“Nobody logical in life ever gave me a shot. They were always a little left of center.”
This wasn’t just a proclamation made by Tanya Tucker during her headlining show at the Ryman Auditorium on Sunday (Jan. 12), but a defining factor of who she is as an artist. The 61-year-old country legend achieved one of her prodigious dreams when she headlined a sold-out show at the historic Nashville venue, serving as the kick off for the 2020 CMT Next Women of Country Tour that she’ll helm through June.
Days before the show, Tucker reflected on how her father brought her to the Grand Ole Opry, whose original home was at the Ryman, from their native Willcox, Arizona when she was 9 years old. Tucker made history in 1972 at just thirteen years of age, when she became the youngest artist to have a major country with “Delta Dawn” reaching the top ten. Tucker would later become one of the few female acts included in the outlaw country movement led by the likes of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in the 1970s, and judging by the crowd’s reaction, she’s just as beloved now as she was nearly five decades ago.
She received multiple standing ovations throughout the opening trio of beloved favorites “Blood Red and Goin’ Down,” “Jamestown Ferry” and “What’s Your Mama’s Name Child.” “You remember!” she observed after a performance of “Lizzie And The Rainman” that inspired the crowd to sing along, a notion that continued as she powered through her storied catalog of hits, several of which she racked up before she was eligible to vote.
With a voice of endurance and consistency, Tucker’s spirit is perhaps more youthful than ever, with her wispy blonde hair dipped in hot pink tips, doing her best Elvis impression by swiveling her hips throughout multiple numbers in the set. The night was also jam-packed with surprise guest stars who were sprinkled in like precious gems, allowing Tucker to not only perform alongside her friends and fans, but soak in their affinity for her, as she did when Jamey Johnson came out and nailed “Don’t Believe My Heart Can Stand Another You,” vowing that he knew every one of Tucker’s songs.
“Strong Enough to Bend” got a particularly warm reception, as did “Love Me Like You Used To,” with the presence of Margo Price adding a nice touch. Billy Joe Shaver, Lee Ann Womack and actor Dennis Quaid – who unbeknownst to most is also a songwriter – were all pleasant surprises, but perhaps the most rewarding appearance was Billy Ray Cyrus. The two dueted on his famous “Achy Breaky Heart” before Tucker requested they sing his massive hit with Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road.” And try as she might, the trailblazing star didn’t exactly know all the words, but was clearly in the spirit of the song as she danced her way across the stage and struck as many poses as possible. The performance wasn’t merely a reunion among two friends, but a symbol of how courage, artistic vision and aligning with the right visionaries can revitalize one’s career in a meaningful way.
For Tucker, those visionaries are Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, who co-produced her new album, While I’m Livin,’ her first in 17 years. Tucker treated the audience to several numbers from the album, including the spirited “The Wheels of Laredo,” “Hard Luck” and “High Ridin’ Horses.” Tucker remarked how Jennings called her one day to remind her that she once told him she’d do anything for him – he decided to play that card early by encouraging her to make an album, knowing her talent needed to be re-showcased to the world. “The biggest song you’ll have is the one you’ll write yourself,” she added, recalling a sage piece of advice she received years prior that served as an introduction to “Bring My Flowers Now,” the somber, reflective ballad she co-wrote that’s since scored her three nominations at the 2020 Grammy Awards. The moment proved to be one of the best of the night, with Tucker perched on a stool with just a piano, her husky voice and the song’s potent lyrics about cherishing other’s appreciation and love while you’re still able to do so.
The evening came to a fulfilling close with the edgy “Texas (When I Die),” a duet with Quaid on his original number “On My Way to Heaven” and an all-star sing-along to the hit that started it all for Tucker, “Delta Dawn,” bringing the audience to its feet. “I think they’ve figured out, I’m not going anywhere,” Tucker remarked about her friends, a statement that not only applies to her revitalized career, but the loyal fans who continue to support her in days past and present.