Those who saw Reba McEntire’s two-show headlining debut at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium witnessed a master at work.
She was Oklahoma tough throughout Tuesday’s (Feb. 15) matinee performance, delivering two hours of live hits plus selections from her faith-based album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope. Between songs, she entertained the packed audience with stories chronicling her unprecedented 41-year career.
Her mother Jacqueline McEntire and sisters Susie and Alice also appeared onstage that night to sing the classic "I'll Fly Away."
Linda Davis later joined McEntire onstage to their classic duet "Does He Love You," and the Isaacs sat in for “In The Garden/Wonderful Peace.”
Both shows were filmed for a new concert special.
Kicking off the afternoon set with an a cappella version of with “Jesus Loves Me,” the crowd hushed as McEntire made her grand entrance through a backdrop of tufted drapes. As a child, her first paid gig was singing the hymn for a group of cowboys at the Frontier Hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where her pro rodeo father Clark McEntire was competing at the time. The cowboys gave her a nickel for her singing, while her brother Pake got a quarter for his version of “Hound Dog.” But who’s counting?
McEntire then led her eight-piece band into “I Got the Lord on My Side,” a song she co-wrote with her mother.
Next came her first No. 1 “Can’t Even Get the Blues” and “The Fear of Being Alone” from 1996’s What If It’s You. Then she paused to share an embarrassing story about one of her first trips to the Ryman. Growing up, her family was on the road constantly watching her father compete as a champion rodeo roper, and the only vacations they took were visits to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry.
The crowd laughed with her when she recalled getting sick on the front steps when she was 8 years old while her mother watched from the front row, not taking her eyes off the Opry stars onstage.
“I said, ‘Mama, I don’t feel good,’” McEntire recalled, “‘I think I’m going to throw up.’ She said, ‘Go find a bathroom.’ So I took off and tried to find a bathroom and then finally, I ran out the front door and I vomited right on the front steps. Did y’all walk in that way?”
Lee Ann Womack was spotted in the balcony singing along to every word with a group of girlfriends as McEntire rolled through “One Promise Too Late,” “Whoever’s in New England” and “Little Rock.”
Then the show took an emotional turn before “Back to God,” one of the new originals from the Sing it Now collection. McEntire walked over to the grand piano where she grabbed a Kleenex to wipe away the tears welling up in her eyes.
“I believe that timing is everything and everything happens for a reason, and this year is no different,” she said. “This album is called Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope. I can’t do without those two things.”
Her words were met with applause as she thanked former manager Bill Carter and her longtime producer Tony Brown for encouraging her to release an inspirational album.
“Thank y’all very much for the kind reception that we’ve been getting off this album so far,” she said. “It’s touched my heart more than you know. … I’ve had a lot of changes in my life over the last two years, and people ask me how did I get through it, and I can honestly say that it was my faith, my family and my friends.”
Then like a total pro, the tears stopped and she lit into “God and My Girlfriends,” another track from Sing It Now. Next came “Just Like Them Horses” and “Going Out Like That” from 2015’s Love Somebody, which were followed by her version of Dee Dee Warwick’s “You’re No Good," updated by Linda Ronstadt during the '70s.
Hearts shook when she and her background singer swapped vocals on a powerful “Does He Love You,” which was followed by a medley of “Take It Back” and “Why Haven’t I Heard From You.” The Reba sitcom theme “I’m a Survivor” and “Is There Life Out There” preceded the encore.
As the band exited the stage, the sound of hands beating on the backs of pews thundered throughout the hall, calling McEntire back onstage for the finale. When she returned, she reemerged decked out in a flashy red dress to close the show with “Fancy,” the Bobbie Gentry cover that became one of McEntire’s signature hits.