The rise of Halestorm, as told through their most important gigs

Halestorm are just about to headline Wembley! And from their unusual first show in 1997, it’s been quite the ride getting here…

The rise of Halestorm, as told through their most important gigs
Steve Beebee
Jenn Five

They may have started out by losing a talent contest to a tap-dancing cowgirl, but things have picked up for Halestorm since then. From heeding Ronnie James Dio’s wise words at his last-ever gig to pulling together sold-out arena tours and making a triumphant return to Download, Lzzy Hale reflects on a lifetime of gigging…

1997Halestorm’s not-quite-victorious debut – as a duo

“The first show that we did was at a county fair in central Pennsylvania, and it was kind of a talent show. We named the band on the way there – we weren’t necessarily planning on keeping it going. We went there in the family van; I was 13 and my brother [Arejay, drummer] was 11. It was just the two of us, but Arejay wanted to give us a band name. We tossed ideas around and settled on Halestorm. ‘That’ll work for today,’ I thought. We performed a song called Love Is Power, and ended up getting the third place trophy. We lost to an eight-year-old girl singing something from the musical Annie, and a tap-dancing cowgirl! Over dinner I got my notepad out and started to jot down some plans. My brother, with a mouthful of mashed potato, said, ‘Wait, we’re actually doing more of this?’”

2003Halestorm’s first gig with the current line-up

“We were opening for Finger Eleven and Three Days Grace at Dewey Beach, Delaware. We had just borrowed – or stolen – our bass player Josh [Smith] from another band. When we were coming home, Josh drunkenly confessed to me that he was gonna have to call up his best friend the next day and break up their band. I said, ‘Oh, why?’ He said, ‘Because I really love doing this with you – will you have me in the band?’ It felt like it had been planned that way – it was genuinely monumental, getting that final line-up together.”

2009Playing with metal god Ronnie James Dio at what turned out to be his final gig

“It was August 29, 2009 at the House Of Blues in Atlantic City, New Jersey. We’d been touring and were on our way home when we had a call asking if we could open for Heaven & Hell [the supergroup featuring former Black Sabbath members from their Mob Rules era]. It turned out that Coheed And Cambria, their regular support band, couldn’t do that one show. I’m a huge Dio fan, so I would’ve crawled through broken glass to have got there. We played, and Ronnie and Geezer [Butler, Sabbath bassist] watched us the whole time, which was so nerve-racking. Then they hung out with us afterwards and treated us like family. They really didn’t have to – it’s Black Sabbath and Dio! It got to 2am and Ronnie came to say goodbye to us in the parking lot. I thanked him for taking so much time for us and he said, ‘Lzzy, this is just a moment in time and you’re never gonna remember all the people you met, but they’re gonna remember meeting you for the rest of their lives, so it makes sense to make it good for them.’ I realised after he died the following May that he’d made that moment for me. I will never forget that kindness. I’ve also taken his advice and made it into my mission statement.”

2010First UK shows supporting Theory Of A Deadman

“It was beautiful, although we all got sick the first day in Europe. We were travelling in what was basically a converted bread truck. There was plywood put up as makeshift bunks. What we didn’t expect was the energy; it was different to playing in the States. It was more like how we felt about live music, both playing it and listening to it. Everybody in the UK was on that same wavelength, that passion and fire. It was really hard to come back and do a headlining run in the U.S. – you guys had spoiled us! Also, the Theory Of A Deadman guys knew that it was our first time – they were really sweet and took care of us.”

2010First UK arena shows opening the Taste Of Chaos tour with Disturbed

“There’s a huge difference between knowing you’re capable of great things, and great things actually happening. Just being on that kind of stage and feeling that forward movement was really important and it felt like my proving ground. I was proving not only to myself and the audience, but to the other bands [Disturbed, Papa Roach and Buckcherry], who are legendary, that I can actually do this every night. It was a lot of hard work, but we made it to the other side.”

2012Debuting new songs from breakthrough second album The Strange Case Of… in Georgia

“That was a pivotal point. We had a better idea of who we were, both to ourselves and what people saw us as. It came after we’d played festivals and toured Europe and had certain experiences. Without doing those things we simply wouldn’t have had songs like Freak Like Me, Love Bites (So Do I), Rock Show or Mz. Hyde. It was a beautiful moment, because although things were still very new, I had a better grasp of what I wanted to say. You could really feel that momentum.”

