I ain’t pageant material / I’m always higher than my hair / and it ain’t that I don’t care
about world peace / but I don’t see / how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage
Kacey Musgraves is all gaudy jewels and unapologetic anthems and light up cacti. She’s two parts talent and one part wit, with a prodigious sense of self and a natural stage presence of the same caliber. She’s hit Nashville hard, selling out shows and riling up cynics, and her show on Saturday night at the Paramount Theater in Huntington, New York showed why.
Musgraves has found a way to make traditional music progressive, and to create authentic country music without all the muddled morals and ancient beginnings of decades-ago country. Her second album dropped last month and it manages to seamlessly include a duet with Willie Nelson as well as songs referencing recreational drug use. She’s unlike anyone else in the market right now, and the juxtaposition of her rootsy sound and modern messages separate her from the cookie-cutter pop-influenced mainstream country hits of the past few years. She’s got a Texas twang, which is distinctly different than a Tennessee twang, and I could more easily see her finding the right audience in an Austin club than a Nashville café.
Seeing Kacey live on Saturday night in a small theater not too far from my hometown confirmed all conclusions I had previously made about her. She has a dry sense of humor that reminded me of Sara Bareilles’, and she was able to effortlessly switch between calling out loyal fans she recognized in the crowd and cursing like a true 26-year-old. The nearly two-hour set was full of her own stories; during “Dime Store Cowgirl” she assured us that everything in the song was true, making it a direct documentation of her life for the past two years. (In some ways it also seems to be a direct documentation of my life for the past two years, which makes me just biased enough to deem it my favorite song on the record.) She covered a few songs, including Miranda Lambert’s 2013 hit “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which was written by Kacey, further proving that any truly great song starts with a great writer. She mouthed a “thank you” to the audience after every track, making her humility conspicuous. Her mother sat on the balcony above us and Kacey glanced up at her several times throughout the night as her mom sang and danced and pointed and took iPhone pictures of her daughter, just like the rest of us were. The show felt like it could’ve been in the Musgraves living room in Golden, Texas, and still gone exactly the same way. She created an ongoing conversation, incorporating the inspiration behind her words and thanking us profusely for listening to what she has to say, which is perhaps the most valuable thing an artist can give to a fan.
Directly correlating with the sweeping theme of the album (derisively titled Pageant Material), Kacey was nothing but herself all night. It was the kind of concert that should be used as an example of a truly great show for other artists, and I feel privileged to have seen it. (I must add that I also feel privileged to have caught the guitar pick she threw into the audience, because that’s just awesome.) She is a model of what country radio should be pushing for: real instruments, real stories, and real authenticity without being archaic. The overwhelming sense of acceptance in the room existed as if we had all subscribed to the religion of Kacey Musgraves, which requires a belief in her most fundamental motto: follow your arrow wherever it points.
This is the picture I took that Kacey then reposted
on Instagram and gave me credit for. To say I
freaked out would be a huge understatement.