While it hasn’t happened often enough to become a tradition, Austin City Limits does have precedent for Halloween shows. Both Joe Ely and Widespread Panic recorded memorable shows in front of crowds full of costumes. So we were tickled to welcome country star Maren Morris for her debut taping that just happened to fall on All Hallow’s Eve. The Arlington, Texas-born singer/songwriter is riding a new career high with the acclaim following her third major label album Humble Quest, and she seemed happy to showcase it in front of a colorful ACL crowd.
“This is a huge honor to be playing this – I grew up watching this,” noted Morris. “I’m not gonna cry – we’re just gonna do this.” With that, she and the band kicked into “Circles Around This Town,” the first hit from Humble Quest. She and the band upped the vibe going into “I Can’t Love You Anymore,” engaging the audience to clap along during the breakdown. Garnering enthusiastic screams from the audience, an a cappella intro from Morris, bassist Annie Clement, backup singer Rachel Beauregard and guitarist Bennett Lewis signaled “80s Mercedes,” kicking the performance into high gear with its good time power rock. Acknowledging both the holiday and her roots growing up in Arlington, Texas, Morris also mentioned that this taping was one of her two last shows for the year, “and I’m glad we can close it out in Texas.” Drummer Christian Paschall then hit the backbeat for “Humble Quest,” an atmospheric rocker that serves as the title track for the new record, before the band went into the luminous ballad “Background Music.” Keyboardist Jaime Portee, guitarist Eric Montgomery and Lewis then kicked up dust with a collage-like intro that led into the powerhouse “Nervous,” to huge applause.
Shifting gears once again, Morris showcased her vocal chemistry with Clement and Beauregard on “I Could Use a Love Song.” After that wry downer, Morris shifted into party mode with the good-natured, pop-flavored celebration of “Tall Guys,” written by the 5’1” singer to make her 6’3” husband laugh. The pregnant Clements then put down her axe to join Morris at the front of the stage for the close-harmony ballad “Hummingbird,” dedicated by Morris to Clements’ unborn son, “because he’s onstage with us every night.” The easygoing folk rock of “Detour” followed, completing a trilogy of songs from Humble Quest. “Alright, Austin,” Morris declared, “let’s pick this up a little bit” – in particular by revisiting her major label debut Hero for the classic-rocking hit “Rich,” a clear crowd favorite. The band went back to Humble Quest for the final time this evening with “Good Friends.” “This is really a dream come true,” Morris said. “I’ll come back any time y’all invite me.” Then it was time for “The Bones,” Morris’ smash #1 country ode to the foundational secret to lasting love that got the biggest round of applause of the night.
The cheers continued as Morris ended the show with her gospel-flavored rocker “My Church,” a fan favorite anthem that brought the audience to its feet, clapping and singing along – even singing part of the chorus by themselves. Morris left the stage to a huge standing ovation as the band played her off. It was a sensational ACL debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 48 on your local PBS station.