November 10, 2010 12:00 PM

The night Hillary Scott walked into a Nashville bar in May of 2006 and spotted Charles Kelley in the crowd, neither imagined it would be the start of such a beautiful-and successful!-friendship. “Hillary walked up to me and said, ‘I love your music,’ ” recalls Kelley, “and I just thought, ‘Oh, hey! A pretty girl!’ So I said, ‘Well, let’s get together and write some songs.’ Then I went home and actually listened to some of her stuff on the internet. I pulled Dave [Haywood] over and said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to check this out. This girl’s serious. She’s the real deal!’ ”

A week later the three members of the group that would become Lady Antebellum sat down at a writing table and never looked back. Says Haywood: “That first day it just felt right; we had chemistry. And then we played our first show together, and I knew it was something special, something we had to chase.” Adds Scott, 24: “I was supposed to do a solo project in Nashville, but I never felt as comfortable onstage as I did with Charles and Dave. I just love being with them.”

Now with their multiplatinum CD Need You Now, five CMA nominations and a headlining tour, their friendship and career are stronger than ever. “We balance each other out,” says Kelley, 29. “I’m the one who has the least patience in the group, so Dave and Hillary definitely keep me grounded.” Adds Scott: “Charles is the most hardworking, he’s always hustling, and Dave’s always thinking. I’m the one to say, ‘Let’s just hang out!’ If one of us was missing from the picture, it wouldn’t work.”

In fact, it works so well the group even hangs out when they’re not working. “We’ll sit around and watch football games together and cook out, or go grab a beer,” says Kelley. Adds Haywood, 28: “We honestly have so much fun out on the road that when we get back to Nashville and we have a night off, I’ll call Charles and Hillary and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing tonight?’ Our friendship is our foundation first, and then we build upon that with our music.” Says Scott: “They always miss me when I’m not around!”

Part of that friendship is knowing when to give each other space, especially on the tour bus they share. “We do annoy each other,” admits Scott. “Like when I get nervous, I repeat myself a hundred times,” says Kelley. “Or like the time I got obsessed with The Sopranos and watched a marathon of all the seasons on DVD,” says Haywood. Jokes Scott: “Dave was suddenly angry a lot.”

Besides knowing each other’s moods, the group has also taken to offering each other relationship advice. “I always tell Hillary that she helped me prepare for married life,” says Kelley, who wed longtime girlfriend and publicist Cassie McConnell last year. “Before Hillary I never really had a close girl friend to help me understand that men and women approach things differently,” he says. “With guys, if there’s a problem, they just let it go and don’t talk about it. But with women, if there’s a problem, you have to talk about it.” And for Scott, her bandmates serve as her cheerleaders. “When it comes to breakups, they’re always like, ‘You’re going to be okay; you can do better!’ ”

And all three say their success is only so sweet because of their friendship. “None of this would be any fun if we didn’t get along and make it a priority to nurture our friendships,” says Scott. “I’ll constantly make sure that Charles and Dave are okay. I know that we’re having a great time and work is great, but how are you really? You can’t hold on to success when it’s all over, but you can take your relationships.”

FAST TIMES AT LAKESIDE HIGH

Although they didn’t meet Hillary until 2006, Augusta, Ga., natives Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood have actually been close pals since seventh grade, attending middle and high school together. (Check out their senior photos!)

DAVE: He played golf, I played tennis, then we went to the University of Georgia together. I always knew Charles was an amazing singer, but I didn’t start playing with him until we began writing together in college.

CHARLES: I partied more than any high schooler should have, but I also took school very seriously. That’s another thing Dave and I have in common: We each have two sides to us, one that is artistic and one that’s a little more academic and straight and narrow. We’ve always encouraged each other.

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