"It's not every day that I get to sing and see corn in the background - that's pretty awesome. It feels like home."
Texas native Miranda Lambert did indeed make herself right at home in Iowa on Friday night (6/28/13) when she opened the Summer Concert series at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort.
Originally scheduled as a Pistol Annies concert (Lambert's side project with bandmates Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley) the trio had to cancel their June 28 show. But Lambert, ever the Southern belle, brought her solo act to the stage in their place.
The 4,000 strong, sold-out crowd, didn't seem to mind the switch. Clad in sundresses and boots, sipping Bud Light tall boys in their seats, and singing along to Lambert's hits, it felt like an intimate cornfield concert, instead of a casino parking lot.
Opening the show with a video montage of old western movies, the clips showed several movie heroines and western pin-up girls, all flashing to the beat of "Run the World (Girls)" by Beyonce. It was an interesting choice - pairing classic country images with a modern song, but the juxtaposition played well for the tone of the concert and for Lambert's personality as whole: she's a sweet country girl, but make no mistake, she's in charge.
It's that sugar'n'spice persona that has catapulted the singer into country stardom. On Friday night, she sang her hits, "Heart Like Mine" and "Over You" which are some of her more tender songs, but the crowd knows (and loved) her for the rowdier girl anthems like, "Only Prettier" and "Baggage Claim."
Strikingly pretty in person, Lambert was dressed in blue jeans, a V-neck 4th of July shirt, a giant belt buckle and her signature cowboy boots. She looked like the relaxed country girl next door. But by the next song, she was rocking out, flipping that blonde hair upside down and holding her drink up in the air.
"Thank you so much for spending your hard earned money on some country music - and a little rock'n'roll," Lambert told the crowd.
Lambert adapted well to her good girl/bad girl song list, changing the lyrics to a few of her songs and encouraging the crowd to participate. They obliged by singing along, swaying to the beat, and cheering enthusiastically.
Armed with a hot pink guitar with a rhinestone guitar strap and tambourine, she accompanied her band throughout much of the concert. Not surprisingly, Lambert commandeers an all-male band (three guitarists, a piano player, and drummer) who meshed together beautifully both in sound and personality. The band didn't miss a note, and several concert-goers commented that the live music was even better than the CD. You also couldn't help but notice the "little sister" vibe the band gave their female star, sharing the microphone with her and dancing along.
She ran through hit after hit, like "Fastest Girl in Town," "That's the Way the World Goes 'Round," and "Mama's Broken Heart."
While introducing one of her most popular tough girl songs, Miranda pointed to her hip and told the crowd a story. "When I was this tall - my daddy taught me how to use a shotgun. And he also taught me that it's never okay for a man to lay a hand on a woman. So I grew up, and then I wrote this pretty little love song." The crowd laughed and cheered as she struck up, "Gunpowder and Lead" and mimicked Lambert's pointed finger in the air, pretending to shoot into the sky.
But as soon as her hard hitting lyrics were over, that red lipstick would curl up into a sweet a smile. Ever the gracious hostess, she tossed a guitar pick into the crowd after almost every song.
"You're beautiful, Iowa. I love ya'll."
The sold-out crowd of more than 4,000 certainly felt the love, too. Lambert shared several montages of family photos on a giant screen behind her. The sneak-peek into her upbringing brought an intimate vibe to the show, as we saw pictures straight out of her family photo album.
During "The House that Built Me" her strong voice turned soft, as we got to see photos of the home she grew up in. A tiny tot with white blonde hair, strumming guitars and playing outside. It also didn't go unnoticed when in one of the photos, a teen-aged Lambert was spotted wearing an Iowa sweatshirt.
That Iowa appreciation was most notably displayed during, "Famous in a Small Town" when the video montages behind her proudly displayed local photos. While Lambert sang, we saw Iowa City streets, local businesses, area parks, cornfields and Kirk Ferentz all flashed upon the giant screens. After each image, the crowd grew louder and louder. Lambert ended the song with a strum of her guitar and an aerial shot of Kinnick Stadium - as the crowd took to their feet and cheered wildly. If they weren't a total fan before, they certainly were now.
"Hey ya'll - you got a beer? Cheers!"
Riverside also couldn't have asked for a better night to open their series; the weather was mild with a pleasant breeze and a sky full of stars. A second large screen, set up to the left of the stage, ensured that everybody felt like they were part of the party.
After finishing with a rousing version of "Kerosene" - arguably her first big hit - the country cutie showed her true soft side underneath all that bad girl exterior.
"Don't let anybody get you down. Go out and do what you love, no matter what people say. Be exactly who you are. I drink light beer. I shop at Walmart. I eat chicken fried steak. And I love doing what I do. And I love ya'll too."
On that sentimental note, the band launched into her feel-good song, "All Kinds of Kinds" and exited the stage.
"Thanks for having us. I had fun tonight. God bless, ya'll"
Thunderous applause followed the final notes of the concert, until the expected (and much anticipated) encore began a few minutes later.
Lambert saved two of her best performances for last, lighting up the stage with, "White Liar" which she said was her first number one hit. She graciously thanked the fans for taking that song to the top.
She ended with her slowest and most passionate performance, in which she finally acknowledged her superstar husband - fellow country star Blake Shelton. The crowd had been waiting to see if she'd talk about her famous other half, and went wild at the mention of him, even though she didn't name him specifically.
"I'm gonna sing a song that means a lot to me. I married a crazy Oklahoma boy two years ago, and this song was a wedding gift."
Her stripped down performance of "Oklahoma Sky," in which she only sang with an acoustic guitar and a stand up bass, showed her true vocal range and was her most passionate and heartfelt.
"Thank you so very much, Iowa." With a wave and a big smile, Lambert skipped off stage.
And as the lights came up to the classic Roy Rogers tune, "Happy Trails," the crowd was, indeed, happy
: Miranda Lambert is ready to kick up her heels at Riverside