Sunday, October 20, 2013
Concert review: Country singer Kacey Musgraves performs first headlining gig at State Fair of Texas
While her lyrics definitely aren’t traditional, her country-pop-rock bares the slick imprint of Nashville.
FAIR PARK American songwriters who grow up in the boonies tend to romanticize small towns just like John Mellencamp did. But Kacey Musgraves isn’t falling for that trap.
The rising country star from Mineola in East Texas peeled back the small-town façade Friday night at the State Fair of Texas and sang about the ennui and narrow-mindedness that often come with living in the sticks.
“If you ain’t got two kids by 21 you’re probably gonna die alone/At least that’s what tradition told you,” Musgraves sang in “Merry Go ‘Round,” a hit from this year’s Same Trailer Different Park CD. In “Trailer Song,” she sang in the voice of a lonely alcoholic driven half-insane by a nosy trailer-park neighbor. In “It Is What It Is,” she dissected a small-town romance with a machete: “Maybe I love you/Maybe I’m just kind of bored.”
Musgraves did offer kind words about Mineola (population 4,515) and thanked her family and friends for making the 80-mile drive to the concert. But like her lyrics, even her pleasantries came laced with sarcasm: “It’s good to be back in the land of big hair and fried food,” she said with a smile.
A songwriter since age 9, the 25-year-old singer eventually left Texas for Nashville, where she appeared on Nashville Star and scored a major label contract. While her lyrics definitely aren’t traditional, her country-pop-rock bares the slick imprint of Nashville, and she and her five-man band came off as sterile at times Friday.
Even though she picked an intriguing batch of songs to cover -- Weezer’s “Island in the Sun,” Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” the Cardigans’ “Lovefool” -- her by-the-book versions were strictly karaoke. She found better results transforming “I Put a Spell on You” into a surreal country ballad, and the show gained steam when she whipped out “Mama’s Broken Heart” – country’s answer to Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” – and “Follow Your Arrow,” an un-country-like hurrah for smoking weed and being gay.
Bold tunes like those have earned her tons of acclaim, even in staid old Nashville, where she’s up for six Country Music Awards on November 6, including best album, song and new artist.
But as far as she’s come, Musgraves is in no hurry to forget her past -- even the humiliating parts. On her first night ever headlining the fair’s main stage, all she could talk about was her gig here years ago when she followed a corny dog eating contest.
“The stage was gross!” she said, laughing and sounding nostalgic.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic.