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Growing up and growing together in country music

Lonestar and Phil Vassar visit Van Wert’s Niswonger

Steve Penhollow

Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published December 12, 2019

Lonestar’s lead singer Ritchie McDonald grew up in a musical family. Just not a country music family.

His grandfather was a member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and his father was a pipe organist.

His “ah ha” moment came when he saw the group Alabama in concert.

“Alabama was the first concert I ever saw, back in 1979, and I saw Randy Owen up there on stage,” McDonald told the Albany (Ga.) Herald. “It looked like he was having the time of his life, and I thought, ‘Man, that’s what I want to do.’”

And that’s exactly what he’s been doing with Lonestar (first called Texassee) and on his own since 1992.

The Gold standard: Alabama

McDonald said Alabama still represents the gold standard for success in the country music business.

“I’m still amazed with Alabama and them celebrating 50 years this year,” McDonald said. “That’s really hard to do in country music, to sustain that kind of career. We’ve been together for 26 years, so we’re halfway there. They set the bar really high for all of us. They’re still out there touring, and I hope Lonestar’s still out there in 25 more years, and we still have fans out there coming to the shows.”

Alabama is back together (minus member Mark Herndon) after having done one of the more definitive-seeming farewell tours in 2002. Lonestar has navigated its share of rocky terrain.

Growing pains

McDonald left Lonestar in 2007 to spend more time with his family and to pursue a solo career.

By the time he returned in 2011, the band members had matured a great deal, according to lead guitarist Michael Britt.

“The stage we are at now, we’ve kind of just outgrown all of our differences,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “We all know how to get along a lot better than we used to growing up.

“We just thought that we were better together than we ever were apart,” McDonald said.

“We kind of grew up as a band together so we’ve been through all of that together,” Britt said. “The place we are at now, we just like going out and having fun and we’re just glad we still get to have a job doing this for a living. I think that shows onstage. We’re just happy to be there and playing songs that everybody knows and loves.”

McDonald said he still enjoys performing solo.

“I love doing both,” he said. “I love being in the band. I love still being the lead singer for Lonestar. I also love to take away the smoke and mirrors and just be me, with a piano and a guitar on stage. It might feel like I’m in someone’s living room and singing these songs and telling the stories.”

Still being discovered

Lonestar’s hitmaking days are likely over, but Britt said young people are still discovering the band.

“We get such a wide range of ages and people, but we’re starting now to get a group of people that are younger and they grew up listening to us because their parents listened to us when they were kids,” Britt told The Hagerstown Herald-Mail. “It was funny because I’ll see these 15-, 16-year-olds kids singing ‘Mr. Mom.’ That song was (more than) 10 years ago. Anyway, they heard that when they were growing up in the car. (It’s) kind of giving us new fans that we didn’t know we had.”


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