Concert Reviews

Homegrown Superstar Maren Morris Had a Proud Texas Homecoming on Friday

Country star and noted LGBTQ ally Maren Morris professed her love of Texas on Friday.
Country star and noted LGBTQ ally Maren Morris professed her love of Texas on Friday. Preston Jones
For about three minutes Friday night, everything was as it had once been. Maren Morris, who was born and raised in Arlington, about 20 miles to the south and west of where she stood on the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory’s stage, found herself alone in the spotlight, armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and her voice.

“I always get scared playing this one in Dallas,” she said. “I’m worried an ex-boyfriend will show up.”

An appreciative, knowing chuckle rippled through the enthusiastic, near-capacity audience as Morris began to play “Once,” a gorgeously aching track from her major label debut, Hero.

Hearing her muscular contralto on its own, full and powerful, crackling with emotion and ringing out into the night, made everything else fall away. For a moment, it was just Maren, her guitar and her singular voice — as it had been for so many years, before anyone outside of Texas was aware of her formidable talents. (As she was talking about Hero, she caught herself: “My first Sony album — because I did release albums in Texas as a teenager.”)

That sensation of homecoming seems to grow more potent each time Morris returns — Friday was her first headlining performance in North Texas in three years, following a sold-out stop at the then-Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum — and one she readily acknowledged near the roughly 105-minute set’s conclusion.

“I’ve been looking forward to this show since we started booking these dates last summer,” she said. “I have so much gratitude for being from this state ... it doesn’t matter what your address is, that Texas fire never leaves you.”

Backed by her tight-knit band — guitarists Bennett Lewis and Eric Montgomery, drummer Christian Paschall, keyboardist Josh Blaylock, vocalist Rachel Beauregard, and bassist/vocalist Annie Clements — the 32-year-old Grammy winner displayed plenty of that fire throughout the night, pulling from her latest album, Humble Quest, and “covering all the bases,” as she put it, in between. (Not for nothing was her final pre-show song selection Lesley Gore’s sweetly defiant “You Don’t Own Me,” which wafted through the dark in the moments before Morris took the stage.)

“I have so much gratitude for being from this state ... it doesn’t matter what your address is, that Texas fire never leaves you.” – Maren Morris

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As can be typical of going home, the night was a pleasantly chaotic one. A couple near the front row got engaged during the second song, “Circles Around This Town,” which Morris deftly handled; she took an impromptu selfie with a fan who held up a sign stating he’d just quit his job — “Congratulations?” Morris deadpanned — and shared several anecdotes about her young son and her husband, singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd.

But through it all, Morris kept the focus on her increasingly eclectic catalog, a fizzy, earthy blend of bright pop, thumping EDM (her collaborations with Zedd, “The Middle” and “Make You Say” were aired out Friday), sultry R&B, rustic rock and countrified soul.

All of it folds into her sound and style, making Morris as fitting an exemplar as any for all of country’s music possibilities. While she may make her home in Nashville, her art knows no boundaries. She even made time for a cover of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” which, given Morris’s wicked sense of humor, could possibly be read as some kind of sly commentary on her recent kerfuffles with right-wing celebrities ... or, maybe she’s just being a ‘90s baby.

Still, the prevailing feeling in the air Friday was one of gratitude. Morris spoke at length, prior to playing the title track from Humble Quest, of how the intervening years between her last homecoming and this one were full of seismic change, bruising loss and intense soul-searching — all of which had brought her to a realization.

As right as it may have looked and felt to have Morris standing alone in the spotlight, her abilities as arresting as ever, the woman standing before us was not the same as she once was.

“I don’t write music and tour anymore to feel loved,” she said, as cheers began to build. “I do it because I love it.”
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Preston Jones is a Dallas-based writer who spent a decade as the pop music critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors honored his work three times, including a 2017 first place award for comment and criticism (Class AAAA). His writing has also appeared in the New York Observer, The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Central Track, Oklahoma Today and Slant Magazine.
Contact: Preston Jones

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