Something extraordinary happened between the time tickets went on sale in January and when Lady Antebellum walked onstage Wednesday night (March 10) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium: In a matter of weeks, they became major stars.
When the concert was first announced, it appeared to be a typical promotional device to boost the trio’s standing in the Nashville music industry by having them headline a show at country music’s most famous concert venue. As it turned out, they’d already grabbed the music industry’s attention in a much bigger way by winning a Grammy and releasing a new album that has already sold almost 1.3 million copies.
When Wednesday’s concert, the first of two sold-out shows at the Ryman, rolled around, the trio’s new album, Need You Now, had just returned to the top slot on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart some six weeks after its release. The title track, which spent five consecutive weeks atop the Billboard country chart late last year, has now crossed over to other radio formats and is currently No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. And, of course, they were awarded a Grammy in February for best country performance by a duo or group with vocals for “I Run to You.”
Opening with “Stars Tonight,” a track from the new album, the trio got the audience’s attention immediately and kept the fans enraptured for the next hour and 20 minutes.
Lady Antebellum’s music is filled with hummable melodic hooks and strong harmonies, and their appeal becomes even more obvious in concert. The trio — Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood — have no problems recreating those vocals in a concert setting and appear to take great pleasure in working together onstage. These days, you can’t necessarily take those two factors for granted.
With just two albums to their credit, they don’t have a vast catalog of material to draw from, but even the album tracks stand up favorably to radio hits such as “Love Don’t Live Here,” “Lookin’ for a Good Time,” “I Run to You” and the current single, “American Honey.”
It was refreshing to hear the vocal harmonies backed by a truly great four-piece band. With just guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, the music was allowed to breathe as the musical dynamics became more pronounced without a bandleader trying to direct a dozen or more musicians and background singers. In addition to the four band members, Haywood repeatedly demonstrated his considerable talent as a rhythm guitarist — a skill that’s all too often overlooked aside the flash of fleet-fingered lead guitarists.
Lady Antebellum seem most comfortable performing the sort of music they’ve recorded for their albums, but there was a nice moment when they invited the band to the front of the stage for an acoustic version of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway.”
Singer-songwriters Randy Montana and Josh Kelley — both signed to solo deals with the Universal Music Group Nashville — opened the show with brief sets. In the informal setting, Scott talked about her lengthy friendship with Montana and later sang harmonies on one of his songs. Charles Kelley praised the talents of his older brother, Josh.
During Lady A’s set, the trio invited the opening acts back to the stage to help sing a rousing version of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” It would have been a perfect end to the evening, but Lady Antebellum performed several other songs afterwards before closing with “I Run to You” and returning with a string section for the encore song, “Hello World.” While it’s easy to quibble with the order of the set list, there’s something to be said for any young country act that covers Hank Williams and Tom Petty during a concert.
As for Lady A’s headlining status at the Ryman, it will be good practice for them. With the sort of success they’re having, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be opening shows for other artists next year.View photos from the concert.