“I feel like I can touch everybody,” Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley said with a smile last night, while standing on the small stage at the McKittrick Hotel in New York. And actually, he could. The tiny crowd of about 200 Citi card holders and NASH-FM radio station winners enjoyed an intimate, exclusive album release performance with a country-crossover trio that normally headlines arenas.
Lady A’s fourth studio album, Golden, had been released just hours earlier.
“We played clubs like this when we first started out,” Kelley said, clearly having fun. Fans, all “civilians” with the exception of supermodel Kate Upton, heard four songs from Golden, along with five older hits, before lining up for a post-performance meet & greet and photo session.
Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank, did not have its logo plastered all over the place.
“This isn’t about Citi,” said Jennifer Breithaupt, Citi’s SVP of Entertainment Marketing. “This isn’t about brand placement. It’s about great music and giving fans a unique experience, and a card that unlocks this exclusive event so you can get into something that nobody else can get into.”
Breithaupt is herself a Lady A fan. “I have not heard any of the new album yet, and I’m excited to hear as much of it as possible live.” she said.
Marcie Allen’s MAC Presents produced the event for Citi, and has more on the way. The company specializes in marrying major national brands with live music events, and is helping Citi with its sponsorship of the Rolling Stones’ "50 and Counting Tour."
At one point during the show, New York City’s country music “hole” was embarrassingly highlighted when Kelley held his mic to the crowd and invited the audience to sing the chorus to the country hit “I Run to You.” Not quite crickets, but enough people didn’t know the words that Lady A’s Hillary Scott burst out laughing, and the other group members went along with it. (“I Run to You” was number one on the Billboard Country chart in the summer of 2009, when New York City didn’t have a country format radio station, and it got little pop-radio airplay.)
Moments later, before launching into the mega-hit “Need You Now,” a number one song on both the Billboard country and pop charts, Kelley said, “This is why you guys know us.”
John Foxx is confident that the genre is building in New York. The program director at the five-month-old radio station NASH-FM, New York’s first country station in 17 years, said “We’re building the NASH brand; we’re building a family. Events like this, where people can get up-close and personal with these artists, are a big part of it.”
The event had a tie-in with Musicians On Call, a non-profit that sets-up live performances inside hospitals. Lady A not only made a donation to MOC through its LadyAid Foundation, but the trio will perform in the pediatric unit at a New York hospital this week. For the kids too sick to get to the kids zone to see them, band members will go room-to-room to sing.
“We’re so grateful to Lady A. They don’t do this to sell records. They don’t do this to promote an album. They do this because these three people really care,” said Dr. Leslie Faerstein, executive director of Musicians On Call.
Big tours, big offers, and big artists are par for the course for Citi with its Citi Private Pass program. “We’re not just working with the Rolling Stones, but with Justin Timberlake and Jay Z, and others,” said Breithaupt.
“Lady Antebellum is an arena trio, performing in this small venue, which they don’t have to do,” she added. “Country is a big category for us, with big appeal.”