On Wednesday, Sept. 19, a visibly nervous Miranda Lambert took the stage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater as the institution’s newest artist-in-residence. With thermos in hand and her longtime band behind her, Lambert shook off the nerves telling the crowd, “I’ve got my Yeti, so we’re good!”
Lambert is the 15th (and youngest) artist in residence, joins a prestigious list of names including Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Rosanne Cash and last year’s featured artist, Jason Isbell.
The museum’s artist-in-residence series honors a musical master who has contributed a large and significant body of work to the canon of American popular music. According to the Hall of Fame, the artist-in-residence is invited to use the museum’s performance venues to create unique musical experiences. Lambert is only the third woman to be singled out for the honor, further cementing her role as the “keeper of the flame” of country music.
For Lambert’s first night in residence, she crafted a themed show she called “The Ones That Got Away”: songs she loved that were not singles or were singles that just didn’t take off. “They’re all the songs I love but never get to sing,” she said, noting that she’d never played some of the songs for a live audience before and might forget the lyrics. “I write a lot of songs, I sing a lot of songs and I drink a lot of Tito’s,” she cautioned and pointed out a Trapper Keeper filled with lyrics next to her.
Before breaking into her 90-minute set, Lambert had one final warning for the crowd: “If you don’t like sad songs you might as well go ahead and leave, but my granny said if you don’t like sad songs you don’t like country music.”
With that, Lambert was off and running, performing songs from her earlier albums. Tracks like “Bring Me Down,” “Dead Flowers” and “More Like Her” provided early proof that the set would, in fact, be made up of sad songs. (“Here’s ya another sad one,” she joked between songs.)
And while the majority of the songs were somber, the mood was anything but. Lambert kept the show light with her self-deprecating sense of humor and a handful of carefully selected guests. For an early forgotten favorite, “Greyhound Bound For Nowhere,” Lambert introduced her father. “Rick Lambert was my first cowriter,” she said, laughing that the first song they wrote together was a cheating song.
As she moved later into her catalog, Lambert brought up her second guest of the night, frequent collaborator Natalie Hemby. The two harmonized on “Airstream Song” (which they co-wrote) before Lambert turned over lead vocals to Hemby on “Virginia Bluebell,” the closing track from Revolution. The two closed out their mini set with a rousing rendition of “White Liar,” one of the few “hits” Lambert performed during the showcase.
Next up, Lambert’s Pistol Annies bandmate (and frequent co-writer) Ashley Monroe took the stage to duet on another No. 1, “Heart Like Mine,” as well as the love gone wrong song, “Me and Your Cigarettes.”
At this point in the set another guest piped up–but not one Lambert knew personally. An audience member way in the back yelled, “Waffle House!” much to the confusion of the singer (and most of the crowd). Not one to miss a beat, Lambert replied, “I don’t have a song called ‘Waffle House’ but I’m gonna write one now! ‘The Waffle House That Built Me.'”
The final (scheduled) guest of the night, singer/songwriter Allison Moorer, took the stage and Lambert explained her long history with Moorer’s music, noting that the very first song she ever performed for a crowd was one of hers. After the two duetted on Moorer’s “A Soft Place to Fall,” Moorer took the mic to tell the story of a song she wrote for Lambert.
While spending a few weeks in a remote part of New Zealand, Moorer found herself with a lot of time on her hands and her thoughts wandered to Lambert and her budding relationship with Blake Shelton. Out of that, the breathtaking “Oklahoma Sky” was born. Though the song is an uplifting love note, it’s taken on a darker tone since the demise of that relationship. But that didn’t bring the two singers down.
“The dudes come and go. The song remains,” Moorer said before the pair broke into an incredibly emotional performance.
Lambert closed out the night with two songs from her latest effort, The Weight of These Wings. After a spirited–and seemingly pointed–performance of “Tomboy” with Hemby, Lambert invited all of her guests back to the stage for a rousing rendition of the appropriate finale song “I’ve Got Wheels.”
“Sometimes these wings / Get a little heavy / And I can’t stay between the lines but I’m rocking steady / When I can’t fly, I start to fall / But I’ve got wheels / I’m rolling on”
After several bows and plenty of hugs, the whole group did just that.
Lambert will perform a second sold-out show in residence at the CMA Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 26. The set will be completely different from her first.