When a legend like the 81-year-old country singer Loretta Lynn reaches her golden years, paying audiences are just hoping their hero doesn't embarrass herself onstage. We're happy just to bask in the presence of such a memorable musician, but there's always the hope that her talents have endured over time. So when the concert at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood started with Loretta's daughter Peggy Lynn telling the crowd that her Mom had broken three ribs, the bar lowered substantially, even if her daughter promised, "Mom's looking really pretty tonight."
Loretta Lynn (for those who haven't seen the great movie based on her life, Coal Miner's Daughter) was once dubbed the first lady of country music. Being a mother of four by the time she was 20 and a grandmother by the time she was 29, didn't stop Ms. Lynn from breaking into country music while writing feminist and political anthems. So why should a few ribs broken in her Tennessee home while getting her guitar case down from the closet stop her from putting on a good show?
Her son Ernest Lynn and the backing band the Coal Miners sort of didn't help our expectations, as they kicked off the night sans Loretta. Soon enough though, Ernest joined the rest of the eight-piece band in serenading his mother with "Coal Miner's Daughter" as she walked onto the stage in a purple dress with a gold sequined top. Whatever her injuries, she seemed as spry as any octogenarian I've ever seen. But the real treat was her voice. From opener "They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy," her voice carried the same timbre that launched a hundred thousand nights of drinking over the past five decades. She went through the hits, from "Blue Kentucky Girl" to "Fist City" stopping intermittently to interact with the audience including picking on a guy in the front row for not looking at her.
Much of the night's humor was of the wholesome hillbilly variety, not much heard since the TV show Hee Haw went off the air. Loretta's son Ernest took the yokel route far enough that even Jeff Foxworthy might tweet that he was being insensitive in his representation of rednecks. But it would take a lot more than nepotism or corniness to tarnish the crowd's good will. So, when she told the audience, "Holler out what you wanna hear," instead of screaming out names of songs, more often you heard fans yelling, "We love you, Loretta."
I took up her invitation and hollered for "Portland Oregon" the hit song off her last album 2004's Van Lear Rose. I thought she might humor it since in a recent interview, Loretta stated she wanted to collaborate again with that album's producer the White Stripes' Jack White. But this audience was made up of people who wouldn't know Jack White from Jack Black, so I can't fault her for instead doing a cover of "She's Got You" that would have made her late friend Patsy Cline proud.
There were a few brief moments that prevented a flawless show. "During You Ain't Woman Enough" she seemed to lose tracks of the lyrics, but her son made up for his bad jokes by joining in to help her find her footing. Stranger, 15 songs into the set, they brought a chair for her to sit on. It seemed she would sit to sing the rest of the concert, but instead her backing band played two songs while she sat and watched. I'm unsure if this was a normal part of their routine, or if she was hurting, and they were killing time to make sure they were on stage long enough to fulfill contractual obligations or something, but I would have preferred a shorter show than having to sit through a rendition of the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling."
However, I'd sit through a whole Eagles album to hear her last three songs, "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven," "Where No One Stands Alone," and "Coal Miner's Daughter." There aren't many people out there singing the songs that Loretta Lynn does, and there are even fewer who lived it.
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