Lady Antebellum isn’t quite through their first song (“We Owned the Night”) at Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, but singer Hillary Scott can’t pull the smile off her face – the Monday night gig marks not only the band’s first show of 2018, but its first ever gig at Red Rocks. The fans have come in droves, filling the 70 rows rising between the stage and the moon-hung sky with adoring signs and out-stretched beers.
This night has been a long time coming. In the 12 years since the band started out gigging around Nashville clubs like 3rd & Lindsley, Scott and her bandmates Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley have filled what they call their “I Love Me” rooms with two Billboard Awards, five American Music Awards and seven Grammys, among other prizes (Scott hangs her 4-year-old’s drawings on her walls). But unlike their country music compatriots in Jason Aldean and Sam Hunt, they still don’t have “A Piece of the Rock,” the glass and sandstone trophy given to each artist that headlines Red Rocks.
SeriesFest, a television festival in the spirit of Sundance, solved that. Each year, the entertainment industry conference hosts a concert at Red Rocks to pair with its centerpiece pilot. Lady Antebellum was a natural choice for this year’s pick of Yellowstone, a land-rights drama starring Kevin Costner that is set among the brambles of Montana.
“When we first started, we never imagined we would be here,” Scott says, sitting among her bandmates in her dressing room. “We’ve been able to take our music all around the world, from the Sydney Opera House to the Ryman in Nashville. This is one of those venues on that list.”
(One band member didn’t have to wait so long. This was the band’s first show with drummer Ian O’Neill, who’s filling in for Scott’s husband Chris Tyrrell while he watches their infant twins. Kelley kept O’Neill humble: “We woke up this morning, hopped on a jet and came to Red Rocks, but I told him, ‘Don’t get used to this. We’ll hit up some Motel 6s.'”)
“It feels reverent back here,” Haywood adds. “It feels historic, like when you’re touring Europe. There’s just something in the air, knowing its history.”
Kelley, an easy presence and the group’s resident charmer, is practically buzzing. Between swigs of water, he thumbs through his favorite live albums and concert films recorded at the venue out loud – the Allman Brothers, the Dead and Widespread Panic, who just wrapped a three-night stand at the venue on Sunday. “Dave and I grew up on a lot of Dave Matthews,” he says. “He’s done a lot of sh…” – he catches himself – “…stuff here.”
If an artist hasn’t done their homework on the venue’s legacy, the walls are lined with reminders. A few minutes earlier, the band members added their names among the hundreds of artist signatures that stripe the venue’s signature tunnel. Elsewhere, the walls are flush with framed photos of landmark shows from the likes of the Beatles and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“The first thing we saw when we walked in was a picture of Stevie Nicks on the wall,” Kelley says. “We’ve done a cover of [Fleetwood Mac’s] ‘Landslide,’ but we haven’t done it in a long time.”
Scott laughs. “I was thinking of all the artists that we could ever dream to see play here live, and I thought, ‘We should play songs from all those artists live tonight.'”
While the band couldn’t spare the week of stage time that would take to pull off, it did dip into a pair of covers in its 15-song set. An aching rendition of “Landslide” came at the halfway point, showcasing Lady A’s bread and butter: Shivering, pitch-pipe perfect harmonies. The group saved its second tribute for the second encore: Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One,” a popular choice as of late. Belting the chorus, the crowd met the band with a volley of cellphone flashlights, arm over shoulder, swaying out the night.
These massive crowd-pleasing concerts are a gimme for Lady Antebellum at this point in their career. But like the odd show at altitude, the top can be a dizzying place, especially if you don’t know where you’re headed.
“We’re embarking on that journey right now,” Scott says of the band’s next project. “Over the last several weeks, we’ve been coming out of this break and are just now getting our heads wrapped around that. We’re all so much more present than we have been in a really long time.”
“We’ve been a band for 10 years,” Kelley adds. “That’s longer than … you see a lot of bands last, and that’s because tension happened. We feel like even when we’ve had that, we’ve always come out stronger on the other end. It’s kind of exciting to see how long we can do this thing, you know? We might not always be able to play Red Rocks, but we’ll play the hell out of 3rd & Lindsley.”