In one of his first appearances as a solo artist, Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley headlined last night’s “Rolling Stone Country Live Nashville” event, powered by Ram, at City Winery. With help from a five-piece band, the Georgia native played songs from his upcoming solo project. Newly-signed Sony artist Maren Morris got a piece of the action, too, opening up the show with country-soul numbers like “My Church” and “I Wish I Was.”
“Everyone gets a free Ram truck after the show!” Kelley joked, referencing the evening’s sponsor. He kept the conversation going between songs, too, many of which were co-written with Abe Stoklasa, who joined Kelley’s band on pedal steel, lap steel, saxophone and piano. A former member of Billy Currington’s road band, as well as the writer of songs like Tim McGraw’s “Portland, Maine” and Lady Antebellum’s “Lie With Me,” Stoklasa also sang Dierks Bentley’s verse during a set-closing performance of “The Driver,” which also featured a soaring cameo by co-writer Eric Paslay.
Originally planned as an EP, Kelley’s solo project is now being turned into a full album, thanks to an enthusiastic response from his label. Only six songs have been completed, though — including “Your Love” and a slow-smoked, emotive ballad called “Leaving Nashville” — which forced Kelley and company to get creative during the City Winery show, tossing covers like the Band’s “Ophelia” and Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents” into the set. “Southern Accents” will apparently make an appearance on Kelley’s album, too, reborn as a duet with frequent Petty accomplice Stevie Nicks. For the screaming Lady A fans in the jam-packed house, Kelley also threw in a solo version of the multi-Grammy-winning “Need You Now,” with a seamless segue into the John Waite classic, “Missing You.”
The City Winery show won’t be the last time Kelley and Morris share the stage. The two are hitting the highway later this month, kicking off a national tour several days after Thanksgiving and wrapping up just in time for Morris’ stint on the Cayamo Cruise in late January. It’ll be a club and theater tour — a downgrade from Lady Antebellum’s usual shows in arenas — but Kelley is looking forward to the challenge that smaller rooms provide.
“I miss that,” he said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone Country, likening the upcoming trek to Lady Antebellum’s very first tour. “You get so used to screaming and everybody knowing all the songs, and there’s something really fun about getting out of your comfort zone.”