Monday’s (April 1) Loretta Lynn: All-Star Birthday Celebration Concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena showed that the Kentuckian is an incomparable living legend and a genuine original who will never be repeated.
The 86-year-old CMT Artist of a Lifetime is among the last of the living architects whose timeless music has helped evolve country music into what it is today.
For three hours while seated side-stage with friends and family, Lynn watched as more than 20 celebrity acts including sisters Crystal Gayle and Peggy Lynn; Little Big Town; Margo Price; Garth Brooks; Trisha Yearwood; Alan Jackson and George Strait delivered a night of songs she wanted to hear in honor of her upcoming 87th birthday April 14.
Surrounded by the ensemble cast, Lynn delivered her first live performance in Nashville in nearly two years when she helped close the night with her signature hit, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” The last time she staged a full concert was at her 2017 birthday shows at the nearby Ryman Auditorium before she suffered a stroke in May that year. For Monday’s finale, Lynn held the mic and sang from the second verse on with Tanya Tucker assisting her onstage. Actor Dennis Quaid then helped the family carefully escort Lynn off the darkened stage while the cast reprised a few verses.
The birthday tribute was sold-out, and the 12,000 fans who were there never wanted to leave their seats. If anyone did at any given moment, they might have missed Keith Urban popping out of an oversized birthday cake, or the live premiere of the Highwomen featuring Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires, or Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood singing “After the Fire Is Gone” to one another.
The show was split into two acts – the first was dedicated to her solo material and the second half featured her greatest duets. Before Lynn’s finale, Jack White rocked through “Have Mercy” and “Portland, Oregon” (the latter of which featured Price) from 2003’s Van Lear Rose.
An all-star band led by Dave Cobb and featuring Charlie Worsham on guitar backed the lineup’s John Carter Cash and Anna Christina Cash (The Carter Family’s “Keep On the Sunnyside”); Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue Lynn (“Sparkling Look of Love”); Alison Krauss (“It Is Well with My Soul”); Randy Houser (“Wouldn’t It Be Great”); Little Big Town (“Makin’ Believe”) and Holly Williams (“God Makes No Mistakes”).
Here are some of our favorite moments from the show:
Keith UrbanJason Kempin/Getty Images for for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
Hearts are still melted on the Bridgestone Arena’s floor after Urban’s impassioned solo piano performance of “Blue Kentucky Girl.” Urban was quick to recall the date night he had with Lynn at the 2005 CMT Music Awards. Their picture together that night was projected on an oversized backdrop as evidence of the memory. Additionally, Lynn is probably the only country star who could get Urban to jump out of an oversized cake. At the start of the concert’s second half, Cam led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to Lynn as the towering confection secretively housing the CMA’s reigning entertainer of the year was rolled out as a surprise.
Kacey MusgravesJason Kempin/Getty Images for for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
Musgraves absolutely crushed “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” a song she’s been singing since she was 12.
Miranda Lambert and Pistol AnniesJason Kempin/Getty Images for for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
Lambert’s clear delivery of “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” was the stuff of dreams. Then with her Pistol Annies bandmates, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe, they put their honeyed harmonies on the rocker “Fist City.”
Brandi Carlile and Tanya TuckerJason Kempin/Getty Images for for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
Carlile received the first genuine standing ovation of the night for her operatic and sorrowful “She’s Got You.” That ovation continued as she introduced Tanya Tucker onstage. The two performed one of Lynn’s moving ballads that blew the audience away.
CamJason Kempin/Getty Images for for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
If you closed your eyes and listened to Cam’s “Rated X,” she sounded like fierce equal parts of Lynn and Dolly Parton.
Margo PriceJason Kempin/Getty Images for for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
Price’s version of “One’s on the Way” was appropriate since he performed onstage eight months pregnant with a baby girl. Before her performance, Price mentioned she wanted to have Lynn be part of the child’s name.
Darius RuckerJason Kempin/Getty Images for for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
Rucker saw that no one was going to sing “The Pill,” so he volunteered himself as tribute. Rucker’s lead gave the song an unexpected twist.
The Highwomen featuring Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie HembyJason Kempin/Getty Images for for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
They’ve talked about it, and now The Highwomen is here. The super-group led by Carlile, Morris and Shires made its live debut with Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” midway through the set.
George Strait and Martina McBrideJohn Shearer/Getty Images for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
The audience went absolutely ape when the King of Country graced the stage to sing for Lynn. Strait’s set included “Lead Me On” with Martina McBride and “Amarillo By Morning.”
Garth Brooks and Trisha YearwoodJohn Shearer/Getty Images for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
Brooks and Yearwood’s “After the Fire Is Gone” sent the crowd into a fever pitch. The song was a two-week No. 1 for Lynn and Conway Twitty in 1971.
Alan Jackson and Lee Ann WomackJohn Shearer/Getty Images for Essential Broadcast Media, LLC
Jackson and Womack’s “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” lit up the arena before Jackson took the spotlight for “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” True to his country-to-the-core persona, Jackson gifted Lynn a yellow rose in a Jack Daniels bottle. Womack rocked a bouffant that would make the 1960s jealous and re-appeared later in the show to sing “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die.”