It’s early evening on Friday at Chicago’s Country LakeShake Festival, and in a few minutes Miranda Lambert will perform her first full set in eight months, headlining the day’s all-women lineup. But prior to taking the stage, she’s watching Maren Morris’ set from the wings, tapping her white boots along with the rhythm.
It’s an appropriate way for Lambert to make an official reentry to the touring circuit. She’s made it routine to boost other up-and-coming female artists and will be taking only women — including Morris, Elle King and her trio Pistol Annies — out on her fall Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars run. From the sound of it, she’ll be taking new music with her too. For the follow-up to her masterful double album The Weight of These Wings, Lambert decided to switch things up, recruiting Jay Joyce (Eric Church) instead of longtime collaborator Frank Liddell for production, recording at Joyce’s Neon Cross studio in East Nashville.
Lambert is living proof of country music’s disconnect between what actually gets airplay vs. critical acclaim — and, in her case, what fans are buying en masse. Since its release in 2016, The Weight of These Wings has gone platinum and, despite never cracking the Top 20 on Billboard’s Country Airplay, its third single “Tin Man” was nominated for two Grammy Awards and won the ACM’s Song of the Year.
“If you want to hear girls, you have to find them,” she says, standing in the backstage trailer she is sharing with the Pistol Annies in blue tie-dye fringe. Today’s festival, if anything, is proof that fans are willing to do the work. Work that Lambert and the women playing LakeShake have been doing all along. We spoke to Lambert about why LakeShake is special, what she has in store for new music and how she’s tired of talking about a problem that shouldn’t be up to the women alone to fix.
The all-women Friday lineup looks like a bit of action — a way to help dismiss the claims that festival bookers hold on to about how women don’t sell tickets, can’t headline or that their fans don’t buy booze. You’ve been taking action for a long time, bringing women on the road and supporting your female peers. Does this feel like progress?
Yes, but I am tired of the conversation. I’ve been doing this since before the conversation started, and I’m going to do it after the conversation is over. It should have been a given that we have always supported each other. But now that it’s this poster-waving campaign shit, I’m like, we’re delivering music. It’s not on us that it’s not being played. It isn’t our fault. There is nothing else we should be doing better, because we are doing it.
Does LakeShake feel different than other festivals?
It does. I’m watching all the girls, and we’ve all been on a group text, really excited. When you look at the lineup, it’s really strong. I’ve worked so hard and so long and I see those girls doing it: some of us have to go on at daylight, and it’s not your favorite, but you get up there and kick ass. It’s really cool, and watching those girls makes me want to go up there and just do a really great job.
It’s a great crowd, too. Not just women, but plenty of men and plenty of fans period. It’s packed.
The crowd is so supportive. To me, that’s a statement from the fans. They want [women artists]. So they should give it to them. We’re not just singing “girl songs.” We have a lot to say besides that.
There’s a rumor going around that you’re going to call Maren Morris, Lindsay Ell, Cassadee Pope, Lauren Alaina and the Pistol Annies for a cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” at the end of your set.
I thought it would be really cool to have a moment when we all stand up there together and show that we’re not just talking shit, we’re doing what we say we are doing, which is supporting each other and delivering great music.
It would certainly be nice if women could stop talking about “the problem” and more people in the industry could actually deliver some solutions.
And just because there is a demand for it. There obviously is. And good on [LakeShake promoter] Live Nation for not making it a big thing about us being females. Just putting LakeShake on Friday for sale, and it happens to be all girls. It wasn’t even a thing.
Right. They didn’t trivialize it by calling it the “Lady Hoedown” or something.
To pigeonhole it. Then it’s just part of the same whole conversation.
So where are you on new music? You played a new song, “Locomotive,” at CMA Fest and it seems as though an album is in the works.
I’m so excited — I just turned the record in last week. I’m ready for a single to be out yesterday. I’m ready. It’s a new phase, a new stage of life and I feel like my music reflects that. And I’m going on tour in September so I’m like, I need some new music out there.
Might there be a new single before tour kicks off, then?
I hope so. I hope there is a single out in, like, two weeks. I don’t know how long that shit takes and I don’t care. I’m just ready.
The rumors are saying an album might come this fall. True?
If it takes any longer than that, I’m going to go crazy. I just turned it in, but I was calling the label yesterday being like, “What do you think? When are we doing this? What’s the single?” After you sit on a record for a while you get this energy. You’ve been writing and recording and it has this energy and you just are ready for the world to hear it.
Where did you make the record?
I made it in East Nashville. Jay Joyce produced it, at the Neon Cross. It was a change, but I wanted to go in a different direction for this one than I have in the past because I feel like I was in a new place. Jay and I had some new chemistry. Sometimes you have to change it up.
How did that new partnership weave itself into the music?
I think that everything in my life in the last year has weaved itself in. Taking a break from the road. This the first time I will be on stage for a full show in a while, which is a good feeling. I have been spending time in New York and I got married and I’m happy, and working with Jay, that all brought a really new phase and sound for Miranda Lambert.
How so? A little New York grit?
It does have a little rock vibe to it.
Do you have any covers planned for the record? You’ve picked tracks from amazing and often unsung writers over the years — everyone from Tom T. Hall to Chris Stapleton, when he was an unknown, to Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch.
I didn’t do any covers on the new album, but I have been thinking about covers for all of us to do on tour, that would be cool and not cheesy with all of these women. I’m going to brainstorm a bit.
That all-women Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour has an incredible lineup. Did you have a hand in picking each artist?
It wasn’t a conscious decision for it to be all girls. It was just, who are you loving and what’s cool right now? And who is available? There are all these factors when you put a tour together. I started naming artists and I thought, maybe it would be cool to do all girls because Maren is inspiring me, she’s kicking ass. And I love Elle King. Then thinking about new artists, I always try and bring a young female singer- songwriter, so then having Caylee Hammack and Tenille Townes, who are all beasts in their own way. It came together organically.
You seem to really take seriously your role in championing up-and-coming artists, particularly women.
Someone has to give you that shot to be in the right place at the right time. I know how that feels. I lived in that lost world for a long time, just trying to get seen by enough people to start making a buzz. If you give someone a platform, that usually will take off. If I can be a small part of that, I will always try to be.