Lady Antebellum: Before they were famous

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When country hit-maker Lady Antebellum started putting together dates for its first headlining tour, there was one place the group knew it had to visit.

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Columbia County musicians Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley collaborate with singer Hillary Scott in the award-winning country band Lady Antebellum.  Special
Special
Columbia County musicians Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley collaborate with singer Hillary Scott in the award-winning country band Lady Antebellum.

"It's funny. Right when they sent us all the tour dates there wasn't an Augusta show," said band member Dave Haywood, who graduated from Lakeside High School along with co-lead singer Charles Kelley in 2000.

"I was talking to Charles saying, 'We've got to do Augusta. My mom's (going to) kill me if we don't do Augusta,' " said Haywood, who sings backup vocals and plays guitar and piano for the group. "We have so many great friends and family and high school buddies, and we wanted to do something. It was really important for us."

The trio, which is rounded out by Nashville, Tenn., native and co-lead singer Hillary Scott, brings its Need You Now Tour to James Brown Arena on Monday night for a show that sold out in seven minutes.

It also will perform a sold-out lunch-break acoustic concert the same day at Bell Auditorium to benefit the Medical College of Georgia's Children's Medical Center.

The last time Lady Antebellum performed in the area was in 2008 for Kicks 99's Guitar Pull.

It has been a dizzying ride to the top for the band: four consecutive chart-topping hits; a crossover smash single with Need You Now ; one of the hottest albums in the country; and two Country Music Association awards Wednesday.

Through all the success, the band has remained true to itself and its roots, according to friends, family and fans, who attribute Lady A's achievements to hard work and flawless harmonies.

"They all have their role, and each role is important," said Kelley's father, Dr. John Kelley. "They get the most enjoyment when they see their fans having a good time, and they know that they have made a difference. They are having a good time."

Both involved in music

Lady Antebellum formed in 2006 after Kelley and Haywood quit their day jobs, moved to Nashville and met Scott.

But the first seeds of the band were planted when the Haywood family moved back to Augusta in 1993 after living for about a decade in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Haywood's father, Dr. Van Haywood, taught at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry.

Haywood and Kelley met as students at Riverside Middle School in Evans. They were friends, but the musical partnership wasn't immediate.

Haywood was enmeshed in music from a young age with his family.

"We're a musical family. My wife and I sang together from the time we dated, and then we got married," his father said. "All our kids started on piano when they were 6 years old. When we would go on car tours, we would harmonize when we were driving."

He taught his son guitar, and Haywood also took up clarinet in middle school. In high school, Haywood played in a jazz band with Kelley's brother, Josh, who is now embarking on a country music career after having several hit songs as a pop and indie artist.

Haywood also sang in Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church's youth choir, Love Unlimited, serving as the president during his senior year of high school.

"He was very focused, unlike a lot of high school kids at that time. He seemed to really know that he wanted to do something in music for a lifetime," said Danny Key, the minister of music at the church. "He really worked hard at his musical instruments. He had already begun, even as a senior in high school, to make arrangements of songs."

At Lakeside High, Haywood was given the senior superlative of "most talented." He was a good student and was also on the tennis team, where he played doubles.

"Everybody liked him, and he was just a good guy," said Christa Burch, who taught him math at the school. "It's exciting when you can see someone live out their dream."

For Kelley, music was also always a part of family life, his father said, but he added that the brothers "really took it to a new level."

As teenagers, the Kelley brothers had a band called Inside Blue with two other young local musicians, Pat Blanchard Jr. and Adam Hatfield. The act, which was mostly Southern rock, traveled across the area performing at functions for their peers and adults.

They sold all 1,000 copies of a mini-CD they produced and were approached by Augusta's James Brown for a record deal, which they ultimately turned down.

"They could sing. That made them stand out," John Kelley said.

Charles Kelley also plays the drums and was an avid golfer growing up. He was given the senior superlative "best all-around," and his teachers recall his upbeat personality.

"He was one of the kinds of guys who was always positive and smiling," economics teacher Alex Bailie said. "He was fun to be around."

Kelley and Haywood wrote their first song together at the University of Georgia, where they graduated with degrees from the business school.

"When we were in college, I was roommates with his best friend, so I literally saw him every day at the house," Haywood said. "He would come over, and I would just be playing guitar. I remember one day our senior year he came over and said, 'What was that chord progression that you were playing?' I said it was just a little something, and he said, "Play it again," and started humming something. ... We ended up writing our first song senior year together. When we graduated we stayed in touch."

Kelley took a job in construction in Winston-Salem, N.C., while Haywood worked in Atlanta doing computer security. When Kelley decided to move to Nashville to try his hand in the music business, he invited Haywood to go along.

Josh Kelley offered to let them stay in his Nashville home.

After forming a duo and playing around town, the friends met Scott and were introduced to her music through MySpace.

Scott is the daughter of country singer Linda Davis, perhaps best known for her turn as the other woman in the Reba McEntire duet, Does He Love You .

They decided to get together and write songs. What started as a songwriting partnership soon became much more.

"For us, we try to make everything we do genuine," Haywood said. "Even when we were starting as a band, we really started as a writing group and hoping we could write songs for other artists. We said if we want to be a group, let's do it the right way and be organic."

A string of hit singles

Lady Antebellum received a recording contract with Capitol Records Nashville, and its first single, Love Don't Live Here , was released in fall 2007. It hit No. 3 on Billboard's country chart. The third single off its self-titled debut effort, I Run to You , hit the top of the charts and earned the group a Grammy and a Country Music Association Award for single of the year.

