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Lady Antebellum scores with winning formula

Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood get their first look at the sold-out crowd. All photos: Robb D. Cohen

Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood get their first look at the sold-out crowd. All photos: Robb D. Cohen

Take two good-looking, talented guys, a pretty girl with honeyed vocals and a batch of polished country-pop.

 Hard to go wrong there, isn’t it?

 That’s the formula that has launched Lady Antebellum from middling country trio to Grammy-hog superstars in just four years and it’s a recipe that sold out the Gwinnett Center Arena Friday night.

 The threesome of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood are so successful because of the sum of their parts. Scott’s sweet voice nicely complements Kelley’s nasal twang, and while Haywood is a tremendous talent who easily bops from guitar to mandolin to guitar, he’s also the shy type who might have otherwise toiled as a Nashville studio musician if not for Lady
A.

 Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. Those Nashville players and songwriters are some of the best in music.

 But instead, Haywood and Co. are bestowed with arenas full of fawning fans, shelves of awards – they scored five Grammys last year and one in February – and the type of luxury perks that come with having the fifth-highest grossing tour of last week, taking in more than a half-million per gig.

 That kind of success also requires tireless commitment, and at Friday’s show, Kelley dripped with it, whether slapping hands and autographing signs for fans or strutting down the thermometer-shaped catwalk with a playful swagger.

 The Gwinnett date was a homecoming of sorts for Kelley and Haywood, both Georgia bred and graduates of UGA.

 After “Our Kind of Love,” which featured some tribal-like drumming from Scott’s husband, Chris Tyrrell, Kelley plopped a UGA baseball cap on Haywood’s head, prompting a roar from the crowd (earlier in the show, a Georgia Tech logo flashed on screen during Darius Rucker’s set, which received a different reaction).

 Scott, meanwhile, reminded the guys of the days when the band performed at smaller venues such as Eddie’s Attic and Wild Bill’s. Don’t expect to see them back there anytime soon.

 While it took Scott about halfway through the 90-minute show to look comfortable, or at least as if she wasn’t merely going through the motions – though who could blame her, really, since this leg of the tour has been chugging along since January – Kelley took command of the stage.

 “I want to see some cell phones and lighters in the air,” he directed for “Dancin’ Away With My Heart” (side note, that ratio was about 3,000 cell phones to one lighter) and injected real passion into “Wanted You More.”

Fans flooded the front of the stage and a special open-mouth area behind the catwalk.

Fans flooded the front of the stage and a special open-mouth area behind the catwalk.

 Haywood took a brief spin in the spotlight to introduce “Just a Kiss,” one of the band’s six No. 1 hits, before playing piano on the song, then later ripped out an amped-up guitar solo at the end of “Love Don’t Live Here.”

 Considering that Lady A and their five-piece band have been on the road since last fall, the concert was a tight, slick affair and the band’s inoffensive songs filtered cleanly throughout the arena.

 A highlight came when the power trio, as well as the rest of the band, hoofed it to the end of the catwalk to roll through “American Honey,” then brought openers Thompson Square and Rucker back out for fun, upright-bass-heavy covers of “Midnight Rambler” and “Black Water.”

 Rucker even detoured from the set list to throw in his own “Let Her Cry” before the band slipped back in for “I Run to You.”

 There is nothing groundbreaking about Lady A, but their appeal as a trio is understandable – just ask 13,000 hoarse fans today.

 Rucker’s opening set shouldn’t go without mention, though, because the former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman produced a well-crafted hour-long performance that pulled from his two country albums, his ‘90s frat-rock days and a catalog of covers.

 Looking slim in jeans, cowboy boots and a baseball cap, the gravel-voiced singer and a six-piece band including mandolin, fiddle and pedal steel guitar, sounded robust throughout the set.

 He brought his three kids out for a brief hello before the ballad, “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” and rollicked through “Only Wanna Be with You” as if it were 1995 again. And then suddenly it was 1974 and Rucker was happily crooning Steve Miller’s “The Joker” (we might have a new addition to the covers list).

Darius Rucker, looking thinner than his Hootie days.

Darius Rucker, looking thinner than his Hootie days.

 While his country songs hit the requisite themes – whiskey and heartbreak in “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” sweet tea and politeness in “Southern State of Mind” – Rucker never came across as disingenuous.

 As if to prove that his country roots run deep, he also performed Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition,” telling the crowd that Hootie & the Blowfish played it regularly, starting with their first tour in 1986.

