County Fair every year. It was a staple in our lives. We lived in Lebanon as well so going back to our old stomping grounds and getting to play is quite an honor.”
Three months ago the Lone Star lead singer announced he was leaving that band to join with Larry Stewart, formerly of Restless Heart, and Tim Rushlow, formerly of Little Texas, to tour as the Frontmen. Collectively, the trio has sold over 30 million records and had over 30 major hits. That means their shows reverberate with 90 minutes of music from the 1990s top country vocalists.
As lead vocalist with Lonestar, McDonald had such hits as “Amazed,” “Smile” and “I’m Already There,” while Stewart sang lead on “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” “That Rock Won’t Roll,” “I’ll Still Be Loving You” and “Why Does It Have to Be (Wrong or Right),” and Rushlow belted out “God Blessed Texas,” “Amy’s Back in Austin” and “What Might Have Been.”
“We have two shows, an acoustic unplugged show and a full band show. We’ll do the full band show at the state fair,” McDonald reported, noting that it would pretty much be a round-robin format. “I really enjoy performing with those guys and listening to them singing and getting to sing harmony on their songs is so much fun.”
McDonald said that in 2007 he and Stewart came up with the idea of forming a trio called the Frontmen, made up of three lead singers. Alabama’s Randy Owen actually did a couple of shows with the two and then Rushlow became available.
“It was a perfect fit,” he recalled. “The main thing was we respected one another. And it was a perfect combination as far as egos. We just wanted to have fun and make people laugh or cry and remember those songs. It’s all about 90s music.”
Over the last decade or so, whenever they had a break from their touring schedules with their former bands, the three singers would perform Frontmen shows for the military at home and abroad. In March they decided to make it permanent.
A musical start
As for departing Lonestar, from which he previously took a four-year break between 2007 and 2011, McDonald said, “I had been back in the group 10 years. Honestly, when Covid hit and everything just shut down, it made me take a look at my life and what I was doing and make me ask myself what I wanted to do with the rest of my career. I was not getting any younger and felt like it was time to start doing some things that I really wanted to do.”
Born in Dallas, and raised in Lubbock, McDonald, 59, grew up in a town with a rich musical legacy that included the likes of Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and Mac Davis. He got his first guitar at 12 or 13 years.
Reflecting on his formative years, he said, “I just loved music as a kid. It was always in my family. My granddad played organ. My mom sang. In Lubbock we’d go to the mall every Saturday, and my friends went in the arcade, and I’d be in the music store. My first sheet music was John Denver’s ‘Country Roads.’ From then on I fell in love with it and just started learning songs and playing by ear on guitar and piano. I was probably 16 years old when I began going to talent shows in Lubbock and then started doing little coffee shops and country clubs.
“In high school I won a talent show and the prize was to go into a local recording studio and record a song. That gave me the bug that there may be something to this. I moved to Dallas out of high school and worked for Coca-Cola for eight years and started playing in local bands at night, just stepping stones.”
Hitting Nashville in 1992, he was concentrating more on songwriting then singing when he met Dean Sams who was putting together Lonestar and asked him to join.
“I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do, but it was a great chapter in my life with a lot of great hits. Songwriting is still a passion of mine, and it all started with a song. We learned 40 songs and hit the road and played anywhere we could: smoky bars and dives and up in Canada and all over the U.S. and then got a record deal in 1995. It was just hard work and staying focused, and I also started writing a lot more songs. Our first No. 1, ‘Everything’s Changed,’ was a really proud moment,” said McDonald, who has written songs recorded by John Michael Montgomery, Clay Walker, Billy Dean, Sara Evans and the Wilkinsons.
Of the Lonestar years he said, “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I made a lot of memories and lots of music. When you spend 30 years being on a bus on the road with those guys you become family, you become brothers.”
A comfortable place
While he and his wife now hang their hats in Murfreesboro, they lived outside of Gordonsville on the edge of the Brush Creek community from 1999 to 2008.
“When we got married we lived in Nashville but always wanted to have some land. We ended up living in Lebanon a bit and then kept moving east. One day my wife called me and said, ‘I found my dream house.’ It was beautiful house on a hill, and we raised our kids in that place,” he said.
A month or two back, he returned to Smith County to play the county fair and recalled, “There was a terrible storm that night, but a few people showed up and it was good to be back.”
During his down time, the father of three enjoys construction challenges.
“When Covid hit and I was not making music, I put a swimming pool in the backyard. It took me four or five months to do it. I’m now remodeling my youngest daughter’s bathroom. I’m fixing to put the vanity in, the shower and closet.
“Typically, when I’m not performing and writing songs, I enjoy working with my hands and creating stuff like her bathroom. I kind of designed it in my mind. As long as it doesn’t leak we’re going to be good,” said the Texan, looking forward to making his Tennessee State Fair debut.