Alabama scored more than 40 No. 1 country singles, sold more than 75 million records and garnered more than 200 awards, including artist of the decade for the 1980s.

It’s time to add another distinction for country music’s biggest band of all time: the first major act to play in Minnesota during the pandemic.

Alabama will entertain outdoors Friday in Moorhead at Bluestem Center for the Arts and Saturday in Prior Lake at Mystic Lake Casino amphitheater.

“Our last performance was in October 2020 for Camping World/Gander Mountain; it was streamed live worldwide,” Alabama bassist/singer Teddy Gentry said. “We did an encore re-stream on New Year’s Eve with over 1.2 million viewers. It was the only show we did since August of 2019.”

Preparing to return to the road this summer for weekend-only concerts, Alabama has been rehearsing for about two weeks. Almost all of the singers, musicians and crew have been vaccinated for COVID-19. Still, the group is a little apprehensive.

“To be honest, it is a little scary not knowing what it is going to be like at the shows,” said lead singer Randy Owen. “Most of the cities we are playing in are opening up to 100% capacities in arenas and amphitheaters. I hope the people will be smart and still take precautions. I have not met anyone yet that wants to contract COVID-19.”

Even though Alabama is not requiring concertgoers to wear masks, Owen advises them to “pay attention on ways to avoid getting this devastating virus. We have safety measures in place for our band and crew and also all the venues we are playing.”

Health issues

Owen, 71, and Gentry, 69, who are first cousins, answered questions via e-mail last month.

Lead guitarist/fiddler/singer Jeff Cook, 71, the third Alabama principal and another (distant) cousin, is not touring with the group due to Parkinson’s disease, which affects his ability to play guitar and sing. Three musicians have taken over his onstage roles.

“Jeff is a strong person and a fighter,” said Gentry. “It would not surprise me if he feels good enough to show up unannounced if at all possible down the road. Jeff supports Randy and I continuing the Alabama live shows.”

While Alabama has been mostly missing in action during the pandemic, the guys weren’t exactly idle.

“Both Randy and I have farms, Jeff has a recording studio, and that has kept us busy,” Gentry said. “We all three live in Fort Payne, the same town [in Alabama] we were born in and grew up. It’s been good spending time with the family and friends when we could.”

Gentry and Owen are trying to stay in shape so they can tour three weekends a month. In addition to working out, the bassist had surgery on both his wrists.

“I feel like I am 25,” Gentry joked. “OK, maybe 30. Ha.”

A cancer survivor, Owen has a daily routine.

“I get up early, get some coffee, get my dog and get in the pickup truck and make my rounds around the farm checking on everything. That is when I sing. I exercise at my home gym, and I walk a mile a day at the farm.”

While on its 50th-anniversary tour in 2019, the band had to cancel a few shows because Owen was suffering from migraines and vertigo.

“That was a rough one,” he recalled. “It had happened one time before about 20 years ago. But I got with the best specialist and the vertigo is much less frequent and the migraines have stopped. What they told me is the combination of both is brought on by many things combined, but stress is a big factor. I’m working on that every day.”

Paisley sparked their reunion

Alabama did a much ballyhooed farewell tour in 2003-04, for which some VIP tickets cost $1,000. Then, like Kiss, Cher and other long-timers who’d done farewell tours, Alabama eventually returned to the road, in 2011, with no regrets.

“When we disbanded back in 2004, we felt we had given as much as we could have,” Owen said. “Working 350 days a year for 40 years is grueling. Then two things happened in 2011.

“Brad Paisley wrote the song ‘Old Alabama’ and asked if we would sing on the song with him. That got us together again and back in the studio, and it was fun, exciting and fresh.”

The second thing was a series of tornadoes in Alabama that killed more than 200 people and destroyed many homes and businesses. That prompted Owen to call his cousins and stage two benefit concerts.

“Being back in front of 15,000 people for those concerts showed the three of us that the public still wanted to hear our music,” he said, “and at the same time we were having a great time playing.”

During that hiatus, the lead singer released a solo album (“One on One”), undertook a solo tour, wrote a memoir (“Born Country: My Life in Alabama”) and continued his personal commitment to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. But Owen realized “it’s a lot more fun to play music with your cousins and hear that Alabama harmony” than performing solo.

Minnesota State Fair record

Whether entertaining at We Fest, the Minnesota State Fair or an arena, Alabama has long been hugely popular in this state. The group has played the State Fair grandstand 19 times — more than any other act.

“You know, there is something very special about the fans in this part of the country and us. We just see things the same way and our music relates to most everyone from farmers to blue-collar hardworking folks,” Owen said. “Our super fans in Minnesota are like family, and when we come to town it is a family reunion.”

While Alabama’s music is a melting pot, embracing country, bluegrass, blues, pop, rock, folk, R&B and Western swing, their songs avoid the Nashville tropes of drinkin’ and cheatin’.

“I think we like to write about and sing about real life, hardworking Americans, family, boyfriends and girlfriends,” Gentry said. “Guess no one told us to write songs about cheating and drinking. Think we did OK without them.”

Indeed. “Love in the First Degree,” “Dixieland Delight,” “Mountain Music,” “Tennessee River,” “Love So Right,” “40 Hour Week (for a Livin’),” “Jukebox in My Mind.” So many No. 1 songs that still resonate with everyone from teenagers to grandparents.

With multiple generations wanting to see Alabama in concert, Gentry and Owen show no signs of retiring. They even hint at new recordings coming, possibly this year.

“I really don’t know what I would do if I retired,” Owen said. “Maybe slow down a bit, but I will always write songs, record and sing if the people want to still come out and hear us.”

Fans also can go the Alabama Museum in Fort Payne and see the band’s awards and personal mementos. But ultimately it boils down to the songs.

“Jeff, Teddy and me want our music to continue to be heard 50 to 100 years from now,” Owen said. “That is our mission and legacy.”

Alabama

Friday: Bluestem Center for the Arts, Moorhead, Minn., 7 p.m. $69.50-$225. etix.com

Saturday: Mystic Lake Casino Amphitheater, Prior Lake, 8 p.m. $49 and up. ticketmaster.com

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