 So this isn’t new terrain for Rucker, which was apparent in his completely comfortable and cool performance.

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By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene

15 comments Add your comment

David

June 23rd, 2012
7:12 am

This would be accurate except that Dave Heywood is the musician playing the guitars and piano while Charles Kelley has the velvet voice. Oh, and HIllary is hardly nasally. Melissa obviously doesn’t listen to much country music!

rap

June 23rd, 2012
8:33 am

The article is correct with Dave Haywood being the musician. No e in Haywood. Awesome show.
I agree with comments on Hillary taking a few songs to get into it.

Mel

June 23rd, 2012
10:05 am

I would like to add that I took my 10-year old to this concert as she is a huge Lady A. fan. I felt this was 100% appropriate for family entertainment. There were several grandmas in our section, teenage girls with their dads, young couples on a date night and family groups. WORTH EVERY PENNY I spent on the fix and I will see them again when they return in the future. On another note, if you read the history of the band, Hillary never even attempted a solo career because she could not handle the nervousness of being onstage alone. I do not think she was bored or coming across as tired….I think she suffers from stage fright to a degree. I have been to numerous concerts (all genres of music….not just country) and this would be in my top 3 of all time! (Btw…I am 45 and drove two hours to see this concert).

Mel

June 23rd, 2012
10:06 am

correction ****worth every penny I spent on the tix (tickets)*****

MyPatootie

June 23rd, 2012
11:53 am

This article was somewhat remiss in not pointing out that both guys graduated from high school in Augusta, Ga. I know it’s not ATLANTA, but it is still in GA, and Augusta is proud enough of them to name a new ampitheater after them. They had two consecutive night sellouts in Augusta in May. Also, it should have been mentioned that Hillary is the daughter of Linda Davis, who sang for and with Reba McEntire for many years. FYI

Mia M.

June 23rd, 2012
12:51 pm

I was there and it was absolutely amazing. It was worth every dime and more. Lady A is a class act, their music is amazing and they’ll be around for a long time.

Dan

June 23rd, 2012
6:10 pm

They need to turn down Hillary’s mike, whe was out of key and flat all nigtht. Quite frankly her voice has no business on the same stage as Kelly. (of course she looks good but….)

DawgNole

June 24th, 2012
1:45 pm

MyPatootie

June 23rd, 2012
11:53 am

This article was somewhat remiss in not pointing out that both guys graduated from high school in Augusta, Ga. I know it’s not ATLANTA, but it is still in GA, and Augusta is proud enough of them to name a new ampitheater after them. They had two consecutive night sellouts in Augusta in May. Also, it should have been mentioned that Hillary is the daughter of Linda Davis, who sang for and with Reba McEntire for many years. FYI
_____________________

No, it’s not Atlanta, but it’s not Augusta either. It’s actually Evans, GA.

Your patootie indeed.

Amazing

June 25th, 2012
11:02 am

I attend concerts on a regular basis (both country and mainstream) and this was by far one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. They were amazing from start to finish and the energy was high. (Didnt hurt I was on the floor by the stage). So proud of them since I’ve been attending their shows since they were playing a 30 room bar.

Alex

June 25th, 2012
7:22 pm

I like Lady Antebellum, but no review on Norah Jones? ajc has nothing. What’s up with that?

Melissa Ruggieri

June 25th, 2012
11:31 pm

Hi Alex – unfortunately, I was out of town this weekend so I couldn’t attend Norah’s show. I had hoped to talk to her to preview the concert, but she wasn’t doing interviews. How was it?

Melissa

Alex

June 26th, 2012
7:37 am

Melissa, it was very good. The music was a bit different from what we’ve heard previously, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought she interacted with the audience quite well too and of course it’s always fun going to the Fox.

KT

June 26th, 2012
1:18 pm

Wow, no mention of the sold out Iron Maiden show at Lakewood on 6/23/12….country and pop…that’s all you cover…what worthless fishwrap the AJC is…

Melissa Ruggieri

June 27th, 2012
4:13 pm

KT – As I said to Alex, who asked about coverage of the Norah Jones show, I was out of town over the weekend so I wasn’t able to cover any of the numerous shows that took place Saturday.

And Alex – thanks for the reply. I thought the Fox seemed like a good fit for her.

Cheers,
Melissa

cathy

June 27th, 2012
4:43 pm

That was a amazing concert went friday nite with my older daughter and they where amazing in GA