It's a showbiz axiom that what's called overnight success is usually anything but. In the case of Lady Antebellum, however — who hit a hometown venue with their full touring show for the first time on Feb. 22 — the phrase fits almost literally. After all, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott are barely four years past the release of their first single and headed toward a quick string of anniversaries that includes their first album release, first CMA award (New Artist, 2008), first No. 1 country hit (coming up on three years ago) and a long series of more recent awards, hits, sold-out shows and high-profile appearances. And while that kind of rapid rise isn't unheard-of, the fact that it started just months after they got together pretty much is.
Indeed, the group's beginnings form a distinctly Nashville story, with a cast that includes recent transplants, a second-generation Music City musician, and a plotline built around songwriting collaborations and the little gigs that songwriters play every day at clubs around the city — plus, in a nicely modern twist, a healthy amount of attention paid to social networks.
Scott is the Nashville native, the daughter of country music's Linda Davis and Lang Scott. She started writing early, but as kids do, she also locked on to the Internet early, and in 2006, she discovered Charles Kelley's songs on MySpace. The two connected serendipitously a few months later, and together with Kelley's roommate, Haywood, they began writing — obsessively, you might say, in the way that young writers in Nashville often do. By the end of the summer, they had a batch of songs that they thought were pretty good, and they took the next step that young writers in Nashville often do: finding a place to play on at least a semi-regular basis — in this case, the old, smaller (and therefore less intimidating) 3rd & Lindsley.
Which is where the "overnight success" story starts to kick in. Though it's generally denied, Scott's connections might have had something to do with that. But when you talk to folks who remember those shows, it's pretty clear that things were going to happen for the trio regardless. The rails might have been greased a bit, but the track was laid with hard work (including adept use of then-hot MySpace and other nascent social media) and a catchy, almost startlingly well-crafted sound.
Yet although they've been hugely successful — and hugely rewarded for it — Lady A hasn't gotten quite the amount of acclaim here that you'd expect for an act so strongly rooted in the city and industry. The reason? Why, it's that same well-crafted sound — one that nods in so many directions to pop influences (Fleetwood Mac is frequently invoked) that it provokes the kind of "that ain't country" grousing typically reserved for carpetbaggers. Curiously, their very success beyond country radio and country venues is held up as evidence not of outreach, but of a problem — even though the trio has given its share of support (and maybe more) to projects like the All for the Hall fundraisers for the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Still, if that grumbling stings, the wounds appear not to be very deep. These are, after all, youngsters still, and in the way that their sudden success appears not to have thrown them into stereotypical excess and attitude, they're also disinclined to worry about naysayers. Instead, they're launching the second wing of their Own the Night tour, which ended 2011 with a strong showing and looks to be one of the big ones of this year — and they're more than happy to give a taste to a big hometown crowd.
As for the rest? As Kelley told NPR last fall, "We love all kinds of music. ... So I don't really take offense as long as people are coming out to the shows and buying the records and becoming fans of the music." There's an attitude that's just about as Nashville as it gets.