Die Fun: Kacey Musgraves Strikes Gold at the Masonic

Fresh off a major Grammys win, the country star proved her recent accolades were no fluke.

(Zack Ruskin)

For the second time in a week, San Francisco’s Masonic welcomed an artist celebrating a recent triumph. While Anderson .Paak was riding high from his win for Best Rap Performance when he took the stage last Monday, the stakes were even higher for country singer Kacey Musgraves following her unexpected trophy for Album of the Year earlier this month.

If Grammy prognosticators weren’t convinced that the 30-year-old Musgraves could best the likes of Cardi B, Drake, and Janelle Monáe, the self-assured yet laidback singer was in no mood on Saturday to apologize for shocking the industry by taking home the evening’s biggest honors.

“I was in categories with albums that got a shit-ton more radio play,” Musgraves told the crowd during a lull between songs. “That just goes to show you that the love behind the record was really strong.”

While it’s difficult to discern precisely what role the love of fans truly played in Musgraves’ Grammy win, her show this weekend offered plenty of evidence that those in attendance truly do adore her. From the moment she kicked things off with the tender ballad “Slow Burn,” the nature of the evening’s event became clear: this would be a sing-along, gamely led by a humbled Musgraves.

Over the course of her set, she played every song from her Grammy-approved third record, Golden Hour, as well as a few selections from her first two albums. (To be fair, her debut, 2014’s Same Trailer Different Park, also won a Grammy for Best Country Album.) It can be somewhat of a challenge to explain what precisely sets Musgraves apart from her contemporaries.

On the surface, her songs cater to the same slice of life musings that many young country stars embrace, but there’s something in her lyrics that transcends the tropes of lonely nights at the honky-tonk and heartsick Texas sunsets. One might call it whimsy, but in truth, the power of Musgraves’ words rests with their ability to live in the present instead of relying too heavily on the past.

On “Follow Your Arrow,” her message of LGBTQ inclusivity (and pro-cannabis sentiments) retool a genre typically reserved for one very specific demographic by instead inviting folks of all stripes to be true to themselves. The potency of her words was reflected in the crowd’s diversity, which found businessmen in cowboy boots crooning each chorus shoulder-to-shoulder with teenage girls, wistful grandparents, and one very entertaining man rolling hard on his substance of choice — and prone to the kind of memorable outbursts no sober mind can conjure.

In a simpler sense, a Kacey Musgraves show is just one hell of a good time.

Compared with the manufactured aura of joy that can sometimes be felt at shows where the artist in question appears to be working from a script of one-liners, gratitude, and “insider” tales from their time on the road, Musgraves offered something much more genuine to her fans. Whether she was playfully admonishing the crowd for providing one of the members of her band with a joint or momentarily forgetting the words to “Die Fun,” she carried herself not as a musician with something to prove but instead one who already knows she’s fully arrived.

Musgraves and Sophie Allison from Soccer Mommy sing a duet. (Zack Ruskin)

Nothing more perfectly captured this vibe than when Musgraves brought out supporting act Soccer Mommy (Sophie Allison) for an earnest duet of *NSYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart” late in her set. Not only did the pair nail their vocals, but they even peppered in some era-appropriate dance moves for good measure. If that means Musgraves will forever be anchored to the pop side of country, then perhaps it’s time for the rest of that genre’s artists to revisit their priorities.

After all, the only ironclad fact in music is that things change. Many times it’s for the worst, but in the case of Musgraves, her career may be the lightning rod that ushers in an overdue evolution.

The patriarchal dinosaurs of country have had their moment. Now it’s time for the Kacey Musgraves of the world to lead the charge. Hopefully, they’ll continue to have as much fun as the Grammy’s latest victor did during what was quite possibly the last time San Francisco will ever see her outside of a stadium. Sadly, it just doesn’t seem possible to expect a venue like the Masonic to adequately hold all of the people in Musgraves’ flock as her star continues its upwards trajectory.

Such is the cost of upending a paradigm. Thankfully, when it comes to Musgraves, the rewards have equaled the labor. For those of us who’ve never held a sprig of wheat between our teeth, there’s finally an artist worthy of our best yeehaw.

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