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Robert Morast, Published June 14 2009

Lady Antebellum defy country clichés

No offense to anyone with thin skin, but the country music fan base isn’t exactly known as a computer-savvy, Earth-friendly demographic trying to save the world from pollution and old media like radio or TV.

Yet, Lady Antebellum, one of the hottest, freshest country acts of the past year or so, is using the Internet to pass on bits about its music, the members’ personalities and even environmental tidiness to the group’s growing fanbase.

And, the approach seems to be working. In April 2008, the band’s self-titled debut record debuted on iTunes’ country chart at No. 1. The album stayed in the top 10 of that chart the entire year. And Lady A’s weekly webisodes – short videos posted on the group’s Web site, www.ladyantebellum.com – have been a popular draw for its fans.

Lady Antebellum, which will play the Fargodome on Saturday as an opening act for Kenny Chesney, is part of a new crop of young country acts capitalizing on the Internet’s interconnectivity to build its fan base. Along with artists such as Taylor Swift – whose career was virtually created through her MySpace page – Lady A is reminding people that there are more than just indie rock and Top 40 fans surfin’ the Web.

“The ground you cover through a short amount of time is so brilliant,” says Hillary Scott, vocalist and the lone female in Lady A. “Regardless of what genre of music you connect with, fans want to be connected with the artists. So I think that’s what we’ve kind of latched on to.”

Perhaps it’s because vocalist Charles Kelley is married to a publicist, but Lady A seems to be focused on the idea of connecting with its fans beyond the music. Aside from the online videos, fans can also go to the group’s MySpace page, dial a phone number and become part of a mailing list that sends texts and messages from the band to its fans.

Again, these aren’t the kind of marketing tactics that Nashville has been mining for years.

Part of the band’s atypical approach could be that, despite its firm residence on country radio and CMT, Lady A isn’t a strict country act.

“Look at the guys in that trio, they don’t really come from a country tradition,” says Jim Malec, managing editor of the noted country music Web site The 9513. “They’re younger. They come more from that indie rock vibe.”

Indeed. Scott, who is the daughter of country singer Linda Davis, is the only member of the trio with roots in the country scene. Meanwhile, Kelley’s brother Josh is a pop singer (married to actress Katherine Heigle).

And there’s the uncommon country move of promoting green practices such as not drinking water out of plastic bottles or touring with only one bus to cut back on pollution. Those are acts usually done by liberal-swinging popsters; not country musicians who draw strong in the red states.

“But a lot of country fans are in agriculture and that’s being green,” Scott says.

Well, uh, that might be stretching it. But Malec says it doesn’t matter. As long as Lady A keeps kicking out soulful, danceable tracks such as “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” or the group’s break-up anthem “I Run To You,” the members can endorse the atypical and continue to scour the Internet for fans.

“If Lady Antebellum doesn’t have a good record, all that work would be for not,” Malec says.

Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518