"To say that 2010 has been an exciting and amazing year seems like an understatement," says country music's latest darling, Miranda Lambert. She's not kidding. This year alone, the 26-year-old has gotten engaged to country singer and soon-to-be-inducted Grand Ole Opry member Blake Shelton; recorded a version of "Coal Miner's Daughter" with Loretta Lynn and Sheryl Crow ("She told me I was feisty!" Lambert told Rolling Stone about Lynn); scored an unprecedented nine Country Music Association Award nominations; and is deep into a North American tour that will see her through the end of the year.
"It's now about fans buying a ticket with my name on it," Lambert, who checked in with Rolling Stone on the eve of the tour's kickoff last month, said of ascending to the ranks of tour headliner. "It's important I deliver a great show and a good time." She delivered both in spades: From the moment Lambert stepped onto the stage (as Steve Earle's "The Revolution Starts Now" played in the background), Lambert bore the look of someone who knows she's made it to the big time — and couldn't be more ecstatic about it.
Her set is certainly arena-sized, as Lambert and her five-piece band tore through a rollicking 20-song, 90-minute setlist heavy on tunes from her 2009 CMA-nominated album Revolution — which was certified platinum just last week — along with several covers sprinkled in. She pays homage to her idol, Merle Haggard, with a reverential rendition of "Misery and Gin." ("After Blake [Shelton] and I get married and divorced, I'm going to marry Merle Haggard," Lambert joked to the New York crowd, "he just doesn't know it yet!") She also rolled out Dwight Yoakam's "Long White Cadillac" and Rick Derringer's "Rock & Roll Hootchie Koo."
Lambert acknowledges her country and Southern rock forebears in her cover tunesbut she — and the audience — really come alive on her own songs. On the foot-stomping crowd-pleasers like "Sin for a Sin," "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go" and "Kerosene" — the title track from Lambert's platinum-selling debut album — the Texas native doesn't hesitate to let loose. At times she just dances in a frenzied circle, clapping her hands excitedly, as if she knows she's on top of the world and still can't believe it's actually happening. Indeed, despite Revolution being her third album, she still seems giddy about the perks of fame. She even tweeted a photo of her wineglass while on a first-class flight recently.
"I still don't think of myself as famous," Lambert tells RS. "I think it's also easier for me as I live on my farm in the middle of nowhere in a very small town in Oklahoma where people know who I am, but to them I'm just Miranda."
Lambert may sing songs about heartache and guys who've done her wrong, but unlike her female contemporaries like Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, she does it with a shotgun in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. Before launching into "Time to Get a Gun," she proudly declared herself a "longtime member of the NRA." She's an everyday girl with plenty of Southern charm (as she sang in the show opener "Only Prettier"), but unlike the Kanye-absolving Swift, Lambert will kick ass if she has to. At the New York show, as she prepared to tear into "Gunpowder and Lead," a seething, explosive tune about punishing an abusive boyfriend from her 2007 album Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she announced, "I am one of those redneck chicks! I don't take crap from nobody, especially a man who beats a woman!" "Gunpowder and Lead" was easily the highlight of the night, with the entire audience bellowing the incendiary lyric "He'll find out when I pull the trigger!"
With 10 weeks to go in Lambert's "amazing year," there's still plenty of excitement coming her way. Most notably, the CMA Awards on November 10th — Lambert's 27th birthday — where she'll go up against country-music heavyweights like Keith Urban, the Zac Brown Band and Lambert's friends Lady Antebellum for the top award of Entertainer of the Year.
"I have everything in line for once — and it's awesome," says Lambert, who hopes to start recording a new album in mid-2011. "My personal life, my music, and I feel more creative than ever. I guess success brings on that creativity because it's working, so I want to do it some more."