Kacey Musgraves returns to Austin, takes her rightful ACL throne

Kacey Musgraves has a rhinestone-encrusted nose ring, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about the girl from Golden.

The country music phenom’s Sunday afternoon set at Austin City Limits Music Festival felt like a coronation for the Willie Nelson collaborator. Not only did she live in Austin at one point — she sarcastically shouted out to the Riata Trace apartments — but Musgraves also embodies a distinctly Austin ethos. Combined with her classic boot-scoot sound, that made for a milestone moment.

Kacey Musgraves performs on the opening weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 2. 10/02/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Kacey Musgraves performs on the opening weekend of the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park Oct. 2. 10/02/16 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Playing with a “pretty good buzz” and decked from head to toe in her finest Lone Star glitz, Musgraves made her progressive philosophy seem as down home as a plate of biscuits and gravy. Some of her most notable zingers:

• On a fan’s choice of pride flag: “I really like that rainbow Texas flag. That’s badass. I can get behind that.”

• After spilling the beans on her aforementioned buzz and looking into the crowd: “Is anybody here tripping their face off? This guy is.”

• Upon playing her ode to loving who you love and the freedom to light up a joint, “Follow Your Arrow”: “This is obviously the city that follows its arrow the most.”

Musgraves was equally easy with a mid-song wisecrack as she was a good old-fashioned yarn about a lady whose put-down inspired her song “Dimestore Cowgirl.” (“I don’t know where that (expletive) is now,” but Musgraves was playing ACL Fest, she pointed out. It all felt very Loretta Lynn.) That song in particular was Musgraves’ coronation theme. The line “And I made it all the way past Austin city limits” predictably sparked a roar of approval, as did the Willie name drop. But “Dimestore Cowgirl” and her other tunes, with their strong sense of place, also emphasized how Musgraves is a distinctly Texan artist. Heck, she even said she attended her 10-year high school reunion on Saturday night. Though her appeal is broad (she appeared on the cover of Fader, after all), you have to be from the state to truly appreciate all of her lovingly crafted words.

The “classy region” of East Texas must truly be lived in to be understood — pine trees, meth and all. For every scathing wink at trailer park life and Southern hypocrisy was a reminder that Musgraves is a vivid storyteller, singing of cutting her bangs with some rusty kitchen scissors and of neighbors looking out for each other. She might be a country singer with crossover, but she’s also got a pedal steel guitar player from Boerne and a mandolin player from Jasper, and don’t you forget it.

And if you were just looking for superficial signs of the “Pageant Material” singer’s ACL ease, the set’s art direction leaped straight out of Texas Highways magazine. Neon cacti, a cowhide rug and a backing band in LED-dotted Western jackets that would make Ray Benson guffaw in appreciation: Only Musgraves herself, decked in sequins, leather and turquoise, felt more like home sweet home.

A cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” early in the set, which featured a picture-perfect hot pink harmonica, was a crowd-pleaser. However, it was Musgraves’ show-closing cover of Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 classic “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” that made it hard to believe this was her first time at the ACL rodeo. A honky-tonk Valkyrie, the singer and her merry band worked the Samsung stage into a hootin’, hollerin’ frenzy. The festival is always looking forward to genres like hip hop and EDM. And it still keeps Asleep At the Wheel on the schedule each year. But if you’re looking for the rightful inheritor to the throne that bridges the divide, just look for rhinestones and a cloud of smoke.

If only her and Willie were playing the same weekend.


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