Sam Hunt couldn't be more "excited" to finally get back to performing.
The country music star is one of the scheduled artists for the Red Rocks Unpaused virtual music festival. Hunt joins famous faces like Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and Phoebe Bridgers for the three-day, digital-only event presented by Verizon-backed Visible.
"I haven't really played very much, I haven't really done much of the online thing, so I thought it was a good opportunity to connect with some of our fans who we haven't been able to connect with for quite a while," the singer tells PEOPLE exclusively. "I'm excited to have a chance to play in that setting with all of our equipment set up and all the guys in the band and crew."
"It'll feel more like my stage than just flipping the phone up on a bookcase and playing a song over the internet. I'm really looking forward to having the chance to spread our wings a little more than we have," he adds.
The event runs from Sept. 1-Sept. 3, when Hunt, 35, was meant to be in the middle of his now-canceled Southside Tour to celebrate the release of his acclaimed second album, released earlier this year.
For the GRAMMY-nominated artist, hitting the road gives him the best opportunity to "connect with our fans more than anywhere else. I don't necessarily always feel like I'm really connecting with them online in the same way I'm able to in the live show setting."
"That's something that I'm certainly missing right now," says Hunt on why he was stoked to take part in Red Rocks Unpaused, which will re-imagine Colorado's historic Red Rock Amphitheater ("one of my favorite venues in the country") online for fans — for free.
Hunt's latest collection, Southside, debuted atop the Billboard Country Album charts upon its April release. The album took six years to complete, and the star wasn't going to let a global pandemic get in the way of getting it out. "My energy was, come hell or high water, we're going to put the music out," he says.
"It's hard to say whether or not the music will have reached as many people, considering the circumstances that we put the album out under, but as it turns out, it created plenty of time to work on new music," Hunt reveals, assuring fans they won't have to wait as long for new material. "So there's no excuse not to be working now to help get my music out sooner than later going forward."
If there's one thing the musician is known for, it's the honesty he conveys in his music, frequently documenting the ups and downs of his longtime relationship with wife Hannah Lee Fowler, whom he married in 2017. For Hunt, who "likes to have vulnerability and authenticity" in his music, it's about finding the "fine line" of what to put in a song and what to keep private.
"I run everything by her and make sure to get her sign-off. I'm not sure that I'm honest to the point that I need to run it by anybody other than my wife," he admits. "She's really big on authenticity, so sometimes I can get a little too big for my britches and write songs that are outside of my character. Not only my literal character, but even the character I might be able to pull off in a song. She cares to keep me honest when it comes to that as well, even when she's not involved in the song."
As for when she's not on board with something, "if I'm trying to do too much or getting out of my lane, she's like, 'Nah, you can't go there. You need to dial it back in.'"
The couple have spent the last six months at their Nashville home, and with Hunt away from the road for a rare extended period of time, they've had to figure out the right "balance" like any couple quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We've grown a lot, and we've had a lot of great conversations because there's nothing else to do but talk," he opens up. "We've worked a lot of things out that we've brushed under the rug, so that's been great."
"We're both really independent people, so our time to ourselves or our time to pursue our own interests is really important," Hunt admits. "A lot of that stuff involves leaving the house and being around other people, so some of that has been put on pause, which has been fine, but we've figured out ways to cope with it. We figured out how much time we need to spend together to maintain a healthy relationship. We've got that balance down pretty well now."
This has been the most time the star has spent at home with his wife since they wed three years ago, pointing out that "when we first got married, we took off on a tour and were on a bus for six months."
"I spent a lot of time in the studio working on this record, so there were several months that I was out in the studio until all hours of the night, and then I'd sleep in and miss her," he explains. "So I was able to pump the brakes and take a deep breath with her, which was helpful."
Late last year, Hunt was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and possessing an open container in Nashville. The singer has not shied away from the "disappointing" incident, saying he hopes it serves as an example for the fans he has influence over.
"I wanted to make sure not to abuse that or let my actions reflect my attitudes towards things," he says. "I just want to make sure that people knew that was not at all something I condoned. Coming up in life, you're around people who have different attitudes towards drinking — and even driving while drinking — and that's something that is a very serious issue. It's something that I want to make sure people know that I take very seriously, even though my actions didn't necessarily reflect that that night."
"But I was very disappointed in myself, I want to make that clear," Hunt adds.
It's that same honesty and authenticity that Hunt hopes to bring to the stage for Red Rocks Unpaused this week as he plays a set featuring songs both old and new. The free event takes place Sept. 1-Sept. 3, beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT each night, and fans can tune in via Twitter and VisiblexRedRocks.com.
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