Headlined by seven-time Grammy-winning trio Lady Antebellum, Saturday at Bayou Country Superfest in Tiger Stadium featured one of the festival’s strongest lineups yet.
Set times for this year’s Superfest headliners have been pushed back from previous years to 10 p.m. Lady Antebellum began a few minutes early, opening its 1 hour, 20 minute show with the group’s recent and, for a country song, unusually funky hit, “Downtown.”
There’s little about Lady Antebellum’s music that’s all that country anyway. Starring dual lead singers Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott and multi-instrumentalist and harmony vocalist Dave Haywood, the group is a pop act in all but name. And a great pop act.
Scott and Kelley seamlessly share vocals. Playing off one another in dramatic fashion, they have great chemistry that deftly exploits the deep emotions that so often power the group’s songs.
For instance, “Goodbye Town,” a song from Lady Antebellum’s latest No. 1 album, “Golden,” reinvigorates the familiar theme of small-town restlessness via a heartbeat pulse and signature Lady Antebellum longing and heartache. Power ballad “Just a Kiss,” a million-seller from the trio’s 2011 album, “Own the Night,” also pours forth the emotion.
The driving “Better Off Now (That You’re Gone),” another new song from “Golden,” again showed how much contemporary country music owes in general to classic rock and, specifically, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Scott, who, with her husband, Lady Antebellum drummer Chris Tyrrell, is expecting a baby in July, took a seat alongside Kelley and Haywood for a performance of another poignant Lady Antebellum favorite, “Dancin’ Away with My Heart.”
Audience members throughout the stadium held lit cellphones high as Scott and Kelley sang of a love cut short, emoting during the chorus: “I haven’t seen you in ages. … For me you’ll always be 18 and beautiful, and dancing away with my heart.”
The trio’s band members joined Scott, Kelley and Haywood at the front of the stage for an acoustic set containing one of Lady Antebellum’s genuinely rootsy songs, “American Honey.”
The troupe got maybe its biggest response after Kelley introduced a performance of a song he called one of his favorites, the Kenny Chesney hit “Back Where I Come From.” The latter special moments became even more special when Darius Rucker and husband and wife duo Thompson Square, all of whom performed earlier in Tiger Stadium, made an en masse guest appearance with Lady Antebellum.
Leaving the stage at 11 p.m., Lady Antebellum quickly returned for an encore that included the group’s massively popular 2010 super ballad “Need You Now” and the Rolling Stones’ 1969 classic “Honky Tonk Women.”
Miranda Lambert, the Texas firebrand who immediately preceded the night’s concluding act, did her own great version of a rock classic from 1969, the Beatles’ “Get Back.”
Despite not being on the top of Saturday’s Superfest lineup, the tremendous reception Lambert received topped the crowd’s reaction to Lady Antebellum. She earned it by unleashing both the most rocking show of the day and the most country.
Shifting easily from the heart-tugging reflection of “The House That Built Me” to the country-rock swagger and grit of “Fastest Girl In Town” and “Gunpowder & Lead,” Lambert stole the night.
Rucker’s crowd-pleasing mid-evening performance combined his country hits of the past five years with songs from his years as front man for pop-rock band Hootie & the Blowfish.
Also on Saturday’s bill, Thompson Square may owe more to Fleetwood Mac than Johnny Cash and June Carter, but Keifer and Shawna Thompson, regardless of how closely they follow the Fleetwood Mac playbook, were fresh and fun.
The earnest Aaron Lewis, opening act on Superfest’s main stage, originally came to prominence as lead singer for hard-rock band Staind. Nonetheless, his Superfest set was a persuasive argument for his future in country music.