A Lady Antebellum summer show goes like this: From the lawn to the front row, a crowd jams into the venue. They will scream. They will dance. And when Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley sing “Need You Now,” the biggest of the group’s many chart-toppers, the crowd will join in.
This we can say before the show even happens — which is why the group wants to surprise you. “How do you introduce a big song like that as something fresh?” mused guitarist Dave Haywood, who founded Lady Antebellum 12 years ago with Scott and Kelley.
Haywood was in the midst of rehearsals for the group’s summer tour, which includes a July 21 show at Darien Lake Amphitheater, when he asked him to share background on what fans will see. The following insights, all in Haywood’s words, are edited for space and clarity:
I lose a lot of sleep on the flow of the whole night. I put myself in the shoes of people from the second they walk into the amphitheater. How is the experience going to be great for them?
Yesterday I spent eight hours working on the music that’s happening while people walk into the show. What’s going to be the flavor? What’s going to set the tone? What’s the right song to play on the speakers after we finish our show? I was sitting with Hillary and Charles, going through iTunes. We want the entire experience to be something that’s representative of us, what we love and who we are and what we want to say.
Charles is a classic rock dude. He knows everything about each Beatles and Stones record, and Zeppelin drum fills. He’s great about finding cool Tom Petty songs or Stevie Nicks deep cuts. For cover songs and music before and after the show, he’s our theologian on the classic rock library.
Hillary is our pop girl. She keeps me in the loop on what’s young and hip and cool. She’s throwing at me Bruno Mars’ “Finesse.” It’s a fun one.
I like to pull some ‘90s country, like Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It.” We’ll throw in some Coldplay, Adele – we love the European-British kind of stuff; we tour a lot over there, too. We want to get some good high-energy country in there, whether it’s Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean or Florida Georgia Line, as well as fun, upbeat pop, some of the new stuff like Dua Lipa or Chainsmokers.
“You Look Good” is one of the bigger songs in the setlist of late.We spent a couple days figuring out how to build that song up so when the horns hit – bah-ba-da-dah... – people recognize that as the signature to the riff. Get people out of their seats. I’ve got like 12 trumpets and 12 trombones and five tubas all in Pro Tools that I’ve mixed down to hopefully make it sound like a big marching band that hits. How do you make that horn part make people go, “OK, you look good, baby. This is my jam”?
It’s always fun to tweak some of the older songs like “Need You Now” or “Just a Kiss” or “I Run to You.” Sometimes it’s fun to hit the piano riff out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s fun to have Hillary sing a little bit of the verse kind of down in a vibe-y way with cool lighting and electric guitars. We’ve probably played “Need You Now” thousands of times. We were rehearsing yesterday, and our guitar player Slim had some cool ideas on a new way to start it with an electric guitar intro. I was like, “Dude, that was so sick. Great job.”
We carve out some spontaneous moments. “Bartender” is one. From the last chorus out, just see what happens. Follow the drummer, or follow Charles’ lead, follow Hillary’s lead. We don’t rehearse “Love Don’t Live Here” or “Downtown” – some of the fun ones – as much. If Charles wants to break it down and get the crowd to sing along on “We Own the Night,” we’ll follow you, dude. We’re good. We’re all a band. We can play in a club, we can play in an arena. We’re good.
Ideas are always welcome at the table. We don’t just smile and nod and say yes to each other. The beautiful part about being in a trio is we do have a lot of "no" people in our lives. Any one of us may throw out an idea, and it may be something that ends up being great, but if the other two people are immediately like, “Man, I’m not digging that, I don’t think it’s the right call,” we move on.
Our quote we always use is, “Dare to suck.” So Hillary will be like, “Okay, I’m going to dare to suck, but what if we did this crazy thing when we enter the show?” Someone else might say, “That’s cool, but what if we did that with the encore?” It’s a great, healthy working environment for us as a trio. I don’t think we’d be a band today if it wasn’t. To still be in a healthy place 12 years later, you have to have that kind of respect: listening, taking everybody’s ideas and respecting them and moving to a great place with them.
Lady Antebellum, with Gavin DeGraw and Russell Dickerson
7 p.m. July 21 at the Darien Lake Amphitheater; $25 and up (livenation.com)