“This is the most fun we’ve had out on the road in our career,” the trio’s male lead singer Charles Kelley tells the crowd at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center at their Aug. 11 stop on the tour.
While they’ve had memorable tours in years prior, with the addition of horns on this trek, the Kelley and his bandmates (co-lead singer Hillary Scott and guitarist Dave Haywood) recognize that energy has been taken to another level. And especially since this is the band’s first tour in two years, there’s plenty of excitement circling on both ends.
During Lady A’s NJ stop with openers Brett Young and Kelsea Ballerini — “Ken and Barbie,” as Kelley refers to them — the group sat down with Billboard to dig a little deeper into what’s making this tour so special and how touring over the years has impacted them (and let us be the first to tell you, sitting all three members down at once results in some pretty entertaining banter). Check out our chat, including some exclusive tour photos, below.
How do you think touring has impacted you guys as a band?
CHARLES KELLEY: One of the best things I ever heard was Darius Rucker saying, “Back in the day, they used to tour to promote their record. And now we put out a record to promote our tour.” And it’s just the way the business has changed. I wish people dug into a record more and more, but the truth is, it has become a singles game. And we recognize that.
I think that’s why you’ve seen us, over the past few records, lean more into songs that fit our live show. I think we’ve done that enough now where we’re ready to dig into some of those good album releases, some of those ballad moments. To us, the gauge of success now, is not going to be album sales ever again. And we’re not the newest thing, but to me it’s keeping the fans coming out to the show — having that experience, and having a catalog of music that people want to see.
HILLARY SCOTT: And to be able to travel the world and perform live. I think that we are very, very grateful to have had a couple of songs go further than we ever would have imagined. They’ve allowed us to really take it global. We feel very blessed — there aren’t very many that get the opportunity to do that.
KELLEY: To me, it keeps me young. I beat the hell out of my body on the road, with all the drinking, but it’s fun. I don’t feel 35 on the road. It makes me feel like I’m freakin’ in college.
Well, not to age you, but you now all have families to take on the road with you. How has that changed things?
SCOTT: We definitely flip a switch. At a certain time, it’s like, “Okay Eisele, it’s time for bed. Mom’s gotta go do a show.” It’s definitely an adjustment, but it’s fun. We enjoy what we do so much because we feel so lucky to have such incredible families at home, but that also get to travel with us. For me, it really amplifies the whole experience. There’s nothing better than walking off stage, getting on the bus and looking at the baby monitors, seeing Eisele conked out in the bunk — knowing we’re going to have breakfast in the morning, and that we get to do it all again tomorrow. It’s really special. And now that the kids are getting old enough to where they’re playing together…
KELLEY: [Pointing at Haywood] You and Hillary, every day, they’re talking about Moana and this, and now my 18-month-year-old kid [son Ward], he’s already obsessed. We’ve watched Moana a thousand times. But those cartoons are amazing! They’re making it so that we can enjoy it — almost more than they do.
SCOTT: I’m really proud that our children are drawn to musical movies. The ones that aren’t really musical, Eisele’s kind of like, eh.
KELLEY: I kind of think that’s why he like Moana even more than he likes, like, [Finding] Dory. Because there’s not great music in Dory.
SCOTT: Tangled, that’s a good one.
That’s a great one. Another big change you’ve had this time around is the addition of horns. How do you think that’s elevated things outside of just making it more fun?
SCOTT: I think for us, it’s just made a lot of songs throughout our career from the first album to the most current one really fresh. They’re adding horn parts to “Love Don’t Live Here,” and a lot of songs that we’ve been performing live for a long time, and so just adding a layer of musical depth and a freshness that I think we didn’t really even know we needed.
KELLEY: The horns have just added a different element of I think energy, just with the band. We’ve been with the same guys for a long time now, and to have two new buddies out there and to add to the dynamics of it keeps it fresh and energetic.
