When we first hosted singer/songwriter Margo Price in Season 42, we knew, as did everyone, she was something special. Watching her blossom from a soulful C&W traditionalist into a brilliant, multi-faceted artist (not to mention bestselling author, via her 2022 memoir Maybe We’ll Make It) has been a pleasure, and we were thrilled to have her back, as both victory lap and in celebration of her acclaimed fourth LP Strays.
Following a Season 49 welcome from Austin mayor Kirk Watson, Price and her six-piece band took the stage to the strains of a Willie ‘n’ Waylon classic before going straight into “Been To the Mountain,” the hard rocking opener of Strays. Closing with a flourish of cowbell, Price, in a blue flowered Loretta Lynn-style vintage dress, donned an acoustic guitar for “Letting Me Down,” a driving country rocker from her 2020 album That’s How Rumors Get Started. She and the band then revisited her 2016 breakthrough debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, giving fan favorite “Four Years of Chances” a Southern psych rock makeover. Back to Strays with “Hell in the Heartland,” a minor key country rock epic that broke its tension by moving from trot to gallop. The band followed with “Change of Heart,” its theme of self-assertiveness and defiance emphasized by a loping guitar solo from Alex Munoz and Price herself bashing away at a second drum kit. She closed off this stunning mini-set of Strays with the melancholy “County Road,” driven by Micah Hulscher’s piano and a powerhouse James Davis lead, and the stirring rock anthem “Light Me Up,” which Price described as the product of her and husband/co-writer/rhythm guitarist Jeremy Ivey’s ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms on vacation.
Price went back to her debut for the Southern rock anthem “Tennessee Song,” bringing it in line to her current, more expansive sound. She and Ivey then faced each other with acoustic guitars for Strays’ shimmering, lovely ballad “Landfill.” The band eased into the psychedelic folk rock of “That’s How Rumors Get Started,” its extended coda allowing Price time to leave the stage for a wardrobe change into a sparkly Tina Turner-style showgirl number and man the second drum kit once again. Without a second’s breath, she led her group into the hard-rocking “Twinkle Twinkle,” which earned loud approval from the audience. C&W made a re-appearance with the cheerfully defiant “Don’t Say It,” dragging the arena back to the honkytonk for a tune. While the band was busy rocking out, a pink telephone quietly appeared onstage, heralding “Radio” and its handset vocals. Price closed the main set like a pageant queen with the brisk Rumors rocker “Heartless Mind,” while handing out red roses to the audience as Davis and Munoz squared off over Dillon Napier’s syncopated drumming.
The adoring crowd cheered Price and the band’s return for an encore. “You can’t come down to Texas and not play a drinkin’ song,” she joked as she launched into “Hurtin’ On the Bottle,” her breakout hit and one of the best honkytonkers written in the last decade. She smoothly segued into her thematic inspirations via Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and Willie Nelson’s classic “Whiskey River,” the first song ever broadcast on Austin City Limits. It was a hell of a way to close out her smoking return to ACL, and we can’t wait for you to see the broadcast episode during our upcoming Season 49 on your local PBS station.