Bayou Country Superfest brings the stars back to Baton Rouge for Memorial Day weekend _lowres

Photo by DAVID MCCLISTER -- Kristian Bush

In 2011, when Sugarland played Bayou Country Superfest in Tiger Stadium, Kristian Bush, who’s one half of that country duo, woke up on his tour bus, looked out of his window and saw Tigers football team mascot, Mike the Tiger.

“I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. We have come to the mecca of all football in the Southeast,’ ” Bush said from his home in Atlanta.

When Bush makes his second Superfest appearance this weekend, he’ll be without his Sugarland partner, Jennifer Nettles. Bush and Nettles are pursuing solo careers while Sugarland is on hiatus.

Bush released “Southern Gravity,” his sunny solo album debut, in April. Nettles released “That Girl” last year.

Because Nettles is the voice of Sugarland, convincing people that he can sing is Bush’s first challenge. He expects people to be puzzled Saturday when he walks on the Superfest stage.

“A dramatic number of people are going to look at me going, ‘Man, I know you. I love you. Wait a minute?’ And then there’s that weird pause. They’re like, ‘I have no idea what you sound like when you sing.’ ”

But when Bush sings his debut solo single, “Trailer Hitch,” many people will recognize the Top 20 hit.

When Bush crafted his “Southern Gravity” album, he applied experience he’d gained making debut albums for Sugarland and his earlier duo, the folk-oriented Billy Pilgrim.

“I know how to make first records,” he said. “The music has to quickly be intoxicating. You need to say whatever you need to say to them soon.”

Rhythm is the first hook. The beat must hold the listener long enough for Bush to sing the melody.

“That’s what this entire album is,” he said. “It’s music that I hope you’ll learn while I’m playing it.”

Knowing exactly what his musical mission was for “Southern Gravity” didn’t make it easy.

“I couldn’t be self-indulgent,” Bush said. “It isn’t about the hard times of my life. It’s not about me. It really should be about you.”

The “Southern” reference in the album title refers to Bush’s native South. A Tennessee native, he’s lived in Atlanta since college.

“I fell in love with the mystery of why we get pulled back to places,” he said. “And I realized that I just needed to call the music ‘Southern.’ It’s always been about the same thing. Stories, no matter how you deliver them.”

The release of “Southern Gravity” follows some dark years during which Bush got divorced and Sugarland, concert promoter Live Nation and 16 other defendants were named in a class-action lawsuit following the deadly Aug. 13, 2011, stage collapse at the Indiana Stage Fairgrounds. Bush finally feels as if he’s stepping into the light.

“For me, that’s this record,” he said. “There’s a lot of joy in it. It’s hard not to get behind joy. When I see people listening to this music and singing it back to me, I feel better. In a way, every time I play, I walk further into the light.”