Eddie Montgomery, of Montgomery Gentry, has never been known for beating around the bush. It was the group's directness, in fact, that first appealed to fans: The duo rose to fame with big-hearted, manly songs and refrains of devotion to all the things nearest and dearest to country music's heart.

In 1999, Montgomery Gentry broke into the spotlight with "Hillbilly Shoes," an ode to a country lifestyle often threatened or ridiculed by those who don't understand it. "Daddy Won't Sell the Farm" returns to themes of the clash between country life and urban spread. "My Town" and "Where I Come From," songs that came out in 2002 and 2011, respectively, are hometown homages, and 2004's "Something to Be Proud Of" tells the story of a father and son reflecting on the values of hard work and family that add up to a life well lived. "Lucky Man," released in 2006, is a song about gratitude for the good things in life.

Over the course of their 20-year career, Montgomery Gentry's discography has made one thing clear: The duo has a gift for speaking plainly in the three-chords-and-the-truth style of country authenticity. That's why it comes as no surprise that, when The Boot called up Montgomery to talk about the band's future following the unexpected death of Montgomery Gentry's other half, Troy Gentry, on Sept. 8, 2017, he was quick to bring up the nerves he felt in advance of the group's upcoming tour.

"Let me tell you, I've had some sleepless nights over this," Montgomery tells The Boot, "because I've been so used to looking to my left all these years and having T-Roy right there. For a little bit, I was talking to myself and thinking, 'Man, can I do this or can I not?'"

Aside from an appearance at the 2017 CMA Awards in November, Montgomery Gentry's 2018 Here's to You Tour will be Montgomery's first time performing without Gentry since the band's inception over 20 years ago. Montgomery and Gentry first met in their home state of Kentucky, where they soon began playing together with Montgomery's younger brother, John Michael Montgomery. Through the formation and dissolution of a handful of early bands, as well as some solo performances, Gentry and Montgomery kept coming back to their creative partnership, and ultimately formed the band that became Montgomery Gentry in the mid-90s.

"All these years, us guys have been out there as a family and as brothers," Montgomery explains.

Even without Gentry, though, Montgomery will be far from alone on tour: The duo's backing band is also an important piece of the Montgomery Gentry family.

"[We've helped] each other get through a lot of things, not only music-wise but also personally-wise," Montgomery explains, "and this is one of [those things]. So we're all gonna step it up ... and we can't wait to get out and honor T-Roy and let it rock."

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The Here's to You Tour, which kicks off on Friday (Jan. 19) in Sioux Falls, S.D., will be in support of the group's final album, Here's to You, which Gentry and Montgomery finished recording shortly before Gentry's death. While the album won't be out until Feb. 2, Montgomery definitely has plans to incorporate the new stuff into his live performances.

"We're gonna put some new stuff in. We definitely got to have that," he says. "T was [the] big man on campus about that. He was always [saying], 'Let's get the new music out! Let's get the new music out!'"

According to Montgomery, though, the tour will also be a chance to revisit some old fan favorites: "We don't call anybody fans, we call them friends," Montgomery explains, "and our friends are gonna let us know what they want to hear."

Montgomery Gentry's country music family has supported the group through some tumultuous times over the years. Both Montgomery himself and Gentry's widow, Angie, are cancer survivors. Montgomery's son, Hunter, died of a drug overdose in 2015, and, just a month before his death, Gentry lost his father. Those are only a handful of the tragedies that have beset the duo over the years, too, but Montgomery remains optimistic and grateful for the opportunities they had together. Plus, he knows he has a duty to Gentry to keep the group moving forward. The pair discussed exactly this kind of scenario years ago.

"We talked to each other and said if either one of us went down, we wanted Montgomery Gentry to keep on rocking," Montgomery tells The Boot. "So I know T-Roy's gonna be with us, and he's gonna be pushing us, and he'll probably be telling us after the show what we did wrong."

As devastating as it is to lose a creative partner, Montgomery Gentry's 2018 tour will also be a kind of celebration, not just of Gentry's life, but also of the band's 20th anniversary. Montgomery tells The Boot he's excited to get onstage and connect with all his friends in the audience.

"We're just gonna let it flow, man. That's the way we've always done it," he says. "We hit the stage, and whatever happens, happens. That's the way people like it."

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