Dave Haywood knows that something unusual is going to happen when his hit-making group, Lady A, takes the stage Saturday in Prior Lake.
"We're all going to cry at some point that day. I know it," said the singer/multi-instrumentalist, one-third of the Grammy-winning country trio that's returning to the road for the first time in three years. "This is our first big show back, and I think the emotion is going to overtake us. I think we're going to just really feel connected with the audience that night.
"I hope that it gives people a moment to process the trauma we've all been through. I hope music can be one of the keys to unlocking us out of the pandemic, so to speak. It's going to be a pretty holy experience."
This year, Lady A has performed at the Grand Ole Opry (with "myriad COVID restrictions") and on some TV shows. In 2019, they undertook a Las Vegas residency, but the group hasn't been on tour since 2018.
Actually, their appearance at the annual Lakefront Music Fest this weekend is something of a warm-up date before a full tour of outdoor venues that begins July 29. Lady A has been rehearsing for the past two weeks.
"It's been fun to hear the drums and hear the piano and feel the loudness shaking in your body," Haywood said one morning last week before heading to another rehearsal. "The rehearsals have been some good laughter again, too."
Known for more than a dozen hits including the crossover sensations "Need You Now" and "Just a Kiss," Lady A is learning new songs from their two-week-old EP, "What a Song Can Do (Chapter One)." The trio's first release since November 2019, the record contains only seven selections.
"The landscape of music is ever-evolving, so we're always trying to find ways that fans can engage with music," said Haywood, 38, who sings harmony with co-lead vocalists Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley. "I'm literally in my studio now, editing some vocals and adding some guitar parts to our 'Chapter Two.' We'll have another seven songs that come out this fall."
The songs — actually, 50 to 60 of them, but "some not that great" — were mostly written remotely during the pandemic.
When it came to recording, strict protocols were observed in the studio: masks, social distancing, singing in isolation booths.
"It was awkward," Haywood recalled. "You can't hang out and have lunch together. You're there with your mask on, and I can finally take it off when I'm singing."
He's excited to return to the road, not just to connect with crowds but also so Lady A can pay all their employees' full salaries, something that wasn't possible during the pandemic.
Haywood, Scott and Kelley have been vaccinated for COVID, and their team has contingency plans as the band travels from state to state, where restrictions may vary.
"I've been tested 50 or 60 times," said Haywood, because of all the times he's visited a recording studio, television stage or the Opry.
The EP's most striking song is its last, "Worship What I Hate." Hayward co-wrote it with Scott, Natalie Hemby and Amy Wadge, who was Zooming in from London.
"I was at the piano the whole time in my studio, discussing why do we do the things we hate doing," Haywood said. "My 6-year-old and 3-year-old — my precious little ones — are at Daddy's feet going, 'Play with me, play with me,' and I'm sitting here just scrolling through my phone. I've got all this beauty in front of me, why can't I just be present with my family?"
The song also deals with body image, drinking before bedtime and other issues of self-loathing.
"Why can't I be confident in who I am? It's really just a vulnerable page of a diary," said Haywood. "As Lady A, we've always loved the heart-wrenching lyrics that can hit hard and tell an honest story. I think it's a message we can all benefit from hearing now."
About that new name …
Lady A was in the news last year during the post-George Floyd racial reckoning for changing its moniker from Lady Antebellum, a name they'd chosen in 2006. Haywood says they abandoned "Antebellum" — which connotes life before the Civil War — in June 2020 after talking to "dozens and dozens of friends of color.
"The unanimous answer was: 'That word doesn't make me feel welcome, invited to your show or your music,' " Haywood learned. "Omigod, we never had that intention. That's a blind spot.
"All of our music is about fun, is about unity, is about love. We want to make sure that we're reflecting that, as well. We feel our purpose is to provide hope and healing to people."
Even though they trademarked their longtime nickname "Lady A" back in 2010, the trio ran into a problem: Lady A has been the stage name of Seattle singer Anita White for nearly three decades. She complained about white musicians appropriating a name long used by a Black singer.
Haywood said the trio had direct dialogue with White but were unable to resolve the issue. Both sides have sued each other, and he couldn't comment any further because of the litigation.
One upshot is that Lady A has set up scholarships at historic Black colleges and universities through their longtime charitable foundation, LadyAID, which also supports St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Boys & Girls Clubs and other organizations.
Lady A was in the news again in January when Darius Rucker, country's best-known Black singer, invited the group to become members of the Grand Ole Opry.
Haywood's reaction was somewhat predictable: "What a lifelong dream fulfilled. We love that place. It's felt like a home but now even more so."
Then, he added, "I immediately called my grandmother. And she was like, 'Wow! I think you've really did it, David.' "
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719