Social media masters, Thompson Square, are on the road again

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GREAT BARRINGTON — In 2010, husband-and-wife country duo Thompson Square released its first single, "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," which eventually hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart and went platinum. In 2011, the group produced its first album, "Thompson Square." Recognition at the CMA awards (vocal duo of the year) and the Grammys (best country duo/group performance) followed in 2012. The next year, the band finished "Just Feels Good," its second record.

But since this love-infused run that left many fans feeling flushed, Keifer and Shawna Thompson have released almost no new music. Keifer Thompson understands if some of them have strayed.

"The problem is, when you don't give your fans [new music] to consume, they find other things," he told The Eagle during a Monday morning telephone interview.

The Oklahoma native believes most have remained loyal during this period as the Thompsons have welcomed their first child, Rigney Cooper, in 2016 and said goodbye to their record label, Stoney Creek, in 2017. And now, Thompson Square is promising to reward those diehards with some new material.

On Friday night, the duo makes its second stop on the "This Is Us" tour, the Thompsons' first acoustic concert series, at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. While spectators can anticipate hearing its most famous song and other popular singles, such as "If I Didn't Have You" and "Everything I Shouldn't Be Thinking About," Thompson Square also plans to play brand-new and reimagined material, including some off an album scheduled to drop in early 2018. That record, and the tour, will document the highs and lows of this musical "hiatus," according to Thompson.

"[We're] just kind of taking you through the last few years," he said, mentioning houses bought and sold and "crazy" family members as potential influences.

Thanks to a highly active social media presence, the Thompsons haven't disappeared during that time. Both husband and wife regularly post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, sharing what, to many, are extremely personal aspects of life. Cooper is often the focus. When Shawna was expecting, they revealed the baby's gender in a balloon-filled Facebook video. An Instagram post followed on the day of their son's birth. Now, the group's accounts show the 21-month-old eating muffins and standing on stage before his parents' concerts.

"In the beginning, I wasn't a big fan of it, especially with Cooper [being shown]," Keifer Thompson said of the duo's social media activity.

He has since warmed to it.

"It's become just an everyday part of life, and I think our fans really appreciate it," he said.

He cited the group's recurring "Wino Wednesday" Facebook Live videos (in which the Thompsons drink wine, play music and interact with live commenters) as a particular effective tool for reaching fans across the globe.

"We see more people in one Wednesday than we do all year touring," he said.

The duo's social media prowess was one of the reasons the Mahaiwe felt it could host a prominent, contemporary country act, according to Beryl Jolly, the organization's executive director.

"I'm curious to see how we might use [Thompson Square's] social media and make sure the country fans find their way here," Jolly said in September. The Mahaiwe has since authored a number of social media posts about the show, including a Facebook video with the Thompsons promoting the event.

With rock and pop influences, Thompson Square's performances often include love songs with heavy harmonies and accompaniment. But strumming acoustic tunes is a return rather than a departure.

"We started out playing acoustic music way back in the day," Thompson said.

The couple met in Nashville during a singing competition in 1996. Keifer later challenged Shawna, an Alabama native, to a game of pool. He didn't know that Shawna's father had owned a pool hall.

"She kind of took me to school," Thompson said.

But, as he likes to say, they both ended up winning. The Thompsons have been married now for 18 years. Those years haven't all been blissful, with financial struggles and self-doubt common before the duo's breakthrough. (The lines bookending the refrain in "If I Didn't Have You" are fairly direct: "This life would kill me if I didn't have you."). Shawna certainly helped Keifer persist.

"She's a phenomenal person," he said.

He went further.

"I think she's the best female singer in country music. ... There's a realness to her voice that I don't hear anywhere else," he said.

And now fans will get to hear it again — in new contexts — too.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.






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