There's something undeniably special about a homecoming concert. And let's be real: The first day of the two-day Off the Rails Fest at Toyota Stadium in Frisco wasn't really a festival as much as it was a Miranda Lambert day of appreciation, with a couple of fine bands acting as special guests.
Some of the guests were great. Though "Redneck Crazy" singer Tyler Farr offered his tepid take on Southern rock-style bro country in the late afternoon, Oklahoma's Turnpike Troubadours took the main stage at 6 p.m. to really get things rolling. Led by Evan Felker, the Troubadours are perhaps the most popular and most talented band in the Texas country and red dirt scene.
Given their true indie status, it was impressive to see them slotted in a prime spot on the main stage schedule and not buried on the second stage. Skillfully offering songs from each of its fine records, the group made the most of its hour-long set with more fiddle, banjo and harmonica than the early-arrivers had heard all day.
Justin Moore, an Arkansas native with a handful of legitimate country radio hits to his name, warmed the mainstream-loving crowd up rather well. As some welcome shade began to roll over the soccer stadium floor, Moore capably displayed why -- though he may not be a massive A-list name -- he's been a dependable hit-maker for several years now. His best songs, "Small Town U.S.A." and "If Heaven Weren't So Far Away," are sincere, power ballad-style tunes that serve the crowd exactly what it wants.
But with the sky completely black and the crowd in the almost full stadium eager with anticipation, Lindale-native Lambert won the night by simply walking out with a wave. In the past couple of years, fellow Texas-bred country talents including Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris have made plenty of sweet noise and won a ton of deserved praise.
But there's no arguing Lambert is the brightest of all Texas stars currently populating the country-music universe.
A boot-stomping "Kerosene," her first-ever song to make a real national impact back in 2005, was a great way to start. Her second song, the jaunty "Highway Vagabond," from her stunning, most recent record, the double-album The Weight of These Wings, showed her keen ability to change styles quickly.
Over the course of her 90-minute set, Lambert would rock out, quiet down, cuss like a sailor and sing like an angel.
Her ability to so effectively switch gears has been a strong suit of hers for years, as evidenced throughout her excellent catalog. That she could effortlessly bring the same kind of entertaining variety to the stage isn't a shock in the least.
Though Lambert certainly started performing at a young age, her songs have never been of the Radio Disney variety: Revenge, heartbreak and torment have been prominent themes all along. And over the past few records, her ability to subversively shake off smalltown haters has given her albums an expert combination of sweet and sour.
At the end of "For the Birds," a breezy song about the simple things in life she treasures, Lambert laughed as she said to cheering crowd, "Tweet that, b----!"
A moment later, Lambert played "Vice," the Grammy-nominated, slow-burning song that dives into the narrator's self-destructive taste for brown liquor and lusty late nights with the wrong guy. Following that with the silly, folksy "We Should Be Friends," and then the gut-wrenching No. 1 ballad "Over You," Lambert was dead-set on giving the crowd a rather pleasing case of emotional whiplash.
When the acoustic strums for "The House that Built Me," the gorgeous 2010 ACM and CMA Song of the Year Winner, began, the crowd sang along with its collective eyes closed. Lambert is indeed a hometown girl, but even more than that, she has provided the soundtrack for millions of people from her home and around the world.