Those entering Dos Equis Pavilion to see country music acts Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town on their Bandwagon Tour were prepared for anything. Dark clouds brought a drizzle of rain that threatened to become more, occasionally following through. The lowered temperature had a calming effect, but the rush to find shelter from the rain caused a few traffic jams and head-on collisions. Makeshift umbrellas and tents were created on the lawn seats, made with crossed fingers that their integrity wouldn’t be tested.
On a screen that stretched the entirety of the stage, an old jukebox was projected, a list of descending artists counted down the arrival of Little Big Town next to the animation of a spinning record. Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” played on the virtual jukebox, prompting couples to get up and dance, making one another laugh with shared whispers. Despite the rain, it was a calmer, happier group with a lack of rowdiness that comes with the predominant absence of younger bodies in attendance.
Little Big Town took to the stage with resounding applause and shrill whistles. Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet stood in a line to greet their fans, the backup band bookending the four on either side.
Little Big Town jumped into their first song, “Rollin’” to get the crowd’s heartbeat raised. The quartet sings with a unified vocal range but differing types of stage presence. Westbrook and Sweet looked engaged with the audience, welcoming smiles that carried up to their eyes, while Fairchild looked more or less checked out while performing. It’s not to say she did poorly; it was just Fairchild sang with such a lack of emotive energy that it felt more like a rehearsal than a live show.
Fans blowing through their hair, Little Big Town kept the crowd enthralled for their entire set, at one time having the entire amphitheater of Dos Equis dancing. And then they just as quickly evoked a tranquil, purposeful, moody tone, with songs like “When Someone Stops Loving You” that took you to your favorite bar at closing time, the last notes syncing with the chain being pulled on the neon open sign.
Anyone reseated sprung back up when "Better Man" started, the crowd unable to resist joining in singing. Fairchild’s pause near the end became an extended applause break from an audience that was destined to put the song on repeat for the drive home.
As Little Big Town was finishing their set and making their exit, Schlapman warned the crowd to not leave early. Fairchild seconded this, saying, “Don’t move a muscle because we’re just getting started, y'all.”
No one seemed to be planning on it, and when Miranda Lambert came out to a huge ovation, it was guaranteed the crowd was staying as long as she was.
Lambert played through many of her hits, starting her set off with the career-maker “Kerosene” in front of an image of a burning barn. She sang with a playful energy, doing somewhat awkward dance steps in bright bedazzled boots between lyrics.
The crowd started singing immediately to “Vice.” Lambert’s twangy voice rang out into the night like an instrument yet to be invented. Within the song were brief moments Lambert managed to share a sardonic smile — a knowing glance with the crowd, turning 20,000 people into an old friend across the room at a party. The smile looked like it had more than its share of pain, but it also seemed genuine — the smile of someone unburdened with long-lingering stress.
Lambert’s performance, and body of work, were an example of the journey she’s taken as both an artist and a person — a transition from being the new pop sensation with surface-level appeal, to revealing layers of herself as an artist not afraid to be vulnerable.
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Dos Equis lost their minds when Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, the other two members of the Pistol Annies, Lambert's all-girl country group, came out to join Lambert on stage. They sang a few songs for the crowd, including "Hell on Heels," and made the announcement that Presley was pregnant.
Later in the night when Lambert said, “I had a shitty year in 2015. Sing along with the sad one if you want to," everyone in attendance knew the story and the song that came from it.
Alone on stage, no screen, no ironic graphics of a honky tonk, Lambert sang “Tin Man.” The crowd cheered at the line “Love is so damn hard,” and the faces of those singing along told the story they’d been on at least one side of an equally painful relationship that ended regrettably. Then, in the last few notes of “Tin Man,” Little Big Town joined Lambert on stage.
From there it became a jam between the five artists, going into everything from hit song “Girl Crush” to a brief cover of the Fugees' “Killing Me Softly” to singing Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name.” And when both Little Big Town and Lambert combined were finished with a spent, exhausted crowd, no one had even noticed the rain had stopped. It hadn’t been a concern for hours.