When Lady Antebellum accepted the 2008 Country Music Award for Best New Artist, the first thing the Nashville-based trio did was pass the praise onto other country artists. “It’s not supposed to happen like this!” exclaimed instrumentalist Dave Haywood, referring to their relative award upset. His bandmates — singers Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley — later gushed to reporters that the other nominees deserved it more, with Scott noting: “We look up to them.”
Last year, Kacey Musgraves — the easygoing, 25-year-old Texas singer-songwriter — accepted the same award and showed just how much things can shift in five years. After the release of her breakout album, “Same Trailer, Different Park,” Musgraves told CBS she wasn’t trying to provoke country radio with her hit “Merry Go Round” — which laments, rather than celebrates, the small-town life and was even dubbed an “anti-country” song. “But I guess I didn’t mind if I did,” she said slyly, adding: “I want [country music] to change. There’s a younger mindset coming in.”
On Friday night, Musgraves and Lady Antebellum played to an energetic Patriot Center crowd, along with Kip Moore (the feisty country-bro behind “Hey Pretty Girl” and “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck”). With Musgraves at the top of the program and “Lady A” in the headline spot, it was a lively but poignant juxtaposition: One rising star of yesteryear whose act honored the powerful legacy of country music, and one star still on the rise whose performance pointed toward the genre’s future.
Musgraves performed songs (including “Stupid” and “Trailer Song”) seemingly designed to toss cold water on the traditional big feelings and earnest proclamations of country music. She offered a mesmerizing rendition of her new single, “Keep It to Yourself,” a gentle request that an ex-lover please stop calling; it’s easy to imagine “Keep It to Yourself” as the sober voice on the other end of the heartbroken drunk dial in Lady Antebellum’s 2009 hit “Need You Now.”
Musgraves has been identified as part of a more chilled-out movement making its way into the country mainstream. On Friday night, the sweet-voiced Musgraves drove that home, repeating the FCC’s least favorite line of hers three times in a row from “Follow Your Arrow” (she sings of rolling a joint when you’ve had enough of the straight-and-narrow crowd) — even interjecting “That’s right, a real big fatty!” on the last refrain.
Lady A, by contrast, gave a performance that seemed designed to make their country forefathers proud. Between joyful interludes of high-fives and camera-phone selfies with fans, the band showcased the effortless harmonies and raw emotion that propelled last year’s “Golden” to the top of the Billboard 200.
Their greatest hits were on display, too, with heartfelt fan favorites such as “Need You Now,” the country-living anthem “American Honey” and “I Run to You” (during which couples in the arena kissed, and a woman near me dialed up “Mama” and held up her iPhone).
Even Lady Antebellum, though, hinted that they’re aware of change afoot. They closed the show with an uninhibited, blue and purple confetti-drenched rendition of Avicii’s 2013 country-fied EDM hit “Wake Me Up” — a testament to the notion that the genre’s oldest traditions and newest innovations can coexist beautifully.
Fetters is a freelance writer.