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Lady Antebellum has just kicked off their Wheels Up Tour in support of their fifth studio album, 747. On the following slides, Dave Haywood (guitar, background vocals, piano, and mandolin) tells us all about the country trio's pre-show rituals, playing with openers Sam Hunt and Hunter Hayes, and planning for ampitheaters in an EW exclusive peek behind the scenes of the group's first weekend back on the road.
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Opening Night, Lubbock, Texas
747 was written on the road and recorded during breaks from their 2014 headlining tour and the effect is evident. "The record was based so much on touring," Haywood says. "In the past we’d come off stage and be like, 'Man, we had the crowd at a 10 at this moment and then we had to play another ballad.' When you’re on stage you realize, 'We need a moment here, we need a moment there,' to keep people excited and up on their feet. That was the basis for this whole record—playing these amphitheaters. You’ve got 10,000 people on the lawn alone. They’re out there for a big party."
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Family and Friends private concert in Nashville
The group hosted a show for their nearest and dearest in Nashville before setting out on tour and Haywood says he was far more nervous than he gets before any of the big shows: "Stick about 50 of our friends and family in a room and I’m about to pee my pants and then put me in front of 15,000 and I am good to go—not even a worry in the world. It is the most backwards thing but those are the people you know the closest, those are the people that you really want to impress. I was pretty nervous for that one. But then we get out in front of the fans and it's like, 'This is what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re having fun. It’s awesome!'"
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Lead singer Hillary Scott's daughter Eisele helps her mom get ready
Scott toured up through almost the end of her pregnancy in support of the last album ("Yeah, God bless her!" says Haywood with a laugh) but now her daughter, and Haywood's own recent addition, get to head out on tour with their parents, "Hillary had her daughter about 18 months ago and my son is 8 months and they were all out this first weekend. I think my son will just come every few weeks but he did great—slept on the bus way better than any of us! We would hit these awful, awful roads in Texas and Arkansas and I would look at the baby monitor and just couldn’t believe he slept right through.They do pretty amazing and they’re pretty adaptable—it’s so fun."
He continued, "From the early days of us being single and playing these county fairs, just running around doing silly stuff to now, I think we’ve kept the same energy and your family just grows. It’s been fun to watch our group of three grow into eight people with spouses and two kids. We always dreamed of being in a spot where you get to take your families out. We toured with Tim McGraw early on and we got to watch him with Faith and their kids and those were goals for us. It was, 'How do you get there? How do you manage that?'"
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Openers Hunter Hayes and Sam Hunt (not pictured) join the trio during their headlining set
"We have Hunter coming up with us for about three songs during our show. It’s a much more collaborative tour than we’ve had before. Sam’s out with us for a song, Hunter’s back up playing mandolin, playing guitar, it feels like a big family jam session sometimes. I can’t wait for the rest of the summer."
And as for that Sam Hunt everyone's talking about (read EW's Breaking Big feature on the singer), Haywood adds, "I gotta be honest, Sam is freaking awesome. I’ve been wearing out that record. From the second that he starts everybody’s on their feet. He is just doing something fresh and unique right now and people are loving it. It is so much fun to watch. I’m excited for him and that he wants to be out there with us."
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VIP Pre-show acoustic set
Before every show, the group hosts a smaller, acoustic performance backstage. "We’ve been doing that for a few years," says Haywood. "For us, that meet and greet is a pretty critical moment. You really are up close and personal with people who support you in so many ways. People get to see us laugh and tell stories and just perform songs, just sitting right there on that stool. I hope we never get away from that, letting people see that we’re real people making real music."
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The Dance Party
Right before the band go on stage, they have the "Dance Party." "I don’t think fans know this but we actually are backstage watching and picking winners for who’s dancing. I made this dance mix of super fun pop music and the camera guys are shooting through the crowd. The best dancers get to come down to the front row. It’s one of the most fun things for us—looking at all the different cameras and putting people up on the big screen. It just keeps with the theme of the record and the night—we just want to keep it fun."
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The boys host a nightly ping-pong match
It's not through a crazy tour rider that table appears each night—the band brings it themselves, "This is going to sound so diva-ish but we have our own ping-pong table that travels around with us. You know when you’re out on the road this much, your bus and your backstage is where you live 200 days out of the year. And we love playing—Charles and I are always on the same team, we’re called “The Dynasty,” and we always play against a bunch of band crew guys. We do it before every show and just laugh and drink. We have a traveling bar—we like to say that’s Charles’s gift for the year."
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Rehearsals in Nashville
"The goal is always, how do you amplify the songs without making them just go off the charts? We want someone in the very back row to still feel close to the lyrics so we worked really hard to stay in this theme of “Wheels up” with some really cool lighting that will make it look grand."
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But it's not all a big, big show. "You can still have simple moments that feel very intimate—we head out into the crowd on a smaller stage in the middle of the set, we still do some songs acoustic.That's what's gotten us to where we are. Keeping that is really a priority for us."
The Wheels Up tour runs through the first week in October. A full list of dates are on the band's website.