Keith Urban's crowd-pleasing stunt was no shocker, but he joined Garth Brooks, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert and more to provide plenty of surprises at the celebration of the country queen's 87th birthday

By Nancy Kruh
April 02, 2019 05:45 PM
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What Loretta Lynn wants for her birthday, she gets. So, sure enough, as Cam led a sold-out Nashville arena crowd in “Happy Birthday” on Monday night, a ginormous fake cake was rolled onto the stage. Out popped Keith Urban from its top, arms flung high in “ta-da!” formation.

Everyone cheered, of course, even though most no doubt could see it coming. Urban, who can now claim the title of “country’s best sport,” was just obliging the country queen, who’d mischievously requested the stunt when her tribute concert was announced back in January.

The actual surprises of the evening were saved for the performances, when star after star took the Bridgestone Arena stage to honor the iconic Coal Miner’s Daughter two weeks shy of her 87th birthday.

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Keith Urban
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty

In fact, Urban’s real surprise came in the Lynn song he chose to perform, “Blue Kentucky Girl.” He made his first stage appearance long before the cake trick, first rushing to hug Lynn, who was enjoying the celebration seated stageside with about a dozen family members.

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Loretta Lynn and her wax figure
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty

“I played in a few cover bands growing up [in Australia], and we often ended up with a girl singer,” Urban explained in his introduction. “And so even on the other side of the world I grew up playing quite a few of your songs over the years. … This is a song I wanted to do, despite the fact that it’s sung by a girl, because I’ve always loved this song.”

It has to be an all-time favorite: Urban sang it as a surprise guest, along with Miranda Lambert, at Dierks Bentley’s recent Bridgestone concert. This time around, Urban jilted his beloved guitar to accompany himself on a grand piano, tapping into his feminine side to deliver a transcendent performance.

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Darius Rucker
| Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty

While Urban was merely bending gender, Darius Rucker crushed it to smithereens, offering a head-spinning — and fearless — performance of Lynn’s controversial salute to oral birth control.

“I was looking through the songs, and no one was doing this song, so I said, ‘I guess we gotta take ‘The Pill,'” Rucker explained in his introduction. No one was more entertained by the selection than Lynn, who laughed and slapped out the rhythm on her leg as Rucker crowed, “You’ve set this chicken your last time, ’cause now I’ve got the pill.”

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Loretta Lynn and Darius Rucker
| Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty

The majority of Lynn’s signature female-centric hits went to the roster of women artists who showed up to exalt their hero. Margo Price, beatifically eight months pregnant, sang the most appropriate Lynn song, “One’s On the Way.”

In her introduction, Price shared that she’d received the queen’s blessing “to use Lynn as a middle name” for her baby. “So, I’m having a little girl, and you can bet that’s gonna be her middle name,” said Price, who named her first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, in homage to Lynn.

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Jack White and Margo Price
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty
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Jack White and Margo Price
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty

Newlywed Miranda Lambert thanked Lynn and her music “for advice … about when husbands piss you off a little bit” before she launched into “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind).” She then joined the other two Pistol Annies, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe, on “Fist City,” a reprise of their 2012 performance for Lynn’s 50th Grand Ole Opry anniversary.

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Miranda Lambert
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Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley and Miranda Lambert of The Pistol Annies

Grammy’s new darling, Kacey Musgraves, picked “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” a song she said she’s been singing “since I was about 12 years old.” Another recent Grammy winner, Brandi Carlile, set a bonfire onstage with “She’s Got You,” one of the Patsy Cline songs that appeared on Lynn’s 1977 tribute album to her bestie.

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Kacey Musgraves
| Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty
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Brandi Carlile
| Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty

Carlile reappeared with her newly formed supergroup, the Highwomen, announced in January as a trio that included Price and Amanda Shires. Membership has evolved: This appearance featured Shires, Maren Morris and singer-songwriter Natalie Hemby. The quartet sang “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” Kitty Wells’ signature song that Lynn put on a 1993 album.

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Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby of The Highwomen
| Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty

The second half of the concert turned a spotlight on Lynn’s classic collaborations with the late Conway Twitty, allowing for a string of twangy duets: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood on “After the Fire Is Gone”; George Strait and Martina McBride on “Lead Me On”; and Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack (in a circa-’60s Loretta bouffant) on “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.”

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Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty
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Martina McBride and George Strait
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty
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Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty

Strait stuck around to sing his own signature hit, “Amarillo By Morning,” and Jackson lingered for “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” — both requests by Lynn. Alison Krauss also obliged Lynn, employing her angelic pipes, and hushing the rowdy crowd to reverent silence, with the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” Lynn’s younger sister, Crystal Gayle, sang her signature “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” because Lynn said she wanted it included.

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Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue

In fact, the birthday girl was happily indulged and fêted from start to finish, accepting hugs, bouquets and kisses (blown and planted) from all the artists who came to celebrate with her. She seemed to save her most delight, however, for rocker Jack White, who gave Lynn a late-career surge when he produced her 2004 Grammy-winning album Van Lear Rose.

Though frail from a 2017 stroke and a broken hip, suffered last year, Lynn got to her feet to greet White with a warm embrace and she clapped her way through his electric performance of “Have Mercy,” a cut off Van Lear Rose.

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Tanya Tucker, Loretta Lynn and Dennis Quaid

The two-and-a-half-hour concert ended on the 28th performance: an all-cast sing — and crowd singalong — of Lynn’s signature hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Lynn made her way to the stage, a family member on each arm, to soak in the adulation.

“You ready to sing?” Crystal Gayle asked her sister.

“I don’t want to,” Lynn primly replied.

That mood faded fast for a woman who was born to sing. By the second verse, her singular voice burst through, loud and strong, and it led the way for all the rest, just as it has for six decades and counting.