Way back when the savvy folks at Ruth Eckerd Hall booked Miranda Lambert to play a postgame September gig at Tropicana Field, little did they know the country spitfire would turn into an awards-gobbling, bold-faced megastar by the time she reached our shores.
And it's safe to assume that way back when the Tampa Bay Rays scheduled Country Night for late in the season, little did they know that the hometown boys would be in the midst of the nail-biting-est pennant race in the franchise's youthful history.
But whattaya know: On Saturday, good luck and hot buzz ran through the much-maligned concrete playground like an electric guitar lick, the gods of music and hardball grinning on the 27,000-plus revelers at the stadium.
Lambert, arguably the biggest (definitely the most current) act to play the Rays' "free" concert series, let it all hang out after the Rays beat up the Blue Jays, 6-2, to stay tight with the Red Sox, who, in the night's third stroke of fat-grinning goodness, lost earlier in the day to the Yankees.
Can I get a yeehaw?!
The 27-year-old Lambert probably doesn't know a Longoria from a Lobaton, but she knew a crowd eager to cut loose. And if the dome swallowed up some of her pinched dirt-road twang (the subtle beauty of The House That Built Me and Dead Flowers was lost in the catwalks), her cowgirl-power ferocity amped the boot-wearing masses just fine.
On a small stage holding a five-piece backing band and all her blond hair, Texas gal Lambert was the anti-Taylor Swift, most of her bare-knuckle songs dealing with cigarettes and firearms (Gunpowder & Lead, ferocious in any venue), bad men and violent ends (the incendiary Kerosene).
She announced herself as "Mrs. Shelton," flashing her ring finger to show sparkly love for her new hubby, country-singing eccentric Blake Shelton. But in typical Lambert spin, she said one of the best things about marriage was that, after years in a dry town, "I now live 2 miles from the nearest beer store!"
Give Lambert credit for treating her 70-minute show like a real gig, unloading genuine punch plus fresh cuts from her upcoming album Four the Record, which drops Nov. 1. Opening song Fastest Girl in Town, really new and really good, also let you know that fame and marriage hasn't dampened her wild-child spirit: "I'll be wearing nothing but a tattoo and smile."
Because Lambert plays by her own rules, her taste in cover songs were more headbanger than hoedown, including Aerosmith's Rag Doll and Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze, which was sloppy, but ridiculously fun.
Such is her brand name now, Lambert's days toasting the Rays in the Trop are probably done. But, hey, sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes the good guys win. And sometimes, in the gray gloom of that weirdo park, nights can feel pretty dang special. Now who's up for another yeehaw?
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter (@seandalypoplife) and Facebook (facebook.com/seandaly.tampabay).