Brantley Gilbert has seen his work crew plenty since the COVID-19 pandemic forced an early end to his 2020 Fire't Up Tour. Together, the country star, his band and his road crew built a massive "man cave," then a treehouse for his Gilbert's two kids. He and some musical pals went to Texas for a songwriting retreat; they also did some nighttime hog hunting, via helicopter, while they were there.

"It's like, we've been coming up with these little projects, really just to spend time with each other more than anything else," Gilbert shares during a recent phone call. "I feel like we've put a conscious effort into spending time together. And that's been that's been pretty cool."

But on Saturday (April 17), Gilbert and his band will get to do what they're really meant to do together: Play music, live onstage, for fans. Those opportunities have been extremely rare in the past year, and they've missed it — oh, have they missed it.

"I know people miss going shows, but I don't know if they know exactly how much we miss playing them," Gilbert says. "Getting out on the road and seeing everybody — that's a part of my job I've always loved. So we really are champing at the bit, and we're ready."

He's not just paying lip service; you can hear in Gilbert's voice how eager he is to return to his pre-pandemic way of life. "Being able to see the kids every day, it's been awesome," he notes — the star and his wife, Amber, have a 3-year-old son, Barrett, and a one-year-old daughter, Braylen — but the singer says even Amber understands he's a "certified road dog."

"On the road, we really are family ... It's almost like they have a 50/50 custody over me," Gilbert says with a laugh. "Just being on the road itself does something for me that, really, nothing else ever has ... [It's] reminded me I got a lot more — hopefully a lot more — in the windshield than I do in the rearview."

His Saturday night acoustic show, in Huntsville, Tenn., will follow a trail ride, led by Gilbert, at Brimstone Recreation. The event, which quickly sold out its 500 tickets, is raising money for the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund, and Gilbert is ready for a muddy good time.

"Trail rides are a blast. It's basically just getting on some machines and riding some trails -- hopefully through some mud and over some jumps and stuff like that," he says. He may have had few opportunities to get onstage recently, but he's been on an ATV plenty: He's got a number of family members who live so close by that they'll often zip over to each other's houses on those rather than in cars.

And after Saturday? Well, Gilbert will continue to find ways to keep himself busy at home — and keep (im)patiently waiting for the green light to hit the road once again.

"I'm growing my beard until the get me back on tour. It's a little bit of incentive," he says, explaining his quiet choice of protest. "This thing will be dragging the floor! I'm not cutting it."

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