2012Finding out they’d been nominated for a GRAMMY mid-set in Madison, Wisonsin

“Oh, it was crazy! We didn’t have any connections or influential relatives in the business – we didn’t understand how the people behind the GRAMMYs had even heard of us. So, we were headlining Madison’s Majestic Theatre and I had slowed things down, doing a few ballads at the piano. Joe [Hottinger, guitar] was offstage and opened a text from our sound guy. I was still talking, introducing a song, when he ran up to me and said, ‘Guess what? We just got nominated for a GRAMMY!’ [for Love Bites (So Do I) in the 2013 Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category]. I kinda went blank, and the audience went quiet. I then turned to the crowd and told them what Joe had said, and the reaction was so intense it was like the roof blew off. We were just floating from then on. I can hardly remember the rest of the show. Afterwards I called my mom and told her the news. She said, ‘Well, you deserve it and you’re gonna have a great night at the award ceremony.’ I was like, ‘Mom, you’re coming with me!’ We’d joked about it in the past, but now it was real. It was a lovely time, and it was even better when we actually won.”

2016First time headlining an arena, in Halestorm’s home state of Pennsylvania

“It was weird to play to so many people that we knew. All sorts of people that we’d had dealings with over the years were there – promoters, club owners and radio presenters who had played our first songs years previously. It was strange to be back in front of them, now having ‘made it’ in their eyes. There was this whole section of people that had seen me make all sorts of mistakes in the past, playing small clubs and forgetting lyrics or not knowing how to talk to an audience. I had to let those feelings go, because I realised I was trying too hard to impress the people who’d known me as the Lzzy that grew up on a farm. Once I let that self-consciousness go, it all flowed and became quite a magical moment. It was also quite vindicating, because not everyone there had been nice to us in those early years.”

2019Assembling a female-led arena tour with In This Moment and New Years Day

“This was the first time we got to do an arena tour in exactly the way we wanted. Having those strong females out front was done very much on purpose. It felt so significant, both for us and for the young women in the audience. Within the state of rock music, we got to show our side of things. Throughout that tour, Maria [Brink, In This Moment], Ash [Costello, New Years Day] and I kept having conversations about how we got into this, and we decided that we’d all turned to rock music because of that primal female rage, and we needed a place to put it. We needed to turn what goes along with that into something beautiful. To see that not just in the eyes of the young women and men at the shows, but in the eyes of Maria and Ash showed that we were doing this in the right way, our way. To have those conversations with my ‘sisters of scream’ in the hallways meant a lot. We did it because we needed to do it, and it felt like an amazing launch point.”

2021Total catharsis in Nashville – first gig after lockdown

“I was so nervous – the most I had been since I was a teenager. We had never gone so long without having a show. I normally go into a kind of beautiful panic 10 minutes before showtime, but for those first few shows the panic set in at soundcheck. In fact, Josh told me to sit down ’cause I was making him nervous. I was wearing a groove in the carpet backstage. The main thing I remember about the first show is that it was fast – we played Back From The Dead probably two or three times faster than we really should. It was emotional, too, and I was fighting back some tears in the middle of it. That in turn made the audience emotional, and then you can’t look at the people because that makes you more emotional, and so on. Because I had written that record from such an isolated spot during lockdown, I wasn’t sure how people would respond to it. When they responded in exactly the way that I hoped, I just felt so good. I realised I wasn’t alone, and that we had come through to the other side. It made those doubts, that imposter syndrome thing, just melt away.”

2023Returning to Download on the main stage

“It was so wonderful, although this was another nervous one for me, because it had been so long since we’d done anything like that. I completely lost myself at Download. It was one of those shows in which, rather than driving it myself, I was riding it and letting it happen. There’s something about that festival that feels almost like family, as if we’ve grown up there. On top of that, we got to open up for Metallica and they let us use the Snakepit. I was looking back at pictures of this yesterday and it was just incredible, an awesome memory to take with us to the next chapter. And of course, the best gig is yet to come – we’re gonna be headlining Wembley!”

Halestorm headline London’s OVO Arena Wembley on December 9 with support from Black Veil Brides. This article originally appeared in the autumn 2023 issue of the magazine.

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