Sugarland at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Last night I went to Merriweather Post Pavilion to see Sugarland with Clare Bowen and Brandy Clark opening. It was a perfect summer night for an outdoor concert. Warm, but not humid. Just lovely. Beautiful summer nights with live music under the stars are one of my favorite things in the world and last night was an A+ all around.

It’s the first time I’ve been to Merriweather this season, so the first time I’ve seen some of the changes they made over the off-season. The most obvious one on the public side was the raising of the roof, which you can definitely tell. The higher roof makes the view from the lawn a lot better so that was a welcome change.

This tour is the return of Sugarland after a five year hiatus in which Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush went their separate ways for awhile. They finally put out a new album ahead of this tour, which as seems to be the practice now I got a free download of with the purchase of my concert ticket. I really like the new album a lot, so I was excited to hear them play some of their new music. Apparently they lost a lot of momentum during their break though because unlike when I saw them at Merriweather on their previous tour this one was pretty sadly attended. The pavilion was probably about 1/3 empty and the lawn probably close to 1/2 empty. I also joked that people didn’t come because there were too many ladies on stage since it was 2 female opening acts and a female fronted main act. Apparently country music, especially these days, is highly misogynistic. Women get like a 1/4 of the air play on country music radio as men, which they try to explain away as what the people want, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a self fulfilling loop in which women don’t get played, so people don’t know the music and thus don’t want it, and then don’t go to the concerts because they’re not hearing the music. Repeat.

I on the other hand am a much bigger fan of female country artists or female fronted bands. Aside from my OG country love Garth Brooks and the very earliest of Tim McGraw, I can’t think of a single male country artist whose albums I’ve bought or who I’ve gone to see in concert. I’m very happy that Merriweather snuck in as the last venue on this leg of Sugarland’s tour because apparently it was the last night for Clare Bowen and Brandy Clark as the openers. They pick up Frankie Ballard, who couldn’t care less about, for the back half.

Clare Bowen had possibly the shortest opening set I have ever seen. She only got about 20 minutes. In case you’re not aware, Clare Bowen is the actress who played Scarlett on the TV show Nashville. It turns out that I like the character of Scarlett O’Connor and the music she sings way more than I actually like Clare Bowen. I liked the one Nashville song that she sang, but I didn’t much care for the 4 songs she wrote along with her husband who backed her on guitar and sang with her.

Brandy Clark is someone who whenever I hear her music I think I really like her I should listen to her more and then never do for whatever reason. In some ways she felt a little like the odd woman out on this tour with Clare Bowen covered in glittered and wearing a flowy white princess gown and Jennifer Nettles wearing a sparkly body suit and sparkly fish net tights around which she wrapped various out coverings throughout the show. Meanwhile Brandy was dressed in all black pants and shirt. Her music feels a little more outlaw country and rock country than Clare Bowen or Sugarland. I really do like her. I just say all that because I think she would be awesome to see in a smaller venue with a crowd that was there to see her rather an audience who didn’t particularly seem to know who she was or care. In the right place her music seems like it would be a raucous good time, whereas everyone just sat through her set here. I still really enjoyed her music though.

Last time I saw Sugarland their stage set was much more elaborate than it is on this tour. There was still a lot more going on than in most of the shows I see, which I don’t super love actually. Even though I love actual theatre I don’t love theatrics in my concerts. It’s why I am not one for big stadium and arena shows for the most part because in order to make them even remotely enjoyable for the fans millions of miles away from the stage there has to be a lot of elaborate spectacle that often times just comes across as cold and distracting from the music for me. This concert wasn’t that, but I could have done without the music videos playing in the background of a bunch of the songs. I want to watch what the performers are doing not some prerecorded video that goes along with the song. That’s what YouTube is for.

Despite what I just said I thought it was a great concert. Jennifer Nettles is just such a fun presence on stage. She looks like she’s having so much fun and even though they don’t do a ton of audience engagement during their set her joy just draws you in. Also I just love the power of her voice. She’s a really great performer and I’m glad to have her back with Kristian in Sugarland. You would figure I would like her solo stuff too, but I just never connected with it. I don’t know what it is about the two of them together that makes the music so much more than when they’re apart but I’m really happy they’re back.

They played a handful of songs from their new album and a whole bunch of old stuff. It’s been awhile since I’ve just sat down and listened to my Sugarland albums. Aside from listening to the new album, I’ve mostly just heard whatever comes on the radio by them over the past few years. I realized last night that for the most part country radio plays my least favorite songs by them. I had kind of forgotten how much I love some of their other songs until I heard them again last night for the first time in a long time.

I always love when bands have fun with covers and remixes during shows. Sugarland did not disappoint. They, I think smartly, did some remixes with a couple of their newer songs which I think helps people who don’t know them yet engage with them. They ended “Lean It on Back”, which is my favorite song from the new album, mixing it with Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. This also did a nice long remix break that included “We’ve Got the Funk”, “Billie Jean”, and “Express Yourself” among other songs I’m forgetting during the middle of “On a Roll”.

Probably my favorite part of the evening was their cover of Patty Griffin’s “Tony”, which is about a gay high school boy who commits suicide because of all the abuse he receives at school. They accompanied with stats about LGBTQ suicides and asking people to think about what their kids are hearing in their homes, their schools, and their churches. In the country music community this is such an important message and I’m happy for every little step country music seems to be taking in the right direction in this regard even though country music and the majority of country music fans have a long way to go. I actually found a professionally recorded version of this song that Sugarland posted on their YouTube channel. I encourage you to watch.

It was an absolutely perfect night and I’m so glad to have Sugarland back even though many of their fans seem to have moved on while they were gone. I’m still here.

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