Friday night (Oct. 10) was a historic night at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium. It’s hard to believe, but it was the first time Loretta Lynn performed a full show at the revered venue.
Of course, Lynn has stood on stage at the Ryman for numerous Grand Ole Opry performances, including her first Opry appearance immortalized in a touching scene in her 1980 film biography Coal Miner’s Daughter. But Friday night she brought her full arsenal of legendary hits and delivered an evening to remember. Lynn will perform the second sold-out show at the Ryman on Saturday night (Oct. 11).
The concert began with an excellent opening set by singer/songwriter Brandy Clark. Accompanied by skilled guitarist Forrest Whitehead, Clark filled the Ryman with her warm, strong vocals and dazzled the audience with her impressive songwriting, leaning heavily on songs from her acclaimed 2013 album 12 Stories. She opened with “Crazy Women” and followed with an interesting exploration of rural life with “Big Day in a Small Town.” Her set included “Mama’s Broken Heart,” a hit she co-wrote for Miranda Lambert, and “Better Dig Two,” which the Band Perry took to the top of the charts.
After singing “Get High” Clark admitted she was concerned performing that number at the Ryman, but “then when I hit the line about rolling a fat one, this place erupted!” Among the highlights was the tender ballad “Hold My Hand,” which has major hit potential. She closed with the clever crowd pleaser “Stripes.” Clark has the ability to be both vulnerable and feisty, qualities that have been the foundation for much of Lynn’s repertoire, and will no doubt serve Clark well in the future.
Prior to Lynn’s set, her daughter Patsy took the stage to reminisce about growing up backstage at the Ryman while her mom performed so many times on the Opry and shared how her mother always considered herself first and foremost a songwriter. (Patsy is set to open for her mother on Saturday’s show.) After brief remarks, she introduced her brother, Ernest Ray, who performed spirited covers of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and Toby Keith’s “As Good as I Once Was” before welcoming Lynn to the stage.
The 82-year-old icon looked gorgeous in a turquoise ball gown as she launched into her 1974 hit “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy Anymore,” backed by Ernest Ray and her seven-piece band the Coal Miners. The hits continued coming as she followed with “You’re Lookin’ At Country” and then slowed it down to deliver a potent rendition of “When the Tingle Becomes a Chill,” the title track of her 1976 MCA album.
“Holler out what you want to hear and if I don’t know it, get up and sing it yourself,” Lynn teased the audience as numerous fans in the crowd shouted “I love you Loretta,” to which she replied “I love you too!” All during the night she displayed the warmth and charm audiences have come to appreciate during her six decades in country music. Throughout the evening, there was lots of playful banter between Lynn and son Ernest Ray.
She also shared memories of her storied career, including the morning she woke up in the car outside the Ryman and celebrated with her husband by eating doughnuts. That night she made her debut, performing “Honky Tonk Girl,” and says she doesn’t remember singing. “I just remember tapping my foot,” she said.
So much has happened to Lynn since that auspicious debut and Friday night was a musical trip down memory lane as she performed hit after hit including “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man,” “The Pill,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ with Lovin’ on Your Mind,” “Lead Me On” and “She’s Got You.” She also served up “Dear Uncle Sam,” recalling how upset she was every time she’d turn on the news and hear about the Vietnam War. She says her husband encouraged her to put those feelings in a song.
At one point in the show, a chair was brought out on stage and she sat down, telling the audience she was having some trouble with her back. “It hurts a little,” she said, “and I thought since y’all were sitting down, I’d join you.”
Lynn also said she was battling a cold and there was a time when she and the band launched into different songs, but despite the confusion and a few missed lyrics, it was a great night of entertainment from one of the country genre’s true pioneers.
Lynn gave the members of her band time to shine on a few numbers, including the Eagles’ classic “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and she concluded her set with a couple of gospel tunes that she’d written — “Everybody Wants to Get to Heaven, but Nobody Wants to Die” and “Where No One Stands Alone.” Of course, she closed the show with her signature song “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” The night was a testament to Lynn’s enduring catalog of hits and her ability to hold an audience in the palm of her hand with that amazing voice and homespun charm.
Lynn returns to the Ryman Saturday night and continues on tour through November with upcoming dates in Alabama, South Carolina, Oklahoma and others.