"We all agree that there should be more women in country music," Miranda Lambert proudly announced at the beginning of her encore Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. "And we also all really miss the Dixie Chicks." Then, with help from opening act Ashley Monroe and backup singer Gwen Sebastian, Lambert led her makeshift trio through a note-perfect version of the Dixie Chicks' 1999 hit "Cowboy Take Me Away," paying tribute to the platinum blondes who came before her during one of New York City's biggest country shows of the year.
Headlining the Garden for the first time, Lambert took the stage earlier that night to a fiery version of "Fastest Girl in Town" and hardly stopped for a breath during the rest of her 100-plus minute show. Her 20-song set spanned her decade-long career, from early breakthrough hits like "Kerosene" to recent singles from 2014's chart-topping Platinum. She also included several classic rock covers, including the Rolling Stones' "Bitch" and Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll." Lambert commanded her no-nonsense stage show with an effortless, unassuming confidence, singing fan-favorite ballads like "Over You" and "The House That Built Me" right alongside hard-partying rockers like her current single, "Little Red Wagon," and her signature, set-closing "Gunpowder and Lead."
Lambert's Saturday night show preached open-armed inclusion and fierce female independence. "Take a second to think about who you are, where you come from and what you stand for," she said, in one of her longer, between-song comments of the night, before singing her 2011 anthem "All Kinds of Kinds." Her performance was bookended by a pre-show video showing an array of pioneering women like Amelia Earhart and a banner on the video screen at the end of the show that simply read, "Well behaved women rarely make history." In keeping with the night's tone, Lambert provided one of evening's biggest highlights with a mid-set, solo acoustic performance of Merle Haggard's renegade anthem, "The Way I Am."
If Lambert made arena stardom look easy, Justin Moore showed why he's one of the hardest working Nashville upstarts with his 10-song opening set. Donning a Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band T-shirt, Moore won over the crowd during extended versions of songs like "If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away" (performed as a tribute to 9/11) and his finale, "Small Town USA," which featured a coda of Springsteen’s "Born in the USA." With his earnest speech-making and enthusiastic crowd work, Moore's performance showed that he clearly has his eye set on headlining his own arena shows in the future.
The first opener of the night, Ashley Monroe, performed an all-too brief set of her traditionally minded country music that featured several promising tunes from her upcoming album, including "Has Anybody Ever Told You" and "Winning Streak." Lambert's Pistol Annies partner shared some wise words when introducing "On to Something Good," the uplifting lead single off her (yet untitled) forthcoming record. "I feel like we've all been through some things in life, and it's important to keep going," Monroe said. "You can’t stay at the bottom forever."