Now on the second album, Lady Antebellum has seen a string of four consecutive No. 1 hits. Its latest single, Hello World , is climbing the charts.

The band's success comes with a lot of hard work -- and some luck, said Haywood's mother, Angie.

"They just seemed to be the right place, right time, right look -- different look, a different style," she said. "It was unique."

The band's high-energy performance style has drawn many fans, as has its Web-savvy interactions such as "Webisode Wednesday," a feature in which the band takes fans behind the scenes of its music with an online video.

The band's videographer, Adam Boatman, films the segment. He is also an Augusta native, a Lakeside High graduate and a friend of Haywood from their time singing together in church and at local coffee houses.

"We just kind of came to Nashville without a plan wanting to find our passion," Haywood said. "We have so many memories together. It's such a great friendship, and I think it keeps us all grounded on the road."

Denise Dangberg, of Nebraska, helps run the blog and Twitter feed called Lady Antebellum Fans, along with Stephanie Clayton, of Pennsylvania, and Amanda Rezny, of Nashville.

"One thing I think is great is they write pretty much all of the songs that they do," Dangberg said. "They have great harmonies, and they blend well together. Seeing them perform together onstage you can tell that they are great friends and have great chemistry together."

With all the accolades, the band is still lauded for its genuineness. Angie and Van Haywood said their son makes sure to include his two siblings and his parents in the success, taking them to award shows and other appearances.

The Kelley family still makes time to get together at least once a year at John Kelley's house in the mountains, where he moved after practicing cardiology in Augusta for nearly 30 years.

"The thing I love most about them is they are down-to-earth people," said Luke Reeve, a Lakeside High School student whose family has known the Haywoods through church since 1999.

Reeve's father, Tim, is an assistant principal at Lakeside. The band once performed a surprise concert there, and when the school got a new principal this year, Haywood and Scott took a picture with a note welcoming him to the school.

Scott also surprised Luke with a phone message singing him Happy Birthday when he turned 16.

"I was ecstatic," Luke said. "I saved it and showed it to my friends."

Augusta's still special

Haywood said the benefit show at Bell Auditorium was important to do to give back to a community that has influenced the band and to give another chance for hometown fans to see them perform.

"It's a really special place. It's not just someplace I lived for a year or two," Haywood said. "It's where I cut my teeth and grew up."

The community also has embraced the band. The road surrounding James Brown Arena will be ceremonially renamed Lady Antebellum Way during the visit. The band members will each receive a key to the city.

The shows in Augusta should be special, many said.

"There will be new fans and old friends there," John Kelley said. "It will be like a reunion."

Is the band planning anything special for the show?

"We're still deciding," Haywood said.

What they say about Lady Antebellum

- "It was just this magical energy that happened between them with writing and performing. No wonder they're a supergroup. I think it's awesome." -- Patrick Blanchard Jr. , an Augusta musician and guitar player for singer Shawn Mullins who played in the band Inside Blue with Charles and Josh Kelley as teenagers

- "Success has not gone to their heads. They are true to how they were raised." -- Tim Reeve , an assistant principal at Lakeside High School and a family friend of the Haywoods

- "They post webisodes (videos) every week, which is something a lot of us look forward to. Through those you get to see their personalities and how real they are. They are very genuine." -- Denise Dangberg , a co-operator of the blog and Twitter feed Lady Antebellum Fans

- "When (Dave) started taking piano lessons at a young age, he had a real aptitude for memorizing, as well as getting it right -- perfection. I could see that from an early age." -- Angie Haywood , Dave's mother

- "Charles is a driven individual who is a tireless, energetic performer, and he never is still. He's always thinking and always planning ahead." -- Dr. John Kelley, Charles' father

Comments (7) Add comment
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Dr.J
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Dr.J 11/14/10 - 12:05 pm
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They were lucky to have

They were lucky to have neighbors who never complained about their band practice.

DaveMustaineRules
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DaveMustaineRules 11/14/10 - 12:20 pm
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Good two see at least two

Good two see at least two graduates of Lakeside made something of themselves and that the school receives some positive recognition. Residents of Columbia County have for too long been focused on the rampant drug use and class/race discrimination which takes place at that school.

Also, good for these guys for giving back to the community. Although I had never heard of this band until reading this article, they are using their success to raise money for a worthwhile institution.

mable8
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mable8 11/14/10 - 02:32 pm
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Never heard of them in any

Never heard of them in any music field...hope they're good.

DaveMustaineRules
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DaveMustaineRules 11/14/10 - 03:24 pm
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They are a country act. Not a

They are a country act. Not a fan of that genre at all, but apparently these local boys have had some professional success in country music.

JENNPAT
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JENNPAT 11/15/10 - 02:24 pm
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thanks antebellum for all the

thanks antebellum for all the great music and for not forgetting Augusta I don't know where all these people who say they have never heard of you arefrom.I guess they don't like country music they sure need to listen to some.Wishing you well with both of the shows you are going to do and to hear they are sold out that is great

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 11/16/10 - 01:03 pm
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well-done and interesting

well-done and interesting profile, erin.

CharlesB
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CharlesB 04/02/11 - 10:53 pm
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Pat Blanchard Jr will have

Pat Blanchard Jr will have success soon. that cat can play and sing with anyone. I think it's a matter of timing, but if he gets any chance, he will hit it off huge. i am pulling for him and I reallllly think he will make it big. Go get 'em PBJ.

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