Country Music Hall of Fame member Reba McEntire brought her REBA: Live in Concert Tour, featuring “You’re Easy on the Eyes” hitmaker Terri Clark, to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Friday (Oct. 21), and each turned in sets stuffed with hits (McEntire has 24 chart leaders on what is now Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart, and 60 top 10 hits, while Clark has two chart-leaders and nearly a dozen top 10 hits on the same chart).
Together, McEntire and Clark played to a tightly-packed, primarily female audience inside the arena, effectively laying waste to the tired adage that “women don’t want to hear women.” Incredibly, the show was billed as McEntire’s first solo headlining concert at Bridgestone Arena.
Of course, McEntire, who won the Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year honor in 1986, and in 2018 received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, had the audience on their feet and cheering before the first note, as she stepped onstage in the first of many outfits adorned with sparkles aplenty.
She began her headlining set with her first No. 1 hit, 1982’s “Can’t Even Get the Blues,” followed by her most recent chart-leader, the 2011 Hot Country Songs No. 1 “Turn on the Radio.”
“Thanks to y’all, those were No. 1 records — my first and latest,” McEntire said. “In between is a lot of life, love and hairspray,” she quipped. Not to mention nearly two dozen additional chart-topping hits, many of which filled her set list, including “Ride Around With You,” “Little Rock,” and two of her most dramatic hits, “Whoever’s in New England” and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”
She noted her current work on the Lifetime movie The Hammer and the ABC series Big Sky, both of which find McEntire working with her boyfriend, actor Rex Linn.
“He’s definitely my somebody,” she told the audience, launching into her 2004 chart-topper by the same title.
In an era of country music that has in recent years seen so many hits center around the kind of lighthearted fare — trucks, alcohol-fueled parties, girls in cutoff jeans — that prompted Maddie & Tae to write the kiss-off hit “Girl in a Country Song,” McEntire’s set seemed an oasis for women, a musical communal space for the audience to share their triumphs (“I’m a Survivor”), ambitions (“Is There Life Out There?”) and, of course, heartbreaks.
Donning a long, sparkling blue dress, McEntire devoted an entire segment of her set to songs plumbing the nuances of a broken heart.
“I love singing sad songs. Sometimes I feel like it’s the glue of country music. Sometimes when your heart is broke, you just need to waller in it,” McEntire said in that unmistakable Oklahoma twang, before adding these were some of her “favorite wallering songs.”
She offered some of her most vulnerable performances here, both love and pain etched into her expressions, on the 1990s chart-toppers “And Still” and “You Lie,” the 1980s songs “Somebody Should Leave,” and “The Last One to Know,” as well as “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain,” from her 2019 album, Stronger Than the Truth. At the end of the segment, and clearly finished “wallering,” McEntire ripped away the lower half of the dress to reveal sparkle-fringe short skirt as the fiery, determined side of the multi-faceted entertainer returned with the determined “Consider Me Gone” and the post-breakup, get-back-to-living anthem “Going Out Like That.” Many across the majority-female audience lifted their hands, singing every word like an emotional balm.
Later in the set, she addressed a different type of pain — a daughter who never heard the words “I Love You” from her stoic father — as the crowd hung on to every word of “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” while images of McEntire’s late father, steer roping champion Clark McEntire, who died in 2014, flickered across the screen.
“I had my mama’s will, but I had a lot of my daddy in me, too,” McEntire said.
Brooks & Dunn appeared virtually on the large center screen to accompany McEntire on “Oklahoma Swing,” which McEntire had a top 20 hit with in 1990 as a hit with Vince Gill. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, McEntire welcomed Gill for a rare live performance of their 1993 power ballad duet “The Heart Won’t Lie” on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry House. Fans hoping for a repeat performance at Friday evening’s Bridgestone show briefly thought their dreams were coming true, as McEntire concluded the song’s first verse and chorus and gestured toward center stage. The wave of cheers from the audience swiftly swelled and then slightly subsided as Gill did not appear in-person, but rather via a virtual performance.
McEntire, who won her third Grammy in 2018, for her gospel album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope, also devoted a segment to several classic hymns, including “Oh Happy Day,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” as well as “Back to God,” a song that originally appeared on Randy Houser’s 2008 album, and which McEntire included on Sing It Now.
She welcomed longtime friend Clark back to the stage as the women paid homage to one of their favorite vocalists, Linda Ronstadt. They traded lines and were clearly relishing in the moment to collaborate as they sailed through “You’re No Good,” “When Will I Be Loved” and “Heat Wave.”
The evening closed out in expected fashion, with “Fancy,” which McEntire has often closed her shows with. The band led an extended vamp before McEntire appeared in a pale blue dress to sing the story of a woman whose mother “Spent every last penny we had to buy me a dancin’ dress,” and thus setting into motion the rags-to-riches story. The song’s midpoint brought one of the concert’s rare pyrotechnic moments, as sparks soared to the ceiling in front of McEntire, fading to reveal her resplendent in a red sparkling dress, with her thousand-watt smile, a victor after hard-fought journey, reveling in a triumphant ending, and thus representing the hopes and aspirations of so many in the audience.
Opening for Reba was Clark, who played her set like a headliner, stacking the deck with hit after hit, including “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” “Girls Lie, Too” “Everytime I Cry,” and more.
In the mid-1990s, Clark set herself apart from other female artists by taking a page out of the playbook of the hit male artists of the time, becoming one of the few female artists at the time to regularly wear a cowboy hat — evoking a style of honky-tonk glamour that perhaps owed more to artists like Dwight Yoakam than any number of female artists.
But over the ensuing decades, she’s of course proven herself has much more than a “hat act.” Like many of her musical heroes, Clark co-wrote many of her hits (including “Better Things to Do,” “Boy Meets Girl,” “You’re Easy on the Eyes,” “In My Next Life” and “Emotional Girl”). She also sang traditionalist-leaning music in a country music era often dominated by power-pop, and wasn’t afraid to stay true to herself regardless of what musical style was “in fashion.” Clark is a too-often under-heralded influence on today’s female artists.
During her set, Clark shared the story of how a song she wrote by herself, “If I Were You,” changed her life. She wrote the song when she was 21 and going through marriage struggles. She turned to a female friend, who was single, for advice, and later wrote the song based on that experience.
She recalled being turned down by record labels, before singing “If I Were You” as part of her audition for Mercury Records Nashville in 1994.
“I have this song to thank for the record deal, and to thank for paying for the divorce,” she deadpanned, to the cheers of the audience.
And the cheering didn’t end there. The crowd half-sang, half-shouted every word of “Better Things to Do,” to the point that Clark turned the singing duties over to the audience for entire final chorus, and they capably sang as though the song were a current chart hit.
The smart pairing of McEntire and Clark made for a rich, hit-filled and emotionally-resonant evening of song, with plenty of sparkle thrown in for good measure.