On her Grammy-winning album Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves combined traditional acoustic instruments and a synthetic vocoder effect in “Oh, What a World,” creating a standout track that inspired the name of her 2019 headlining tour. At the third of four sold-out Oh, What a World: Tour dates at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Friday, Musgraves emphasized that mellow magic of Golden Hour and reasserted her country connections with an appearance by Brooks & Dunn.
The top-selling country duo of Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks were the third surprise guest at Musgraves’ Ryman shows, following Paramore’s Hayley Williams and CeeLo Green in nights one and two. This one probably made the most sense: Musgraves has been covering Brooks & Dunn’s 1992 Number One hit “Neon Moon” in concert, and also recorded a new version of the song with them on the upcoming collaborative album Reboot. Rather than an exact remake, Musgraves — taking the lead, with golden-throated Dunn supplying lower harmonies — turned the barroom weeper into pulsing, chillwave honky tonk that suggested, hey, maybe things will be ok in the end (after you down a bottle of rosé and pop an edible, of course).
That was a recurring theme throughout Musgraves’ hour-and-forty-minute set on Friday, which opened with the gravity-defying, swirling tones of “Slow Burn” and concluded with a liberating dance party set to the irresistible rhythms of “High Horse.”
“You’re lookin pretty fuckin’ fine out here,” Musgraves said early in the evening. “Are you in a chill mode or do you wanna turn up a little bit?”
It was a rhetorical question — the show naturally built toward a final crescendo on Musgraves’ most club-friendly song, but fans could find plenty of opportunities for either one throughout the night. “Happy & Sad” was set up with a sultry, quiet storm-sounding intro, while “Golden Hour” was ushered in with an instrumental section that split the difference between Hawaiian music and Latin rhythms, both adding to the exotic, chilled-out atmosphere. In the Ryman, the resonant bass and spacious arrangements contributed to the overall feeling of warmth.
But the crowd came to cut loose as well: during “Butterflies,” Musgraves inserted a pregnant pause just before the final chorus but fans kept right on singing. Bemused, Musgraves signaled to her band, which adjusted to come back in on time with the host of voices. Indeed, at multiple points, the audience got to sing entire choruses without help from the band — it was as if they needed to shout those lyrics out at the tops of their lungs.
Musgraves largely stuck to material from Golden Hour, performing every song from the album before the night was over, but threw in a handful of selections from her debut Same Trailer Different Park and its follow-up Pageant Material. But it was interesting to see those older songs get the spaced-out Golden Hour treatment: “Merry Go Round” started off with droning, slip-sliding synth tones before Musgraves’ familiar acoustic guitar pattern entered the mix, while “Die Fun” faded out with a darker instrumental jam that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Depeche Mode’s Violator.
If “Oh, What a World” was one of the most synthesized songs on Golden Hour, it was, perhaps ironically, one of the live show’s most stripped-down. During a short acoustic segment that was led off by the lovely “Mother,” the group rendered “Oh, What a World” more like a bluegrass band would, with banjo, doghouse bass and guitar filling in the space where vocoder used to be. It earned Musgraves a rapturous, extended standing ovation.
“Well bye, thanks. I’m gonna go ahead and end on a high note,” she joked. “I wish you guys could come to every show. Or cheers me out of bed every day like, ‘You got this.'”
Not that Musgraves needs any help with confidence at this point. Since her debut in 2013, she’s evolved into a poised and relaxed performer, as comfortable telling jokes about having a wedgie as she is strutting around the stage like a superstar in the making. Underscoring that point, she ended the show without an encore — just a giddy run through “High Horse” where inflatable balls careened around the room.
Whether it was turning up or getting blissed out, Musgraves’ show was ultimately about everyone’s right to belong as well as having individual needs met. At one point, Musgraves instructed fans to turn and high five the people around them, then followed it with a request to throw their middle fingers in the air. It’s the kind of friendly, irreverent gesture that made Golden Hour so potent — a statement that whatever worldly troubles may wait outside, a Kacey Musgraves show will serve as the perfect balm.
Oh, What a World: Tour at the Ryman Auditorium, Night Three set list:
“Happy & Sad”
“Merry Go Round”
“Oh, What a World”
“Family Is Family”
“Love Is a Wild Thing”
“Neon Moon” (with Brooks & Dunn)
“Follow Your Arrow”