CLASSIC: Loretta Lynn at Massey Hall

I realize I’m likely not the average country music fan. The subjective “average,” of course, is hard to define: the lady sitting immediately behind me singing every word to every song, completely off-key, louder than any speaker in the room … was she an average fan? Likely not. Yet we’re not similar in the least.

If you haven’t yet read the Springsteen profile in the New Yorker from a couple months ago, drop everything and read it now. I’ve never been much a fan, but that article made me want to be one. All this time later, it seems these words are the ones that resonated with me:

As the tour developed, he altered the set lists so that each show felt specific to the occasion. At the Apollo, he declared that soul music had been the band’s education: “We studied all our subjects. Geography? We learned the exact location of ‘Funky Broadway.’ History? ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’ Math? ‘99 and a Half Won’t Fucking Do.’” … In Tampa, Springsteen played “American Skin (41 Shots),” which was written in the wake of the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, but was now for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen-ager who was killed in Sanford, Florida.

Country stars tour much more frequently than rock stars, though even that’s changing; the pop/rock/mainstream stars are realizing the only money left in the business is coming from tours. And I know I should cut Loretta some slack, given how she’s 80 and all.

But I go to these shows now looking for some reality. Something unrehearsed, something unique to that show, that night. And in country it’s rare, even when it’s presented as off-the-cuff. She’s celebrating 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry next week and this is the 50th anniversary tour, so part of “the show” was for the crowd to call out names of the songs they want to hear. Responding to those requests, though, finding some consensus, and working with the band to make that happen apparently wasn’t part of “the show.”

My much-hoped-for reality came in the form of a terrible sound system that night. At least twice Loretta apologized to the crowd for the bad show we’d paid our hard-earned money to see. It took a couple turns for me, at least, to realize she wasn’t apologizing so much for the show — which she could control — as much as it was the sound, that crucial technical element most headliners would not even acknowledge from the stage if it were subpar. Kudos to Loretta for assuming responsibility, because it wasn’t necessary.

Because the songs were all there: You’re Lookin’ At Country, The Pill, You Ain’t Woman Enough, Fist City, Honky Tonk Girl, Blue Kentucky Girl (one of my favourites), Lead Me On, Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man. The ushers, who’d spent the entire evening shooing photographers from the stage, were all but washed away when the first words to Coal Miner’s Daughter rang through the room and maybe 50 people literally rushed the stage, cameras in hand.


It was great to see her daughters, The Lynns, perform. Coincidentally I’d loaded a few songs from their nearly 15-year-old debut album onto my iPod just a few weeks ago.

(This article was originally posted to my previous blog Critically Country on September 20, 2012)