Sunny Sweeney hits the road with her holiday party

By Chrissie Dickinson
Chicago Tribune

Four top-notch singer-songwriters are joining forces for a holiday tour of stories, Christmas songs, their own material and lots of laughter. Sunny Sweeney, Brennen Leigh, Courtney Patton and Jamie Lin Wilson are hitting the road with an acoustic tour that celebrates the season. Dubbed “Hard Candy Christmas,” the show features the friends together on stage.

“We’ll pile in a van with our guitars,” Sweeney says during a call from her home in Austin, Texas. “It will be crazy. A bunch of Texans driving through the snow should be interesting.”

The tour will take the foursome on a string of dates stretching from Texas to Minneapolis and Chicago and back again. The show comes to Joe’s Bar on Wednesday.

Patton is an up-and-comer in the Americana scene. Wilson first came to the fore in the roots music bands the Gougers and the Trishas. Leigh maintains a solo career and also performs in an acclaimed duo with her partner, singer-songwriter Noel McKay.

She recently recorded a seasonal song called “One More Christmas Beer” that is available on iTunes. Sweeney will perform it on the holiday tour. “I’ve been singing it for a couple of years and my fans have gone crazy over it,” she says. “I wrote it with Buddy Owens and Monty Holmes. The song is about the Sweeney side of my family. There is something crazy about all of us, but a good kind of crazy. That’s where I get my personality.”

Sweeney called recently to talk about hitting the road with her pals, how to manage holiday stress and the thrill she felt the day Emmylou Harris followed her on Instagram. This is an edited transcript.

Q: Have you done the Hard Candy Christmas tour before or is this the first year?

A: This is the first Hard Candy Christmas. We’re hoping it turns out really well so we can do it every year. We wanted to do something super low-key — sell some merch, drink some wine, have a blast and be done. This is what we came up with. We’re all looking forward to it. There’s no pressure. There are no bands. It’s the four of us. Two hotel rooms. Jamie brings a harmonica. Brennen and I will bring acoustic and electric guitars. Courtney will bring her shakers. We’ll do some songs together and some solo material. We all have Christmas songs. We’re all going to sing Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” It’s gonna be a hoot.

Q: How did the four of you come together for this tour?

A: Brennen and I are best friends. Courtney and Jamie are best friends. Jamie and I went to Europe together on a two-week acoustic run and we talked about Brennen and Courtney. We said, “It would be so fun to tour with all four of us. Two sets of best friends in one van.” We all have similar and really crazy senses of humor. There are a lot of women who are reserved, but Courtney, Jamie, Brennen and I will say anything. By the end of the tour it will probably be us telling a bunch of jokes and laughing on stage instead of actually singing songs.

Q: The holidays can be stressful for a lot of people. A Christmas show with lots of laughs sounds like a good antidote for people who are anxious or depressed.

A: That’s what we want to do — de-stress everybody. Even if you have the best family in the world, there is stress, whether it’s from traveling or money, or worrying about what to cook or who’s coming. I know a lot of people who have seasonal depression and they always get depressed around Christmas. That’s a real thing. We want to make everyone laugh and take their minds off the stress for a little bit. It’s going to be so fun. People can come to the gig for a couple hours, laugh and then go back to their regular holiday planning. I will be posting live updates to Facebook and possibly live-streaming it on Facebook for people who can’t be there.

Q: Are you a big user of social media?

A: I’m a huge fan of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. All four of us are very social media heavy. We promote shows on there. We talk to people. We respond. As a fan, that’s the most important thing. Even now, I would want someone that I loved to write back to me. For instance, Emmylou Harris followed me on Instagram one day. I thought, “Hold up! Emmylou Harris knows who I am enough to follow me on Instagram?” I thought I had died and gone to heaven. My mom said, “Sunny, you’re acting like a child. You need to grow up.” I said, “I don’t care. Emmylou Harris just followed me on Instagram. That is awesome!” (laughs)

Q: Are you working on any new projects of your own for the new year?

A: I have a new record coming out in March, 2017. I’m so excited. I’m putting it out on my own label through Thirty Tigers. It’s called “Trophy.” It’s a culmination. I’ve been through a divorce — a really (difficult) divorce, to be specific. I decided I’d never get married again. Then I did get married again because the right one came along. We just celebrated our five-year anniversary. This new record is from a much more personal point of view than any other I’ve made. That may shock my fans because they always tell me my songs are so personal. I always write from the first-person perspective. They say to me, “It’s crazy you can open up like that.” On this new record, that part of me is cracked open even more. I’m so excited for people to hear it.

Q: This sounds like a fulfilling time in your life.

A: I love my job in music. It’s hard as hell but it’s so fun. I wouldn’t have any other choice of a career. For somebody who only wanted to do music to see if I could, and do it for free beers and burgers, I have completely surpassed my expectations. I am the happiest clam in the entire world.

Chrissie Dickinson is a freelance writer.

onthetown@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @chitribent

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Joe’s Bar, 940 W. Weed St.

Tickets: $12-$15; 312-337-3486 or www.joesbar.com

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