Miranda Lambert looked a lot different at the conclusion of her Saturday night show at the 2017 Bayou Country Superfest than she did at the same festival two years ago.
In 2015, she got drenched by a rainstorm at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. But this year, after seven seasons at the outdoor stadium, the Memorial Day weekend country music marathon relocated to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Instead of heat and rain, the only element attendees and performers confronted Saturday was the Dome’s chilly air conditioning.
Whether that move paid off in increased ticket sales was hard to say. Attendance had declined the last two years at Tiger Stadium. At the Dome on Saturday, most, but certainly not all, of the available seats on the floor and in the plaza and loge level bleachers appeared to be occupied. Most of the upper terrace level was empty.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, addressing the audience following Rascal Flatts’ performance, encouraged fans to use the Twitter hashtag #OnlyLouisiana when sharing pictures of the festival, “so next year, we fill up the whole Dome.”
The Bayou Country Superfest likely will spend at least one more year in New Orleans, as the off-season Tiger Stadium renovations that forced the festival to move this year are slated to continue in 2018.
Performing indoors allowed all the acts on Saturday’s bill to deploy a full light show. Green laser beams shot from the stage during the sets by Rascal Flatts and Brooks & Dunn.
Fittingly for a festival during Memorial Day weekend, Rascal Flatts lead singer Gary LeVox solicited a cheer for members of the military. During Brooks & Dunn’s closing song, “Only in America,” several U.S. Navy sailors marched onstage and stood at attention, earning a lusty ovation.
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, one of country music’s most successful duos, announced their retirement in 2009 and performed their supposedly “final concert” in September 2010. Retirement proved short-lived. By 2015, they had reunited for a series of performances in Las Vegas with Reba McEntire.
Their ongoing reunion brought them back to Bayou Country Superfest. Brooks, a Shreveport native, wore a flannel shirt and black cowboy hat. Dunn sported a white pirate-shirt with flared cuffs.
They opened with the gospel-influenced harmonies of the title track from their multi-platinum 1991 debut album, “Brand New Man.” At least two other songs in the set, “Neon Moon” and their signature “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” came from that first album. They also revisited 2003’s “Red Dirt Road” via the hit title track, a nostalgic ode to rural rites of passage, and “You Can’t Take the Honky-Tonk Out of the Girl.”
They alternated lead vocals throughout the set; “My Maria” was a highlight. Brooks’ jokes and anecdotes weren’t as sure-fire as his songs; Dunn is clearly the smoother singer. But their collaboration still worked.
Lambert and her band arrived onstage at 11:25 p.m. following a brief clip of gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Lambert’s opening “Fastest Girl in Town” cast her as the cigarette-smoking, whiskey-drinking renegade, a persona she favors in song and, occasionally, real life.
Her devil-may-care swagger was cut with a vulnerability she let show only briefly, and then barely. That combination, coupled with her nasally, pure-country voice, is a match made in honky-tonk heaven. She’s a Superfest headliner for a reason.
At the soggy 2015 Superfest, her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Blake Shelton, performed right after her. This year, she graduated to the Saturday night headlining slot; in a twist of scheduling, Shelton was scheduled to close Sunday's show.
She noted she “got divorced in 2015” but didn’t intend to burden the audience with her “sob stories.” In the wake of the divorce, she "started drinking even more" and wrote “Ugly Lights” on a bar napkin. “I wear my sadness like a souvenir,” she sang.
She also let her guard down in a mostly acoustic “The House That Built Me,” accompanied by a preening pedal steel guitar. She delivered a lovely, poignant "Over You," a song she co-wrote with Shelton about the death of his brother.
Elsewhere, she tore into “Mama’s Broken Heart” and celebrated the therapeutic powers of “Pink Sunglasses.” In “Little Red Wagon,” she altered the line “I live in Oklahoma” — Shelton’s home state, and the state where the couple, in happier times, made their home — to “I got the hell out of Oklahoma!”
"Where's my girls?" she asked prior to "We Should Be Friends." "This one's for all of us."
She thanked her fans for "staying up late as hell." It was well past midnight when she arrived at “White Liar.” By then, attrition had thinned the crowd, even as Lambert still looked fresh — and dry.
Those who left early missed her flipping the script on ZZ Top’s “Tush” and loading up “Gunpowder and Lead.” In the latter, she and her shotgun show an abusive spouse “what little girls are made of — gunpowder and lead.”
Right up until her abrupt exit following the song, she'd made a convincing case.