Ashley Monroe proves herself much more than a country sidekick at the Birchmere


Ashley Monroe performs at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA. Monroe, who is a member of the group Pistol Annies, released her second solo album last year. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)
April 14

Guess which recording artist is gearing up for upcoming 4/20 celebrations, even selling special branded paraphernalia to help get fans in the pot-smoking spirit? If you guessed Snoop Dogg, you are wrong. Willie Nelson? Yeah, of course, but the correct answer in this case is Ashley Monroe — Pistol Annies member and formidable solo singer/songwriter.

“Weed Instead of Roses,” Monroe’s half-joking ballad about wanting her love to bring her a dime bag instead of a bouquet, has stirred up some controversy but has also caused a sensation. At the Birchmere on Sunday night, she obviously had a good time singing the song and even shared a funny anecdote about it: When her grandfather first listened to the song, to his ears it was a touching, metaphoric piece called “Weeds Instead of Roses.”

Because songs about smoking have a way of becoming crossover hits, the track has gotten Monroe a lot of attention, even from many who aren’t necessarily country music fans. But during her set, she showed that she’s much more than “that girl who sings the song about weed” — or even “that girl from the group that Miranda Lambert is in.”

The 27-year-old Knoxville, Tenn., native, (who was joined onstage by openers Striking Matches, the duo behind some of the best songs on ABC’s “Nashville”) has been making music since she was a teenager. Last year’s gorgeous “Like A Rose,” co-produced by Vince Gill, introduced her to a wider audience, but she cut her first album at just 17 and has long written for others.

She performed “Heart Like Mine”, which was recorded by her Pistol Annies bandmate Lambert and written by the two of them in the mountains near Pigeon Forge, Tenn., under threat of bear attack. “The Truth” is known as a Jason Aldean song, but Monroe wrote that one, too, and her rendition was a fresh, tender take. “I’m glad I have friends on the radio!” Monroe said after performing the two tracks. “You’re on the radio!” someone in the crowd shouted back. “I am?” she replied. “Phew!”

Monroe also performed some of Pistol Annies’ cheekier tunes, including “Bad Example” and “Unhappily Married” (“You’re going bald and I’m getting fat/I hate your mom and you hate my dad”), which were twangy, catchy fun, but her voice seems uniquely designed for sad songs. When Monroe turns her gifts to the emotional stuff, it sounds like the most beautiful, clear, controlled cry you’ve ever heard. That talent was best showcased on “From Time to Time.” She wrote the song before her wedding, thinking about her father, who died when she was 13. “I feel like this was my dad’s wedding gift to me,” she said.

style@washpost.com

Godfrey is a freelance writer.

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