Fret not for Miranda Lambert. She's doing just fine. Better than you and me, to be honest.
Fifteen months after her much-tabloidized split from Blake Shelton, Lambert on Friday showed 13,000 fans at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre why at age 32, she's already one of the most celebrated women in country music history, stomping, strumming and beaming with confidence through a set of hits, rock covers and anthems of women done wrong.
On a night CBS viewers nationwide saw her win the Academy of Country Music's inaugural Merle Haggard Spirit Award in a pre-taped ceremony, Lambert's first Tampa show in three years felt as much like a rock show as a country coronation.
Wearing cutoff denim and an Axl-like red bandana around her head, her eight-piece band entering to Beyonce's Run the World (Girls), Lambert wasted no time juking and shuffling all around the borders of traditional country, starting with the wicked Fastest Girl in Town. Shortly thereafter came the walloping, devil-may-care Kerosene, backdropped by an animation of a giant flaming horse; and the rough-edged soul of Heart Like Mine.
Numbers like these showcased Lambert at her reckless, most rambunctious best – the runaway rockabilly of Mama's Broken Heart; the lickety-split propulsion and Allmanesque fire of White Liar; the careening, cowpunkish Little Red Wagon.
She didn't say much between songs, and only once alluded to the difficulty of her past year: When introducing Vice, her dreamy, nourish first single from her upcoming post-divorce album. "It's a song I wrote from a real place about real things," she said. "Pain and all."
There were a few of those along the night, and they did pack a punch. The already emotional The House That Built Me squeezed an extra teardrop's worth of warmth out of a steel guitar and stand-up bass. Over You, a 2012 breakup ballad co-written by Shelton, was heartfelt yet hopeful, its sweeping chords landing somewhere between Tom Petty and the Dixie Chicks.
But again: There was no weeping for Lambert on this night – not by fans, and certainly not by Lambert herself.
She interrupted All Kinds of Kinds so she could film the audience singing happy birthday to her brother Luke. She swayed through an array of loose and groovy covers: Johnny Winter's Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo, John Prine's That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round, Danny O'Keefe's Covered Wagon. In the encore, she brought out openers Kip Moore and Brothers Osborne for Linda Ronstadt's Willin' and Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee.
Lambert's got her own huge catalog of hits, one that's yielded a record six straight wins for best female vocalist from the Country Music Association, and seven from the Academy of Country Music. But all these covers made the set feel fun, free, maybe even a little cathartic, like Lambert was singing full-band karaoke or just leading a campfire jam session. She was playing what she wanted up there, fully in charge, the Texas girl who grew up to run the world (just like Beyonce!), and the audience bought into her confidence.
And so it made sense when, during the rousing Automatic, a fan handed Lambert a tank top that read "MIRANDA FOR PRESIDENT," which she grabbed, grinning, and draped at the front for the rest of the night.
She might as well run. One look at how she's doing up there, and no one would dare tell her to smile more.
-- Jay Cridlin