Lady A finds the joy again after bandmate heals from alcohol addiction

Charles Kelley puts his pain into music as country trio gets back on the road.

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Lady A 

Lady A — Dave Haywood (from left), Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley — is taking fan suggestions for the setlist during the “Request Line” tour, coming to the Chicago Theatre on April 20.

Hodges Usry

Lady A’s Charles Kelley was just a few months into his journey to sobriety last year when he walked into the writing room with fellow songwriter Jimmy Robbins and Lady A bandmate Dave Haywood.

It was time to put his heart on the page.

“While in recovery, [Kelley] wrote a letter to alcohol,” Haywood tells the Sun-Times. “It was really a goodbye letter, where he spoke to alcohol almost as a person.”

Lady A

Lady A
With Dave Barnes

When: 7:30 p.m. April 20

Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., Chicago

Tickets: $40 - $120

Info: ticketmaster.com

Eventually, this goodbye letter turned into “As Far as You Could,” a painful yet inspiring solo effort in which Kelley allows fans to feel the culmination of the pain Kelley has been through because of his battle with alcohol. But as Haywood strummed his guitar to the heartbreaking words Kelley read aloud that day, he knew this battle felt different. 

This was a final goodbye.

“It almost makes me cry now,” Haywood says quietly of the emotions that still get stirred up when speaking of the 6-foot-6 guy he met back in junior high. “We were just three grown men crying in a writing room that day, crying about a battle far too many have to go through.”

Charles Kelley (from left), Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood of Lady A visit Magic FM at 1 Golden Square earlier this year in London.

Charles Kelley (from left), Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood of Lady A visit London’s Magic FM in March.

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It’s a battle that ultimately forced Kelley, Haywood and Hillary Scott to reschedule their fall tour last year in the hopes that Kelley could take the time to heal, far from the constant glare of the spotlight.

“I have to give so many props for Charles and his vulnerability and his bravery to share what he’s been through with the world,” says Haywood, who has spent more than a decade serving as the creative force within Lady A. “I don’t know if I have a friend that I’ve spoken to that hasn’t indirectly or directly been impacted by addiction.”

Certainly, it’s a heavy subject that serves as a heavy piece in the history of the multi-platinum country music trio, once best known for light and breezy chart-toppers such as “American Honey” and “Our Kind of Love.” In 2020, Lady A found itself enmeshed in controversy when the band decided to change its name from Lady Antebellum to Lady A to steer away from a word with ties to slavery, only to find out that Lady A was already being used as the moniker for African American artist Anita White. 

But even during rocky times, the three musicians have never avoided speaking their truth through their music.

“I hope we’re that kind of band where we can always be honest in our lyrics,” says Haywood as he preps to go to tour rehearsals with his Lady A bandmates. “If we’re just writing songs we think will be radio hits, you start to lose the passion for writing impactful stuff. (Pauses.) We’re real people going through real things. We’ve all had our ups and downs, and the fans have been with us all the way.”

Especially, the Chicago fans.

“When people ask where our favorite places are to play, Chicago or L.A. or London really are the top three that just stand out,” Haywood says of the obvious love for the “Need You Now” hitmakers scheduled to play The Chicago Theatre on April 20. “The fans are unbelievably passionate in Chicago.”

As it was before, the rescheduled “Request Line” tour has Lady A encouraging fans to call (615) 882-1975 and essentially create their very own setlist for the much-anticipated show. And the requests can be somewhat shocking. 

Charles Kelley (from left), Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood of Lady A perform onstage for the Nashville Symphony’s 38th Annual Symphony Ball at Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Dec. 10, 2022, in Nashville.

Charles Kelley (from left), Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood of Lady A perform onstage for the Nashville Symphony’s 38th Annual Symphony Ball at Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Dec. 10, 2022, in Nashville.

Getty Images

“I don’t remember the lyrics from the 12th song on the third album, you know?” laughs Haywood, who confirms that he is busy at work on new music alongside his Lady A bandmates. “Honestly, I never thought we’d be at this point in our career where you actually look back and go, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I remember that song.’ ”

But the fans do.

“We’ve been moved to tears several times in rehearsals reading these stories,” he says. “I mean, this is really heavy stuff that really helps us remember the perspective of what we’ve been able to do with our music. It’s given us the joy in our music again.”

It’s a joy that Lady A most certainly deserves. 

“Charles is nine or 10 months in right now to his journey to sobriety, and he’s just doing amazing,” Haywood concludes. “I’m so proud of him as a bandmate, but more so as a friend.”

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