In mid-2018, Margo Price played a triumphant, sold-out three-night stand at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, proving her power as a capable headliner. She’s gone on to even bigger stages in 2019, opening several shows on Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show Tour in July and August. But on Saturday night, she found herself in the comparatively intimate setting of the Shoals Community Theater — with a capacity of around 700 seats — in downtown Florence, Alabama, as part of the 11th annual Billy Reid Shindig.
With a brief set that leaned heavily on her uptempo material and a couple of choice covers, Price asserted her place as one of country music’s great vocal heroes. Opening with the as-yet-unreleased “Going to the Country,” Price and her band — including her husband, singer-songwriter Jeremy Ivey — brought an almost punk energy to “Four Years of Chances” from her solo debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, furiously strumming her acoustic guitar as she belted each line.
For “Tennessee Song,” she slowed the intro down to a muddy, bluesy crawl, impressively sustaining her opening lines before the tune shifted to its usual disco-outlaw rhythm. With Ivey doing his best Mickey Raphael impression on harmonica, Price displayed remarkable range — dipping down into a lower alto at points, but bringing the fireworks with an upper range that could rival Carrie Underwood’s and which breaks into a slight, pleasant rasp when she really pushed. The crowd, perhaps a tiny bit lubricated by this late point in the evening — having taken in a raucous set from Drivin N Cryin just before she hit the stage — showed its appreciation with enthusiastic applause.
“Can you drink in here? You can? OK,” asked Price, to a host of affirmative “Woo!” responses.
As much as the set showed off Price’s skill as a singer, it also highlighted the versatility of her band. In “Do Right By Me,” for which Price was joined by the Watson Twins, the band shifted out of outlaw mode and laid down a looser, funkier groove that by the end of the song had morphed into a full-on instrumental jam. They could also change gears for plaintive numbers like Price’s “All American Made,” which was rendered as a more keening rock anthem than the solemn acoustic version on her second album.
That shape-shifting ability has an ideal foil in Price, whose presence is steadying and tends to offer sections of her own narrative and influences during a show. She set up the music-industry roast “Cocaine Cowboys” by saying it was about “a bunch of motherfuckers in Nashville,” then busted out a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Move Over” that she had originally intended to play at the ill-fated Woodstock 50 and stomped around the stage like the wild-eyed rocker had years ago. She closed out her performance with a righteously funky rendition of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” drawing the line between herself and another country performer whose singular voice and outspoken personality helped make her an icon.
Price’s set was the last of a full weekend of art, food, baseball, and music at the Billy Reid Shindig. In addition to a runway show from its namesake fashion designer — based in Florence — the weekend-long event included performances by Erin Rae, Jeremy Ivey, Cautious Clay, Motel Radio, and Dirty Dozen Brass Band. On Friday night, the headlining performance at Shoals Community Theater was the meat-and-potatoes rock & roll of the Raconteurs, led by Reid pal and Price’s label boss Jack White.