Loretta Lynn Dazzles at 85th Birthday Concert

Martina McBride and Lynn's sisters Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue Wright also took the stage at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium

Loretta Lynn played the first of two Ryman Auditorium shows on Friday, celebrating her 85th birthday with special guests including Martina McBride. Credit: Rick Diamond/Getty

Feisty, funny and sweetly nostalgic, Loretta Lynn celebrated her 85th birthday with the first show of a two-night stand at Nashville's renowned Ryman Auditorium, where she was joined onstage by family members, including sisters Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue Wright, and surprise guest Martina McBride, whom the legendary entertainer called "my closest friend in country music." McBride presented the birthday girl with a bouquet of yellow roses and joined in on a couple of songs.

The two-hour show was as much a loving, humor-filled tribute to Lynn's family as it was a reminder of the continuing appeal of her much-beloved hits, which dominated the set list. The evening began with daughter Patsy Lynn, who alluded to her mother's recent Grammy-nominated LP and the just-announced follow-up, saying, "Tonight is a Full Circle moment to head into Wouldn't It Be Great. My mom always said she was a songwriter more than a singer. She believed that telling her story was the most important part of making her music. I believe so, too. My dad, his most important role was being a target to make such great music. I think he kind of liked it a little bit."

The guest of honor took the stage after an opening number by her longtime band, the Coal Miners, opened with "Okie From Muskogee" as well as musical tributes to their "Mee-maw" from granddaughter Tayla Lynn and great-granddaughter Emmy Rose Lynn, who explained that her great-grandmother has gifted her with the guitar she used to write "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" and "Don't Come Home a-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)." "I'm a senior in high school," she said. "I almost had a heart attack."

Lynn then took to the stage to a rousing ovation and got right down to business, opening with the tribute to her coal-miner father, "They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy Anymore," followed by vintage Seventies hits, "You're Lookin' at Country," "When the Tingle Becomes a Chill" and "I Wanna Be Free." Once she spoke to the crowd, she joked, "I don't know what's wrong with you all, it ain't my birthday," and insisted she was 26 years old, a claim easily backed up by her robust voice, if not her occasional lapses in memory. "I could work any 26[-year-old] girl under the table any time," she proclaimed, going on to affect a slow girlish voice. "You know what I think? I think girls are getttin' lazy. 'I can't sing a whole show.' If they were like me and they had to sing, they'd sing."

Lynn also joked about her "dozen" kids, although the real number of children she had – while constantly touring and recording – was six, including her youngest, twins Patsy and Peggy Lynn. In one of the more somber moments of an otherwise joyful celebration, she noted the death of her oldest child, Betty Sue Lynn, who succumbed to emphysema in 2013 at age 64, and Jack Benny Webb, who drowned in 1984 at 34 years old. Son Ernest Ray got a good-natured ribbing for having stayed home in bed, and when sister Crystal Gayle was onstage, she recalled that she and her nephew (who are both the same age) had their share of fights. At one point, when Peggy Sue attempted to interject, she told Loretta, "I was just ad-libbing," to which Lynn replied, "Don't, Peggy. You ain't good at it."

Seated throughout the nearly two-hour show and wearing a pillowy blue dress, she noted that the glittering gown was "about three miles too big for me." Between songs, Lynn reminisced about her early days singing at the Ryman on the Grand Ole Opry. When enthusiastic audience members shouted song requests or wished her happy birthday, she would respond with a sweet, matronly, "What, honey?" But when her band played ahead of her or didn't follow orders, she reminded them who was in charge.

Calling the Ryman Auditorium "my favorite place," Lynn echoed her great-granddaughter, saying, "The first time I sang here on the Grand Ole Opry I almost had a heart attack. The only thing I remember is pattin' my foot to '[I'm a] Honky Tonk Girl.' That was my little record that was out at that time. It was on the Zero label and zero's exactly what it made me. That record is 50 years old. It got 50, I didn't." Actually, the record is 57 years old, but was indeed Lynn's first chart hit, and the first song she ever wrote.

Early on, the audience spontaneously began serenading Lynn with "Happy Birthday," the first of two times she was feted with the song. The second time came just after she finished singing "Honky Tonk Girl," when McBride took the stage. Lynn enticed her to join her in a repeat of "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)," then did "I Saw the Light."

Fan favorites, including "One's on the Way," "The Pill," "Fist City," "Blue Kentucky Girl" and "You're Lookin' at Country," plus fun, impromptu tunes including "Tippy Toein'" and "Put It Off Until Tomorrow" were among the nearly dozen Lynn performed with charm and gusto throughout the night. And, naturally, she closed the evening with her signature song, "Coal Miner's Daughter," before exiting the stage that was integral to her early success and today remains a solid reminder of her enduring legacy.

Here's the set list for Lynn and guest's show:

"Okie From Muskogee" (The Coal Miners)
"Bad Mrs. Leroy Brown" (Tayla Lynn)
"Unwinding the Strings (Emmy Rose Lynn)
"They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy Anymore"
"You're Lookin' at Country"
"When the Tingle Becomes a Chill"
"I Wanna Be Free"
"Blue Kentucky Girl"
"You Ain't Woman Enough (to Take My Man)"
"Love Is the Foundation"
"I'm a Honky Tonk Girl"
"You Ain't Woman Enough (to Take My Man)" (with Martina McBride)
"I Saw the Light" (with Martina McBride)
"She's Got You"
"One's on the Way"/"The Pill"
"Everything It Takes"
"Wouldn't It Be Great"
"Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)" (with Peggy Sue Wright)
"Put Your Hand in the Hand"/"Amazing Grace"/"I Saw the Light"/"Tippy Toein'"/"Fist City"/"Put It Off Until Tomorrow" (with Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue Wright)
"God Bless America Again"/"Lead Me On" (with Coal Miners' band member Bart Hansen)
"I'm Dyin' for Someone to Live For" (with Shawn Camp)
"Your Squaw Is on the Warpath"
"Coal Miner's Daughter" (with Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue Wright)