Kristian Bush knows how to share a stage and Rita Wilson is adept at lighting up a room, so together, they’re a winsome pair. 

At the kickoff of their joint tour on Wednesday at Center Stage, Bush, the Decatur-residing, Grammy-winning Sugarland musician and Wilson, the successful multi-hyphenate (actress/producer/singer) played to an intimate crowd fortunate to experience their collaborative spirit. 

Taking the stage at 8:45 p.m., the pair dove in adventurously with the debut of a new song, “I Need You.”

It became immediately apparent that the partnership between Bush – who has written songs with Wilson on her three original albums – and Wilson is one of equality. They shared the stage for the majority of the two-hour show, casually swapping stories and spotlighting their respective quick wit.

Backed by a crisp five-piece band, including Brandon Bush on keyboards, Wilson and Kristian Bush also ceded the spotlight to the other when appropriate.

Kristian Bush performed Sugarland and solo songs along with his Rita Wilson collaborations at Center Stage on June 5, 2019. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wilson, in a flowing black patterned dress complemented by her radiant smile, bounced through the country-pop of “Big City Small Town Girl,” the lead song from her current album, “Halfway to Home.” Bush countered with his lackadaisical summer strummers “Bar With a Pool In It” and “Flip Flops,” (“Walk responsibly,” he joked at the end) before Wilson returned to share a story about the twosome drinking too much wine at a writing camp and coming up with “Pay Me in Wine,” a country-laced toe-tapper also on Wilson’s new release.

While Wilson isn’t a powerhouse singer, she possesses a lovely voice capable of delivering an emotional punch, which she demonstrated on the plaintive ballad, “New Girl” (about the circular nature of cheating) and “Heart He Handed Down,” a beautiful song about family roots featuring Bush on mandolin and Brandon Bush on accordion.

Rita Wilson released her fourth album, "Halfway to Home," earlier in 2019. On June 5, she played with Kristian Bush at Center Stage Atlanta. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

She’s also a delightful presence who not only complements Bush’s affability, but also knows when to sit on the sidelines, as she did during Bush’s low-key performance of the Sugarland fan favorite, “Baby Girl.”

Bush, meanwhile, brought out another musical buddy, Edwin McCain (“I’ll Be”), with whom he’ll be working in a new band and readying a release for later this summer. 

The Wilson and Bush tour will hit several more cities in June, including Nashville, Washington D.C. and Boston (they’re playing many City Winery locations – an appropriate-sized room for their storytelling-filled concert). It’s a rare pairing worth catching. 

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About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.