Loretta Lynn came to the stage Saturday night swathed in a baby-blue evening gown the likes of which haven't been seen in country music since before Taylor Swift was even in a twinkle in her father's eye. At age 74, the "Blue Kentucky Girl" still packs a room, and her following is still as fervent as it was decades ago.
The Arena Theatre off the Southwest Freeway was completely packed with gray-haired grannies, tattooed gals in Misfits tees, well-coiffed gay men and even the stray cowboy or two who wandered away from the cook-off to see one of the last country music's old guard. Oldsters came running up to the theatre's revolving stage numerous times during the show to foist things on Lynn for her to sign, yelling out requests and "I Love You"s Imagine a rabid and loving gang of grandmas wielding disposable cameras and magic markers.
Lynn has slowed down at her age, and she performed three-quarters of her set on a golden chair, complete with cushion and tassels. Currently backed by a nine-piece band with her son on guitar, her voice still packs a wallop, even as she was perched on that tiny throne. Still, she tripped up on some of her own songs, mostly the lesser-known gospel cuts.
But when she trotted out lyrical landmarks like "Fist City" and "The Pill," that Kentucky fire still shone bright. The new line of country girls may sing of treacherous men and lecherous boys, doing them wrong in beer halls and SUVs, but it was Lynn who pioneered the "angry woman" song. "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" laid that tried and true blueprint, and the bitter kiss-off to the other woman will always be relevant as long the two sexes co-exist. She was, and still is, country music's preeminent feminist and her emotional stamp is felt today in artists as varied as Pink and Cat Power.
"Dear Uncle Sam" was recorded in 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War, and Lynn began singing it live again at the beginning of the current Iraq War. It's the chronicle of a woman giving up her man to the war effort, only to get a telegram informing her of his death. It's the kind of song that sadly gets played in places like Killeen too many times to bear.
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At the end of the show, Miss Loretta got up from her seat, thanked the rabid crowd and walked back up the theatre's ramp to her waiting bus. She stepped over mounds of flowers and even a coal-mining helmet a fan had made for her lain before her on stage. She walked by all of us and her blue dress seemed to twinkle like a million stars shining over the Blue Ridge Mountains.