One week after Backroad Anthem singer Craig Strickland was laid to rest, his band was back on the road talking about new music and their plans for 2016. The decision to carry on was easy, they say. Actually doing it? Not as easy.

Two sold-out shows in Fayetteville, Ark. were quasi-tributes to Strickland, a 29-year-old who died on a duck hunt with a friend in late December. Guest artists filled in for the singer, but one misconception is that he was the group's lead singer. In fact, he was one of two. Toby Freeman also fronts every song on Backroad Anthem's new Torn EP, so they're not really paying attention to the many audition videos they've gotten to replace Strickland.

They have, however, paid attention to the Strickland family's feelings through this trying time.

“We did reach out to them and got their blessing,” Freeman tells Taste of Country as his bandmates nod along in agreement. "Craig’s dad has been amazing to us and Randy has given us his full blessing … Craig’s wife (Helen) as well. They all came to the shows.”

There was a very practical reason the band needed to get back on the road. Yes, they realize the tragedy has brought them attention that three years together had not yet, but they weren't looking to simply strike while the iron was hot. The band is their livelihood and has been for several years. Three of the five men are married, and one other is engaged. Two have kids.

Beyond that, though, Backroad Anthem were on the verge of something big prior to Strickland's death. They'd regularly load up in a Sprinter van and drive to Nashville to write or meet with producers and record labels. Their manager is Justin Moore's manager. Simply put, they're good. Strickland was a big part of that, and the guys know they'd be doing his hard work a disservice if they quit.

Backroad Anthem Torn Single
In2une Music

“It’s been hard, but I don’t think it crossed any of our minds to stop or any of us doubted it," bassist Brandon Robold says. "Craig wanted this more than anything. He had so much drive and passion to take this thing to the top, so when this happened we were like, ‘What’s the best way we can honor him?’ (That’s) by keeping going full force.”

"Torn" is the single. The mid-tempo heartbreaker is Rascal Flatts meets Jason Aldean. They get comparisons to both, but admit their influences are much more eclectic. Robold grew up on funk and R&B. Freeman is the country-rocker. Guitarist and fiddle player Josh Bryant and Eric Dysart are the bluegrass guys, while drummer Isaac Senty is a pure rocker.

Look for Backroad Anthem to play nearly 150 shows this year as they continue to chase a dream Strickland helped them shape. Also look for a new song called "We Were Here." It's not on the Torn EP, but everyone agrees that the song — the last one Freeman and Strickland wrote together — is special in a dozen different ways.

Remembering Craig Strickland

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