Kacey Musgraves stands before an audience of a few thousand at The Anthem, exuding a calm but taut command of the stage. The Grammy and CMA-winning singer-songwriter guides her band through the final lines of “Golden Hour,” the enveloping, intimate title track of her most recent album.
She sings the post-chorus refrain “Yeah, I know everything is gonna be alright” like she’s leading the audience through a group-exhalation of all the world’s pressures. Musgraves flashes the smallest hint of a wicked smile before letting the words “golden showers” ring through the theater.
The crowd grins and guffaws in response before she smirks mischievously and says, “Y’all know you like it, shut up!” The moment would seem pretty unthinkable at any other country concert, but such irreverence and boundary pushing are part and parcel for Musgraves, whose been leading something of a soft-power revolution in the country world.
At this sold-out stop for her Oh, What A World Tour you could find purple-haired punks and salmon-shirted preps, glitter-glammed queens and cowboys wearing ten gallons standing shoulder-to-shoulder, wrapped in awe as they sang along to every word, from the country chill-wave opening of “Slow Burn” to the final, triumphant, rhinestone-disco kiss-off closer of “High Horse.”
That audience reflects the work Musgraves has been doing for the last six years of her touring career: bringing her own brand of country out of dirt road wonderlands into hard-walked city streets while maintaining the validity of both.
Long before she spent the last year opening for Little Big Town and Harry Styles, Musgraves was rocking the rhinestones with Katy Perry. It’s a vision of country music that is inclusive and almost democratic in its own way, where Musgraves is less trying to bring the country to the people and more trying to make a country with the people.
“I know that country music isn’t the most inclusive of environments,” Musgraves commended near the end of her set, “So, it’s really f-cking cool that you guys don’t care!”
Her sound has evolved alongside the growth of her audience and spread of this mentality, although less than you might think. Songs from her first two records, which leaned more into the traditional country palette, nestled comfortably into the celebratory sound of “Golden Hour.”
“Die Fun” from Pageant Material picked up a slapping, early Maroon 5 meets the dance floor bassline that had the room grooving; the twang of “High Time” glided along the pedal-steel melody to the rafters. The biting message of “Merry Go ‘Round,” reverberated across every ear drum, pushed into our aural passages by the arena-pulsating power of the new keyboard, bass-punctuated arrangement.
The songs that comprise “Golden Hour,” all of which were played in one form or another across the 90-minute set, were an ideal match for the cathedral-like space of The Anthem. These are unhurried songs that need time to settle to be fully absorbed, and the acoustics aided this sonic osmosis.
The wide-open, booming-across-the-plains sound of “Space Cowboy” reverberated into every corner of the venue, carrying the full weight of her wit and melancholy with every word. Songs like “Rainbow,” “Wonder Woman” and “Oh, What a World” rose like the sunrise as hymns of self-empowerment, introspection and compassion.
As Musgraves launched into numbers like “Space Cowboy,” “High Horse” and “Follow Your Arrow,” the cornerstones of her catalog of laureate wit rebukes – they seemed less like tell-offs and more like communal celebration, a group exorcism of all the ills that motivate those songs.
It proved another small step in her revolution, as she brings country music into big venues without the bombast and swagger of her more industry-accepted peers, to choose honey over vinegar. It reflected her utopia vision for country, one where space cowboys riding in on high horses are welcome, as long as they let everyone follow their arrow.
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