Monday night at the Birchmere, country singer Pam Tillis told the audience that she has stayed off the tour bus for a full year for the first time in her career, and that her only gigs during the hiatus have come at her dad Mel's theater in Branson, Mo. There was some rust in the playing--Tillis and her three-piece band didn't always hit their starts and stops together, and at times lyrics didn't come to her so easily--but her enthusiasm in being in front of a crowd again, along with her delightfully twangy soprano, carried the evening.

Looking gorgeous in a short red dress, Tillis started her set with faithful (discounting the teeny flubs) versions of her biggest hits: "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial," "Shake a Sugar Tree," "Spilled Perfume" and her first No. 1, Harlan Howard's "Don't Tell Me What to Do." After losing her place in the middle of the Matraca Berg weeper "Calico Plains," Tillis again blamed lack of practice, then took it from the top. "Lucinda Williams does that all the time, and it hasn't hurt her," Tillis said with a laugh, and the fans laughed right along with her.

She put down her guitar to answer audience questions, and even allowed a guy in the crowd to come onstage to propose marriage to his girlfriend of seven years. He got the answer he hoped for, and, after berating the betrothed for waiting so darn long to pop the question, Tillis dedicated another sob song, "All of the Good Ones Are Gone," to the deliriously happy couple. Tears and smiles filled the hall.