Review: Maren Morris Officially a Superstar at the Ryman
Maren Morris did nothing short of cement her 'Superstar in the Making' status during her first headlining performance at Nashville's famed Ryman Auditorium on Wednesday (March 13). The Grammy winner torched through a 22-song set that included her new album Girl in its entirety and featured a slew of special guests, including Brandi Carlile and Miranda Lambert.
If Morris and the band were nervous for their big night (this was only the second performance of the international tour that stretches well into the fall), you certainly couldn't tell. From the moment Morris emerged on a hydraulic lift in the middle of the stage playing the opening guitar line to "Girl," to closing with arguably the biggest song of 2018, the band commanded the room with confidence.
But Morris could only keep her cool for so long. Three songs in, with barely just enough time for the final soap bubble that wafted through the air during "80s Mercedes" to pop, Morris poured her heart out to the crowd.
"I used to drive up and down these two blocks called Music Row, and I never thought it would lead me here," said, speaking both of her newfound success and a Ryman headlining show. When she performed "A Song for Everything" and saw how quickly the crowd learned the lyrics to her barely one-week-old album, she quipped, "I don't even know these songs that well and I wrote them — I'll just look to you for guidance!"
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It only took five songs for fellow Grammy winner Carlile to jaunt onstage and join Morris for their duet "Common" to raucous applause. Cassadee Pope, who opened the evening with a formidable performance herself, played the role of TJ Osborne on "All My Favorite People" two songs later.
But perhaps the biggest surprise came when Lambert and songwriter Natalie Hemby joined Morris on stage to perform Lambert's "Virginia Bluebell" (a deep cut from her 2009 record Revolution) and Morris' standout EP song "I Wish I Was," which she co-wrote with Hemby. It was, by all accounts, a love fest both between the performers on stage and the crowd.
For all the neon lighting, video boards, bubbles and glamour, Morris made a very clear point to emphasize her primary role as a songwriter and a "squeaky wheel" in the fight for equality amongst women and men in music. Before playing a stripped down, cello-adorned version of her first (and only) No. 1 single "I Could Use a Love Song," she recounted a story highlighting the sad reality of sexism in the industry.
"A radio person told me, 'People don't want to hear women being sad on the radio,'" Morris told the crowd. "What's wrong with being sad?" Forty-two weeks later, "I Could Use A Love Song" hit No. 1 on country radio, a nearly insurmountable feat for women in country music.
"That guy doesn't have his job anymore, so ..." Morris said before performing the song. Later in the evening, she reiterated optimism that 2019 would be a turning point in the industry for her fellow women, that "so many of my friends have not been on radio," and she would "keep on being the squeaky wheel" in fighting for equality among the sexes when it comes to opportunities in the music industry.
Lulls in the performance were few and far between, and while the production certainly featured more noticeably scripted moments and movements than previous performances, they all generally felt like a natural extension of the themes of the songs. There is, however, a moment during the sexiest song of the evening ("RSVP") in which Morris handles a white chair as a prop, invoking a bit of that famous Flashdance chair and water scene. While it's not an altogether clumsy moment, it just doesn't quite land — yet. There's a very real chance that bit gets refined throughout the duration of the next several dozen shows.
By the time Morris reached the indelible crowd favorite "Rich," the show already felt like a massive success. "I wish I had a Springsteen-style catalog so we could play for 4 hours," she told the crowd — who would've stayed for all of it. Lambert, Pope, Carlile and Hemby all returned to the stage to sing "My Church" (a surprise even Morris wasn't aware of).
The band barely feigned a break before returning for an encore of "Shade" and "The Middle," the latter of which has become an international anthem and had the crowd singing so loud Morris let out a surprised "Shit!" when she heard the first chorus.
Morris has no doubt come a long way from the beer-soaked bars of her Texas youth. But no matter the sheen on the set or the shine on her rhinestone boots, her genuine, down-to-earth appreciation for the craft of songwriting (and the songs that got her to that stage in the first place) showed through in spades. It's difficult to strike the balance between burgeoning superstar and humble songwriter, but Morris found it in front of nearly 2,500 people on the Ryman stage.
With any luck, she'll take it to the Ascend Amphitheater down the road, a venue three times the size of the Ryman, which she announced *on stage* she'll be headlining in October.
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