A Kacey Musgraves show is not a bad place to be on Valentine's Day. Rams Head Live was packed with beautiful women Saturday night, painted up and pumped to see the sultry songstress and modern-day country renegade. Musgraves writes anthemic country-pop songs that celebrate nonconformity and perseverance in the face of bigotry, sometimes to the displeasure of corporate country fans, who confusingly equate country music with flag-kissing predator capitalism, seemingly ignorant of its roots in the cries of the downtrodden, poverty-stricken, and isolated.
Musgraves instead keeps to what made country great in the first place, stories of everyday people and everyday problems met with resilience and a sense of humor—think a millennial's 'I've Endured.' Plagued less by barefoot treks in the snow and dependence on agriculture, and more by the modern symptoms of class war in "flyover country"—chronic unemployment, prescription drug addiction, hopelessness, and "traditional" attitudes that mask a desperate clinging to absolute power and privilege—the themes of loneliness and heartbreak are present in both and eternal.
The stage was set like the band was performing inside of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, adorned with turquoise and orange Indian blankets, pink and green neon-lighted cactuses poking out in front of a painted Santa Fe sky. Her five-piece band strolled out to a Sergio Leone showdown score, decked out in cowboy suits with flashing Christmas lights sewn in where rhinestones used to be. Musgraves, looking like a young Tammy Wynette meets Wonder Woman, donned a short red-and-white Valentine's dress trimmed with leather tassels, white cowboy boots, and a sequined guitar strap.
They opened with the soothing ballad 'Silver Lining,' the opening track from her Grammy-winning debut album, "Same Trailer Different Park." Her band provided slick and tasteful country-western rocking beneath Musgraves' understated and almost angelic singing, punctuated with whining pedal steel, clanging Link Wray 'Apache' guitar, and acoustic guitar fills a la Willie Nelson at just the right times. She possesses the quality that's most elusive to today's singer-songwriters: believability. So the fact that her lyrics are not particularly cerebral is sort of irrelevant. In fact, it's a relief for those of us worn thin by the throngs of mediocre and lifeless Americana Townes and Dylan imitators.
"I'm a big ol' Dolly Parton fan," Musgraves said, before playing Parton's 1977 country-pop crossover hit 'Here You Come Again.' The song retained its simultaneous jubilance and sorrow in Musgraves' hands—Parton was masterful at conveying with her singing that deep place where these two seemingly contrary emotions are married. The fact that Parton's repertoire fits in so naturally with Musgraves' songs testifies to her own songwriting ability, especially in terms of crafting hooks, and she also shares Parton's crossover appeal and knack for making every song sound plain beautiful.
She played most of the songs from "Same Trailer"—including standout 'The Trailer Song,' a worthy successor to Hank Williams' 'Mind Your Own Business' ("Keep your two cents on your side of the fence")—along with covers of Britney Spears' 'Toxic' and Nancy Sinatra's 'These Boots Are Made For Walkin,' which was predictable but enlivened by some Ventures-style guitar work (they also recorded it) and Musgraves bopping around with a tambourine in her hand.
After exiting the stage with the band, Musgraves came back out for a short solo acoustic set of new songs. She was relaxed and maybe even more powerful alone, the nuances of her voice more clearly articulated. 'Mind Your Own Biscuits (And Life Will Be Gravy),' co-written with Brandy Clark, is a sassy novelty song that would make Grandpa Jones smile, with more folksy wisdom and another reminder to mind your own damn business. She prefaced another new song, 'Cup of Tea,' by criticizing Music Row's cookie-cutter approach of manufacturing stars to minimize risks and exploiting a fractured society, rather than investing in the development of artists being themselves.
The band returned and sent everyone back out into the freezing cold with an ensemble a capella version of 'Happy Trails,' which once served as the theme song to "The Roy Rogers Show" and could also serve as Musgraves motto: "Some trails are happy ones/ Others are blue/ It's the way you ride the trail that counts/ Here's a happy one for you."