DAVE HAYWOOD: Even in the past month, I’ve noticed “You Look Good” really kind of take off with the audience and more people sing along than ever. It’s been fun to watch that song grow and the progression of what it’s done for our career — it’s kind of shifted and shaped a lot of where we’ve gone this year and the sound we’re going for, the way the show is paced, the energy of the live show.
KELLEY: I remember being at a point where I felt like all of our biggest songs were a lot of mid-tempo or ballads where it was tough to have a set list. I remember after our third record, being like, “We need some more ass-kickers.” So all of a sudden, we had “Downtown,” “Bartender” and “Long Stretch of Love,” and now I feel like I would love to have some more actually chill, you know, super chill moments up there. I hope we get to have some good ballads out there on our third or fourth single to kind of balance it all out. We’re kind of loaded up with the ass-kickers.
Dave, you mentioned that people are starting to really sing along to “You Look Good” — what are some of the other sing-along moments of this tour’s show?
SCOTT: “You’re Still the One,” every night.
KELLEY: We’ve been doing Shania Twain’s song “You’re Still The One” and that kind of hits kind of close to us being a band for ten years. You know, it’s like, “You’re still the one that I run to.” We just feel these parallels about it, you know, so that’s always a special moment. It’s just Dave on the piano and I sing it and lighters in the air, so that’s always fun.
Shania was actually in the audience recently to see that, wasn’t she?
HAYWOOD: Yeah, in Toronto. It was pretty nuts.
SCOTT: The pressure was on Dave, because he’s the one who has to sing and remember the lyrics.
HAYWOOD: I was terrified too like, ‘God, if I mess this up.’ I normally like to say something briefly before that song, and I just remember fumbling over everything I was trying to say. We met her backstage — we heard she was coming, you know, so everyone was kind of a buzz like, ‘Shania is supposed to be here,’ you know, it’s like the Queen is coming, she’s so massive. It’s like royalty is in the building. And she took an Uber.
She Ubered? Can you imagine being that driver?
SCOTT: I mean, she was already like the pinnacle of cool to me, and that just set it off.
KELLEY: Even Dave has a personal driver.
HAYWOOD: My wife. [Laughs.]
You’re technically higher in the ranks than Shania Twain then [Laughter]. So wait, back to the sing-along question…
KELLEY: “You Look Good,” too. Whatever your current single is I think that gets, you know, second to “Need You Now,” I think, for the rest of our career [Laughs]. That one is starting to really become the party jam in the set — I can tell that’s going to be, for the rest of our career, probably the top three performing songs for us.
What’s the other one? “Need You Now” and —
KELLEY: Probably “Bartender.” Yeah, “Bartender” and “Need You Now.” I would say those are right now probably the three biggest reaction songs. But “Heart Break” is going to be our second single — out of the whole [new] record, it’s one that’s like, other than the single, that you can see the reaction from the most.
SCOTT: And “Good Time To Be Alive” — it’s one of those easy to learn because the chorus is so singable. Then we kind of mash into “Lean On Me,” which makes it kind of this “Kumbaya” thing in the audience.
Is there a part that’s particularly emotional?
SCOTT: Right kind of smack dab in the middle of the set, Dave is on an upright piano and we do a medley of the song I did on the family record [Love Remains, a Christian record by Hillary Scott and the Scott Family] “Thy Will” into “Hello World.” We went to a lot of live shows when we were on our break, Adele and a handful of others, and one thing that I took away from each show that I went to was that every one of them took an opportunity to inspire or to say something that they felt passionately about — a message that they wanted to get across. And that’s kind of our moment in the show to remind everybody, “share your story.” Because it connects.
Don’t doubt if you’re story is important. We all have different walks of life, and we’re up here onstage. You might go to a classroom, or you might go to a cubicle. But your life is telling a story, and there’s someone who needs to hear what you’re going through and what you’ve been through. That is definitely where it gets very real in the show.
Do you have any fan encounters during a meet-and-greet, or any time you’ve been talking to a fan, that is like, a memory that will stay with you forever?
SCOTT: Yesterday. We were in our VIP acoustic performance before the show, and this woman raised her hand and said, “I lost my dad three months ago. Y’all’s music has just helped me walk through grieving that.” It was really real, and really brave of her to share that in a room full of people. It happens, fortunately, every day at some point — someone either writes a letter, or shares on socials, or tells us in person. You never lose the impact of those moments, even after all these years. The way that music connects with people, it’s so therapeutic and healing. It’s a powerful, powerful thing.
And it’s like a constant reassurance from the fans.
SCOTT: And just that it’s bigger than us. It’s bigger than us, it’s bigger than them. It’s this beautiful, intangible thing that makes it really special.
That’s amazing. Has there been a specifically special show on this tour, like a venue you’ve never played before?
SCOTT: Hollywood Bowl. First time Hollywood Bowl. Charles’ favorite show since Hollywood Bowl is Omaha.
KELLEY: The next night [after the Omaha show], I said Omaha.
SCOTT: We were in Arkansas.
I mean, they rhyme.
KELLEY: That was a very inspired show. It felt really great. The crowd was with us every step of the way.
HAYWOOD: You’re only as good as the crowd. I mean, I love Hollywood Bowl, but I won’t say that was the best crowd that was with us.
I feel like you have the kind of fan base that’s going to be similar in every city in terms of passion.
HAYWOOD: Sometimes you catch people on a Sunday, maybe they’re getting ready for work. Somehow in Omaha, everything was in line, and it was just kind of this flawless night. From a landscape and environment standpoint, Hollywood Bowl was just iconic, for that reason that everybody knows. Because of the history, and the way it looks, and the mountains behind it. That was just kind of an iconic moment. Thinking about all the people that have been there.
KELLEY: We’ve got a big turnout tonight, but there’s a lot of really strong country fans up here in the Northeast. I bet we’re bigger up here than we are in our home state of Georgia [Laughs]. We find that big cities, big towns, West, East, I don’t know why, for some reason it connects a lot more.
Did you tell the Omaha crowd that they were the best that you’ve seen?
I’ve always wondered if artists tell that to every crowd.
KELLEY: We try to specifically not do that. I think it’s a pet peeve of ours as fans of shows, so we try to have those moments where we try to have impromptu things, genuine moments. Our set list is mostly mapped out, but we work very hard to have spontaneous stuff.
HAYWOOD: Once you start having video content and stuff, and people with lighting cues…
SCOTT: We don’t have any content that’s video footage to where our vocal live has to match what’s on the screen. You feel too closed-in. It works great for a lot of other artists. But just with the three of us up onstage, you never know what Charles is going to do. You just gotta keep it loose.
Is there a spontaneous moment from this tour that you remember as pretty awesome?
SCOTT: It’s when the spirit moves ya!
HAYWOOD: The Omaha karaoke one was pretty cool.
Omaha is just killing it!
HAYWOOD: I hope that’s the headline.
Yeah, “Omaha Is Lady Antebellum’s Favorite Place In The World.”
SCOTT: College World Series, and…Lady A’s favorite place.
KELLEY: How did you know that’s College World Series?
SCOTT: Because I know that.
KELLEY: Because you dated baseball players.
SCOTT: Actually, you want to know why I know? It’s because my aunt and uncle are die-hard Texas A&M fans, like any sport, and they always, when they go, they always… it’s on Facebook.
KELLEY: Because you did date a couple of baseball players.
SCOTT: I don’t remember. I’m married. [Laughs.]
You guys are clearly still getting along after all these years! Would you say that this is your favorite tour?
KELLEY: The newest is always the most fun. The Own the Night Tour, because it was our first big tour, I will say was like, crazy, crazy special. But now we’re at a point where you have a full show full of songs people are singing, and that’s what makes it great. There’s never a lull, and we used to have lulls. And you’d be playing on them, and it’s like, “here’s where people go pee, here’s where you go get a beer.”
I think the minute we don’t enjoy it as much, I wouldn’t’ say we wouldn’t do it, we would do it. But it would become more of a job. I don’t think we could do it at this extent. We’re having fun.