'One More Day' with Diamond Rio
No matter what type of song or album, there's an unmistakable sound that Diamond Rio creates.
Member Gene Johnson said even when the group tries to put together something that sounds completely different, it's still them.
"It always still sounds like us. We just can't escape it," he said with a chuckle.
The country music mainstays will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Tickets are $27.50, reserved seats, and available at the Corn Palace box office at 995-8430 or cornpalace.org.
By Friday afternoon, Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said a little more than 700 tickets had been sold for the concert. He's hoping for a crowd of 1,000 people, but the capacity could accommodate 2,000. Schilling said he expects walk-ups to bump sales into the 1,000-ticket range.
Johnson, a harmonist and mandolin player, said establishing a unique sound was important when they started out 25 years ago. Each member of the six-man group contributes to that, he said, from his own bluegrass background to the others' various instrumental talents and musical backgrounds.
"We're probably still the only group out there that plays all their own music," Johnson said, noting that while some groups use studio musicians to create their albums, Diamond Rio does not. "It's all us."
That approach has paid off.
In 1991, "Meet in the Middle" became the first debut single in country music history to hit No. 1, and myriad hits and awards have followed. Along with hits like "How Your Love Makes Me Feel," "Norma Jean Riley," "Beautiful Mess," "Love a Little Stronger" and "One More Day," the group has racked up six Vocal Group of the Year awards from the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music Awards, a Dove award and sold more than 10 million albums.
But Johnson said finally landing the group's first Grammy in 2011 for "The Reason," after 14 nominations over the years, was the fulfillment of a dream for all the band members.
"That was a thrill. It was one of those things that was almost bugging us," Johnson said. "It was lovely that we won it."
After leaving the recording company Arista in the mid-2000s, Johnson said it opened doors to work on some new, different types of projects. One was a Christmas album, which came out in 2007. Then, the opportunity came for the band's first Christian album, "The Reason," which brought its first Dove award.
"It wasn't a plan, necessarily," Johnson said. "We knew we had some things we wanted to do."
Along with their recording work, Diamond Rio members collaborated on an autobiography, "Beautiful Mess: The Story of Diamond Rio," published in 2009. There's also Team Rio, "a group of dedicated, energetic runners and walkers who train together and will participate in the Country Music Marathon or Half Marathon" in April in Nashville, Tenn., according to the band's website. Johnson said proceeds raised from the event will support United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee.
Some of the band members run the race -- Johnson said guitarist Jimmy Olander is planning to run the full marathon, while Johnson will stick with the half.
"I think he's absolutely crazy. Twenty-six miles is too far," he said. "I'm more of a half kind of guy."
It's a switch, as Johnson said Diamond Rio recently stepped back from its long-time role as national spokespersons for Big Brothers Big Sisters to back a new organization.
"We still highly recommend people get involved with that," Johnson said. "Any time you help kids, you can't do any better than that. It's just the right thing to do."
In the meantime, Johnson said the group recently finished recording a live album and is working on a new studio album. And, of course, touring.
For their concert, Johnson said after so many years of hits, it's hard to squeeze them all into one night. They do what they can, he said, along with a few songs from their latest record -- and then try to work in a few surprises.
Schilling said the last time Diamond Rio played the Palace was in 1995, during the Corn Palace Festival -- a little warmer than this weekend is likely to be.
"We're very happy to be coming up through there. I wish it wasn't February, necessarily," Johnson said with a laugh. Noting that some of the group's other tour dates take them through Canada, though, Johnson said the band is undeterred.
"You might be one of the warmer places that we hit," he said.