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Tim McGraw, Faith Hill Staying Soulful For Another Summer

Of the Oakland Press

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You'd have thought Tim McGraw and Faith Hill made their point with last year's Soul2 Soul II tour.

The 73-show, 55-city jaunt -- which included two nights at the Palace of Auburn Hills -- was the richest country tour ever, raking in nearly $89 million. With its in-the-round staging, it was also the top show of the year for 33 of its stops, and the trade magazine PollStar named it the Major Tour of 2006.

Yet McGraw told reporters earlier this year that even after all that, "it didn't feel finished. It felt like we had some more to do and some more ground to cover." So now he and his wife, with their three young daughters in tour bus tow, are back from Soul2Soul II part deux, playing another 44 shows and already setting attendance records in Omaha, Neb., and St. Paul, Minn.

Hill, 39, says the couple -- which married in 1996 and staged their first Soul2Soul Tour in 2000 -- "learned a lot" in 2006. "We learned that we wanted to do it again," she noted. "The second thing is that we knew when we did it again we wanted to bring it back with just everything that we learned."

That, McGraw says, means making changes to what he considered a "pretty formulaic" presentation last year.

"This time we just wanted to tear up the guidelines of how to do a show," McGraw, 40, explains "and come up with a way to do it that was seamless for three hours that...all works together and it's seamless and you never know when something's gonna happen and pop up."

Another concern was to make sure this year's outing was different even beyond what McGraw and Hill planned for their performance. "It couldn't be exactly the same as last year -- not inside or outside," says McGraw's co-manager Kelly Wright.

"Tim has always loved the idea of continuing the make the party bigger, and both Tim and Faith, as we went into this year, really wanted to continue to add value for fans -- especially while they were outside, lined up and waiting to go inside."

To address that, Soul2Soul II added the MyGIG Infotainment Stage, which starts rolling at 5 p.m. with performances by Halfway to Hazard, a band on the Stylesonic Records label owned by McGraw and producer Bryant Gallimore, and Lance Miller, whose producers, the Warren Brothers, frequently collaborate with McGraw. The idea for the second stage, according to Wright, was inspired by seeing the number of people that crowded around karaoke stages outside venues on last year's tour.

"Soul2Soul is the kind of tour where people want to get there early and hang out and do the outdoor parking lot party," she explains. "People seemed to be really responding to (the karaoke), so putting some live music out there seemed like a natural fit."

Singer-songwriter Lori McKenna, another Stylesonic artist who opened for McGraw and Hill indoors for the first portion of the tour, says the outdoor music has gone down a storm with the crowds.

"The sound is great out there, and the crowds have been really good," she says. "People really come early and get ready for the show. It's a big hit with them."

Inside, meanwhile, McGraw and Hill have made a few changes to their show, primarily in song selection -- going deeper into catalogs that, between them, have sold almost 65 million albums and notched 35 No. 1 country singles. In June the couple -- which has a hit duet, "I Need You," on the charts -- also received a special Career Achievement Award from the Academy of Country Music.

"We don't bring a show together because we're married," explains Hill, who's working on some new songs for a greatest hits album due later this year. "We bring a show together because we feel like we can give the fans... great music and a great show.

"It's really all about the music, and we just get out there and we have fun."

But even though the family likes to play together, McGraw says he and Hill are carefully protecting their individual identities -- and careers -- as well.

"Touring together is another natural for us," he says. "But we also don't want to kind of just stick it in everybody's face all the time. We do each have individual careers that are very successful and are run differently. Everybody knows us and knows that we both pretty much run our careers and know what we want and how we want to do it.

"So that's very important to us that we keep our identity as individual artists."

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill bring their Soul2Soul II tour to town at 8 p.m. Wednesday (July 11th) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Taylor Swift opens, and Halfway to Hazard and Lance Miller perform outside the Palace starting at 5 p.m. Tickets are $92.25, $68.25 and $52.25. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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