Miranda Lambert and Brandi Carlile surprise the sold-out crowd as Morris turns the Mother Church of Country Music into a celebration of her "Girl" power

By Nancy Kruh
March 14, 2019 04:10 PM
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Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium is renowned as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” but on Wednesday night, Maren Morris earned the right to call it “My Church.”

Headlining the historic venue for the first time, she took full ownership of its hallowed stage — which is saying a lot considering that, at moments during the evening, she was sharing it with two of her heroes, Miranda Lambert and Brandi Carlile.

Lambert apparently is making a habit of popping up at friends’ Nashville concerts — she appeared at Dierks Bentley’s last month — and she arrived with frequent songwriting collaborator Natalie Hemby in tow. Together, the three women sang Lambert’s “Virginia Bluebell,” which Lambert and Hemby co-wrote.

“All my dreams are coming true right now, because I’m obsessed with this song, and the women who wrote it,” Morris said in her introduction.

After the trio soared on sparkling harmonies, Lambert offered the ultimate Miranda compliment: “I love Maren Morris. She’s a bad ass.”

Brandi Carlile, Cassadee Pope, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert, Natalie Hemby
Brandi Carlile Instagram Story

Morris had no trouble getting her two guests to stay for another acoustic collaboration on “I Wish I Was,” the Morris-Hemby co-write whose lyrics gave Morris’ debut album its name, Hero.

Still, Wednesday night was really all about Morris’ second album, Girl, just released on Friday, and the 28-year-old Texan seemed almost euphoric to be singing new material after almost three years of supporting Hero.

RELATED: Maren Morris Talks ‘Girl,’ Next Album: ‘I’m Still Very Connected’ to Country After ‘The Middle’

Morris first emerged onstage, rising through the top of a wide staircase via hydraulic lift, to belt out the album’s estrogen-fueled title track (and first single). For the next hour and 40 minutes she delivered every single one of the album’s remaining 13 cuts.

The sold-out crowd came prepared, singing along with the new music at least on choruses, and Morris sensed that they would. “I know a lot of you have been cramming for this test,” she teased at one point.

Maren Morris
Danielle Del Valle/Getty

Riveting in cutoffs, over-the-knee boots, fringed top and midriff corset — all studded in light-catching rhinestones — Morris proved she could strike any musical mood.

She and Carlile, bathed in red light, torched the stage with “Common,” their duet on Girl. She was all strut and sass for “’80s Mercedes” and “Rich,” two of the five Hero songs performed. And she showed she could take command with just her voice and her own acoustic guitar on such warmhearted songs as “To Hell & Back” and “A Song for Everyone.”

Morris also brought something else, abundantly, to the party: smoldering sexiness. That was undeniable, whether she was lolling on her staircase to coo “Make Out with Me” or straddling the back of a folding chair — à la silver screen idol Marlene Dietrich — to dispatch her “RSVP.” (Has there been a sexier French lyric since “voulez-vous coucher avec moi”?)

A headlining concert at the Ryman is a rite of passage these days for country artists, and though she’s no stranger to its stage, Morris understood the import of the evening.

“I’ve felt the weight of these halls and these windows — these beautiful stained-glass windows — and I’ve had many magical moments up here with my friends,” she told her audience. She recalled opening for Chris Stapleton at the Ryman three years ago, “and I remember that feeling really monumental … To think about all the things that have transpired since then is just pretty freaking bizarre and surreal.”

Maren Morris
Danielle Del Valle/Getty

But if this night was a rite of passage, the emphasis was on the “passage.” Obviously, Morris’ set and staging have been built to eventually move on to larger venues. It was unusual for the intimate concert hall to sport such arena trappings as a giant video backdrop, multiple mirrorball lights and even a bubble machine.

And who could doubt Morris is ready for the big time? Certainly not her. At evening’s end the crowd’s cheers crescendoed when Morris announced she’d be returning to Nashville on Oct. 18 to play the 6,800-seat Ascend Amphitheater — almost three times the Ryman capacity.

Morris performed the understated “Shade” and massive crossover hit “The Middle” for her encore, but she brought the concert to its official end with what is now her career anthem, “My Church,” as well as a hopeful declaration that 2019 will be a “turning point” for female artists.

“I’m just going to keep being the squeaky wheel until something gets some oil,” she said, embracing her role as trailblazer and agitator.

As Morris introduced the final song, her stage crew punked her in the best way, unexpectedly bringing out more microphones.

“Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “Is someone coming out?”

Natalie Hemby, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Cassadee Pope and Miranda Lambert
Alex Ferrari

At the first familiar notes of “My Church,” Lambert, Carlile, Hemby and show opener Cassadee Pope surprised Morris by returning to the stage for a massive crowd sing-along — the proper close for the “Girl”-powered evening.

The Nashville concert was the second on GIRL: The World Tour.. Announced dates continue through August.