“I was less than nervous, I was excited,” Chris Stapleton says of how he felt taking the stage with the Memphis born, multi-hyphenate Justin Timberlake Wednesday night at the 49th annual CMA Awards in Nashville. “Having Justin in the room elevates everybody — not just everybody on the stage, but everybody in the room. He’s that guy, he has that kind of talent.”
Timberlake and Stapleton met a few years ago, through a mutual friend, and as Stapleton says, they’d been looking for a reason to collaborate. While everyone, at least now, hopes that means on the country record Timberlake has said he’s interested in making over the last few years, for Stapleton, “[The awards] became that reason.”
While searching for work together, Stapleton says they would keep in touch, mainly talking “Dad-stuff.” “We tell a lot of kid stories,” Stapleton says with a laugh. “He’s a new dad and I’ve got little kids.” When Stapleton talks, about music or life otherwise, he is prone to separate his world into “good things” — like music, fellowship with other musicans, and Kentucky bourbon — and things not worth his time, “not nice” things like anything that involves tearing others down, or worrying about the fact that country radio largely ignored his songs this year (“We all answer to somebody,” he says of those DJ’s). Of Timberlake and his relationship, “It’s good,” he says. “It’s a good thing.” (Timberlake, for his part, posted a hearwarming message on Instagram to his Kentucky-bred buddy.)
Wednesday night, it was a great thing. The singers gave a rowdy, raucous, undeniable trip through Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey,” off Traveller though also a cover of George Jones, and “Drink You Away,” off Timberlake’s most recent release, The 20/20 Experience. “Man, that was just thrilling. One of the best times I’ve ever gotten to have.”
They rehearsed with their bands, some of them Stapleton’s, some of them Timberlake’s, over the weekend, and also ran through the set on show-day. “[And] if all we got was rehearsals, man, that would still be a treat,” he says. “We would play the songs we were playing on the show but then we would jam in between, just have fun. I love music so much and I love musicians — I love singers. It’s fun. That’s what music’s supposed to be. Fun.”
Fun was, perhaps, an understatement. Check out the awesome performance below, and let’s hope these two stay friends for a long, long time.
“Drink You Away”: