Just four years ago, Margo Price was an unsigned artist opening for another singer-songwriter at the intimate Basement club underneath Grimey’s record store in Nashville. But even then, dressed in a Loretta Lynn-like gown and strumming an acoustic guitar as she sang “Weekender,” she commanded that tiny stage, presaging a future success that has now arrived in earnest.
This past Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, Price held court just two miles north of the Basement at Music City’s most heralded room, the Ryman Auditorium, showcasing songs off her two studio albums for Jack White’s Third Man Records and choice covers by artists who influenced her. She also welcomed some A-level surprise guests, like Emmylou Harris and Sturgill Simpson. But make no mistake, this was Price’s spotlight, and by the residency’s end, she had cemented her status as a bonafide star. Here’s the 10 best moments from the singer’s Ryman run.
Price Rallies Her “Wild Women”
Price has sung about the pay gap, but on Saturday – and each evening thereafter – she may as well have been singing about an inclusion rider. Bringing out many of Nashville’s multitalented female singers, including Erin Rae, Tristen, Caitlin Rose and Larissa Maestro, they formed a backing choir of the best and brightest that the town has to offer – who all just happen to be women. Decked in white, they flanked Price for songs like “Wild Women,” a revelatory moment from the run’s opening night. When Price howled, “wild women, they got no time for the blues” with her friends sticking a perfect, precise harmony, it felt like a battle cry for every woman in the audience to run wild, take no shit and follow their dreams. M.M.
The Show-Stopping “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)”
Price’s signature song “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle),” which she was playing around Nashville well before her Midwest Farmer’s Daughter debut, was the main set’s closing number on Wednesday, and rightly so. But the singer wasn’t precious about her rousing booze anthem, stretching the boundaries of the song to make room for two well-chosen covers: Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and Willie Nelson’s longtime show opener, “Whiskey River.” Both fit seamlessly inside “Hurtin’,” which Price wrapped up by dramatically leaping into the crowd and atop a church pew to hit and hold that long final note. Still, she wasn’t done: after a quick costume change, Price returned for a spirited take on Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” J.H.
Price’s Drum Solo
Remember when Hank Williams Jr. used to stop mid-song to slide in front of the piano and tickle the keys or hoss himself up behind the drum kit to pound out a vigorous solo? Price sure does. During a rousing “Paper Cowboy” at Wednesday’s show, she climbed up on the riser to a second set of drums and kept time with Dillon Napier, her black pantsuit and heels be damned. It was the expert move of a true-blue entertainer, polished and poised but not afraid to get sweaty and show off a bit. Later, she displayed a more delicate side, sitting at the piano to debut the new song “Better Than Nothing at Least” with husband Jeremy Ivey. J.H.
Sturgill and Margo Play Conway and Loretta
After showing up to support Tyler Childers in his Saturday-night opening set, the audience was buzzing: would Sturgill Simpson sing with Price, too? He did, and the results were a glorious version of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “After the Fire Is Gone,” from the country legends’ 1971 collaborative LP We Only Make Believe. Dipping into the full, twangy breadth of their ranges, Price and Sturgill slayed a cover that left us begging for their own version of a duets album – or just any chance to hear two of country’s greatest voices singing together any time again soon. Naturally, they obliged: Simpson returned Wednesday night for another Conway and Loretta duet on “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.” M.M.
The Candlelit “All American Made”
For the title track of her sophomore LP, All American Made, Price took to the piano alone, creating a spine-tingling, somber moment on Saturday when she reminded the audience that we live in a world where we are still very much in political peril. Joined eventually by Jeremy Ivey on harmonica and then a cadre of backing singers and children decked in white, all clutching candles, it was a vigil not for some version of the country we once had, but for hope that our sometimes faulty all-American tendencies can see a better, brighter day. M.M.
The Pricetags Bring the Funk
Price may have been dubbed a throwback country singer when she launched her solo career, but onstage Wednesday night – backed by her in-the-pocket band – she completed a transformation into a contemporary country-funk artist. While the twang will forever be a part of her voice, it’s the way she used it to accentuate soulful jams like “Do Right By Me” and “A Little Pain” that proved she owes just as much to Memphis as she does Nashville. With help from the Buffalo Clover Horns, named after her first R&B band, Price added a little grease to the Ryman’s hallowed stage. J.H.
“How the Mighty Have Fallen”
No matter how big a stage Price is appearing on, she never forgets her friends and community from back in Nashville. On Sunday night, she played a song from her debut, “How the Mighty Have Fallen,” written by Mark Fredson, a beloved local musician who, as it turns out, was playing the same track at his own gig just down the street. “The goddamn Mother Church, you guys,” Fredson wrote on his Instagram page. His solo LP, Bitchin Summer, is out June 1st. “Words can’t express what an honor that is. Thanks for believing in my songs, Margo. And for letting me a be a small part of such a well-deserved, monumental evening(s). I’m so proud of you it’s ridiculous.” Dipped in strings, it was a gorgeous way to show Price’s deep, deep roots. M.M.
So as I was playing this song I wrote tonight, called “How the Mighty Have Fallen,” to 15 ppl tonight down the street, @missmargoprice was playing it to a packed house at the Ryman. The goddamn Mother Church, you guys. Words can’t express what an honor that is. Thanks for believing in my songs, Margo. And for letting me a be a small part of such a well-deserved, monumental evening(s). I’m so proud of you it’s ridiculous. And thx for the vid, @terryfest
Price’s Duet With Jack White
When no one else was biting on Price’s phenomenal debut LP Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Jack White and his label, Third Man Records, did what no one else was willing to do: release her album, completely as is. On Sunday, White made a surprise appearance alongside Price to sing the 2007 White Stripes tune “Honey We Can’t Afford to Look This Cheap.” “It’s about songwriters living in Nashville, maybe some of you can understand,” White said before launching into the song that tackles those who price artifice over art. M.M.
Emmylou Harris’ Surprise Cameo
The Wednesday crowd rose in unison when Price announced the evening’s first special guest Emmylou Harris, an en masse salute to country royalty. Price herself was in awe of the Americana icon, who sang Rodney Crowell’s “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” before joining the headliner on All American Made‘s “Wild Women.” A passing of the baton? Maybe. But judging by the easy connection between the two artists onstage, it looked more like game recognizing game. J.H.
Tyler Childers’ Opening Set
It’s possible the Ryman audience has never roared as loud for an opening act as it did for Tyler Childers, at the first of his two appearances kicking things off for Price on Saturday. Singing about the forgotten stories of small-town Appalachia on tracks like “Whitehouse Road” and “Nose on the Grindstone,” Childers’ sets will most likely be the last time he appears at the Ryman without top billing. Joined by Simpson for two songs, who brought a few killer guitar solos, Childers roused several standing ovations and left a permanent impression: a songwriter of the highest caliber, he can write just as potently about love and passion as he does disappointment and despair, and at only 26, he’s still just getting started. M.M.