Lady Antebellum, Thomas Rhett + More Shine at Nashville Premiere of Nicholas Sparks Film, ‘The Best of Me’
Some of the biggest stars in country music gathered at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Thursday night (Oct. 9) for the Nashville premiere of 'The Best of Me,' a new movie based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks.
Set for theatrical release next week, the film stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan as Dawson and Amanda, two star-crossed high school sweethearts who find themselves reunited after 20 years when they return to their small hometown after the passing of a beloved mentor. The soundtrack features new songs from some of country's top acts, including Kip Moore, Thomas Rhett, Eric Paslay, Kacey Musgraves, Lady Antebellum and more.
Syndicated morning radio host Bobby Bones hosted the premiere, and if you think a young, single male radio star would be too hip for a Nicholas Sparks "chick flick" -- as some see the writer's sweepingly romantic and often heart-wrenching work -- think again.
"I'm very sensitive," Bones said on the red carpet before the screening. "I'm very old school in a lot of ways. Progressive, but I still cry like a baby ... I've read most of his books. So, it was cool to get the call about hosting this."
'The Best of Me' marks the first time country music has dominated the soundtrack of a major mainstream film to such a degree when that film is not specifically about country music, with Colbie Caillat as the sole non-country artist to contribute. The result is something that Bones thinks is unique.
"Soundtracks haven't really been utilized, they haven't been that cool for a long time," he observes. "[Nicholas Sparks] said, 'I want to make a cool soundtrack,' and that's great, because back when we were kids it was all about the soundtrack, too."
Director Michael Hoffman was a big fan of country music from childhood on, so he was thrilled at the chance to work with country artists.
"I moved to England when I was 22, and I remember, when I felt like I really needed home, I would listen to country music, because it's the truest, most authentic expression of un-cynical, honest American music," he recalls. "And I think Nick's stories are sort of similar in a way. They're never cynical; they're always about being open, being vulnerable and telling the truth. And I guess it was just a perfect fit."
It was intentional to form the soundtrack primarily around country artists.
"That became the intent after Lady Antebellum signed on," Nicholas Sparks says. "I was just a fan of Lady Antebellum. Their name was mentioned before anyone was cast, before we had a director. We sent them a synopsis, and they ended up writing this amazing song. This song, 'I Did With You,' inspired the theme for the entire soundtrack. I think it's the best soundtrack we've done, and it's very heavy on country, which is why we're here in Nashville."
Sparks agrees with Hoffman that country was the perfect fit for the film.
"Country music tells stories, and that's what we try to do, is tell a good story here," he adds. "I think the music and the film work really well together to move the viewer."
Lady Antebellum have two songs in the film: 'Falling for You' and 'I Did With You.' The latter is the anchor track for the film, written with top Nashville songwriter Monty Powell. It's the first time the group have written songs for a motion picture.
"This is a new challenge for us," Charles Kelley told reporters. "We love writing songs, and to actually have a direction for a song, lyrically, was actually a big help. To be able to sit down and have a direction, and have our buddy Monty Powell, who is such a pro, there, it was fun and natural. We loved it. We'd love to do it again."
"It was fun to take a 150-page script -- we had a synopsis, and then to go into the script and find some images to pull from," Dave Haywood adds. "There were moments in where they were dancing in the headlights, and down by the river bank -- little moments that we could actually go in and find and put in the song. It was so great to have that script, have those details to put in the song. It was a really unique writing experience, for sure."
Hillary Scott was already a big fan of Sparks' work, so getting the call was especially exciting for her.
"Nobody had to twist my arm too hard for me to jump at the opportunity to be a part of it," she spills. "And honestly, what time we've spent talking about it and promoting this movie and meeting the cast, and Nicholas himself, and Michael -- it's such a great group of people, and so to be a part of something that not only was a huge opportunity for our career, but to meet and really like everybody involved was really special."
The film itself is exactly the kind of story that fans love and have come to expect from Sparks, with all the trademark romantic elements set against a backdrop of doomed choices, lost decades and an unexpected chance at redemption. But it wouldn't be a Nicholas Sparks film without his unique hallmark, and several elements of the film are shot through with sorrow and almost unbearable loss.
"I think that you need to feel all of the emotions in a film like this," Sparks explains. "In 'Casablanca' there were tears, right? In 'Titanic' there were tears, right? It's just part and parcel, because if you don't have those emotions, it doesn't quite feel real. It feels like a fantasy. And sometimes you go to that movie for that reason. That's great. I love those, too. We all love that stuff. But at the same time, sometimes you want to feel like this could really be happening to you, and the human experience has sadness."
After the screening, several of the artists from the soundtrack performed a live set. SHEL and Gareth Dunlop were on hand to play 'Hold On,' and Thomas Rhett took the stage for 'The Way Things Go.' Colbie Caillat performed a set of songs that included 'In Love Again' before Lady Antebellum wrapped things up with a three-song performance.
Kicking off with 'I Did With You,' the trio then livened things up with their current single, 'Bartender,' which got the crowd on their feet before closing with an unexpected cover of the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet 'Islands in the Stream.'
Charles Kelley nervously said, "I think we know the words," before launching into the performance and promptly blowing the first line of the song, causing laughter all around as they stopped and started over. Caillat came back on stage to help the trio bring the evening to a fun close, joining in for a fourth vocal part on the song's trademark, "And we rely on each other, uh-huh" hook.
'The Best of Me' is set to open in theaters across the country on Oct. 17. The soundtrack is currently available via Relativity Music Group and EMI Nashville.
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