Trisha Yearwood was relaxed and funny in front of a hometown crowd at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium Wednesday night (May 31), taking listeners through an evening of hits, new songs and her favorite cover tunes. “I had to do a show to get home,” she joked.
The Georgia native’s 69-city theater tour kicked off in April and has kept her on the road for the last five weeks straight. Her sparse stage setup, with soft lighting, oriental rugs and white candles, created a cozy atmosphere for interaction with the audience in the homey Ryman.
Yearwood opened with “Where Are You Now?” — the first cut from her most recent album, Real Live Woman. Over the course of the evening she explored her career repertoire including “She’s in Love With the Boy,” “Perfect Love” and “Walkaway Joe.” Her voice was right on, easily hitting the high notes, quickly turning into a low growl when necessary. Her stage presence has grown beautifully over the years. Unlike many artists who employ the same tired patter and set-list night after night, Yearwood came off as genuine and likeable. Introducing her latest single, the woman-of-substance anthem “Real Live Woman,” she even poked fun at herself.
“I’m trying to live this ‘real live woman’ thing while I’m up here pulling and tucking and sucking in,” she admitted to sympathetic applause and laughter from the women in the audience.
The show moved quickly. When Yearwood got to “Try Me Again,” a Linda Ronstadt/Andrew Gold cover that appears on her new album, backup singers Kim Fleming, Vicki Hampton and Bob Bailey emerged from the wings to surprise her. The powerhouse trio, usually on the road with Wynonna, recorded harmony vocals for three tracks on Real Live Woman. When they joked onstage that they were running late to catch the bus for the Judds reunion tour, Yearwood quickly replied, “I’ll give you a note for the redhead.”
The trio lingered for several more songs, however, including a scorching version of “Midnight Train to Georgia” and a bluesy workup of “Wrong Side of Memphis.” The high point came during “You Don’t Have to Move That Mountain,” a Keith Whitley tune from Yearwood’s 1992 album Hearts in Armor. The song turned into a full, gospel-style jam, with Yearwood trading vocal fireworks with her guests and gracefully throwing the spotlight on them as much as herself. The performance earned one of three enthusiastic standing ovations during the evening.
Further proving what a gracious performer she is, Yearwood brought out supporting act Kim Richey for two songs, including “Believe Me Baby, I Lied” and “Those Words We Said.” Richey wrote both songs and sang harmony on Yearwood’s recordings of them. The women’s voices blended seamlessly, and the two even talked about writing a song together while out on tour. During her 45-minute opening set, Richey rolled through skillfully crafted songs such as “Just My Luck” and “I Know,” filling the auditorium with only her voice, her guitar and one side player. She wrapped up by doing an a cappella version of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” proving once again why the acoustics in the Ryman make it the best live-music venue in Nashville.
Yearwood finished her two-hour show with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a song she said she has loved since she was a little girl. It was an odd but strangely fitting ending to the “Real Live Woman” theme of the evening. Without being preachy, Yearwood lived up to the strong-woman image, choosing to perform songs she loves — whether hers or not — just because she could.
The Real Live Woman Tour continues through September 1, when it wraps up in Plymouth, Wis. Yearwood then will head to the United Kingdom for a string of dates through the month.