Maren Morris show at Red Rocks
For a country-pop artist blessed with as much success as Maren Morris has received since exploding onto the scene in 2016, anyone would be nuts to think it could get any better for the Texas-born singer-songwriter in 2022. Right?
Think again, ye of little faith. While dodging a few obstacles along the way, this lil’ darling from Arlington is standing up to fill a tall order while completing her latest U.S. tour in support of the March 25 release of Humble Quest. Her third full-length album for Columbia Nashville, Sony Music Nashville’s imprint, hit No. 2 on Billboard’s top country albums chart the week it debuted, and received a nomination for album of the year at the Country Music Association Awards that will be held November 9 at Bridgestone Arena in the Music City.
Finally getting to play a twice-postponed headlining date at majestic Red Rocks Amphitheatre west of Denver, Morris was overwhelmed with emotion by the love and support shown by an enthusiastic, adoring audience on October 19. Her show of gratitude included 21 songs over 95 minutes. Not only was it filled with 10 of the album’s 11 tunes but also a series of thoughtful, sincere expressions of humility that were dramatic add-ons to her latest leg of this fantastic voyage.
The Lone Bellow, a Nashville-based trio consisting of charismatic showman-guitarist Zach Williams, guitarist Brian Elmquist, and multi-instrumentalist Kanene Donehey Pipkin (bass, mandolin, keyboards) opened the proceedings with a fine, 45-minute set on a crisp evening at 6,450 feet above sea level. While many prepared Coloradans of all ages in coats or puffer jackets dressed accordingly for temperatures hovering in the mid-50s, Morris, wearing an off-the-shoulder top and sleek slacks, hit the stage at precisely 9:15 p.m., her entrance preceded by the Lesley Gore track “You Don’t Own Me,” possibly sending a cryptic message.
Her Humble Quest tour set wisely began with three consecutive songs from the record — “The Furthest Thing,” uptempo album opener “Circles Around This Town,” and “I Can’t Love You Anymore.” The latter — a feel-good tune alluding to “Fallin’ for a boy from Michigan” — was an appropriate choice since she grabbed a red tambourine and brought out husband Ryan Hurd to big cheers. The 6-foot-3, 35-year-old country artist whose full-length studio album debut called Pelago was released in 2021, provided ample backup vocals and shouts of encouragement (“C’mon, Red Rocks!”) while looking like a human skyscraper next to his 5-1 wife.
Not that the 32-year-old honky-tonk woman once heralded by Time magazine as “the Future of Country Music” needed any help from him or a late-arriving crowd that seemed to pack the place (though there were a few hundred tickets still available around 6 p.m., according to a will-call window staff member).
Many folks in the Denver area (including myself) probably saw Morris get top billing for the first time at a newly renovated Fillmore Auditorium on March 18, 2019, shortly after the release of GIRL, her sublime sophomore album. Buoyed by No. 1 singles like “The Bones” and the title cut, the 14-track LP went on to rank No. 1 on Billboard’s country charts and win a Country Music Association album of the year award.
Morris, who previously opened at Red Rocks for Eric Church in 2016, Sam Hunt in 2017 (two sellouts) and Niall Horan in 2018, was supposed to make her headlining debut there on September 7, 2020. But the global pandemic ruined any chance to play in front of the sold-out venue (9,545-seat capacity) then, or a year later when the rescheduled appearance was shelved.
So bringing Humble Quest tunes to Red Rocks as the main event meant more to Morris than most people can imagine. Also fulfilling her promise to “cover all the bases,” she prepared the audience for a flood of “happy” tears after rocking out to “80s Mercedes,” the first of five numbers from the heat-seeking missile of a major label debut that was 2016’s Hero. She didn’t mince words in other opening comments to a crowd already on her side, saying, “Thank you for reminding me why this job is fucking amazing. And it’s really you.”
Of course, other Hero tracks such as “I Wish I Was,” “Rich” and the gospel-glorious finale “My Church” stood out. That was particularly true for someone who put Morris at the top of his list of Music’s Sweet 16 of ’16 for The Huffington Post, while also naming her the artist of the year with the record of the year. After interviewing the Dallas-area dynamo a week before that June release, who knew honors far more prestigious would follow for Morris and her groundbreaking, platinum-selling album.
On the verge of breaking big while on the phone from her adopted home of Nashville in late May 2016, Morris told me she was still keeping a journal when not jotting down lyrics. “I try to be diligent about writing everything down just because while this is all happening at once, it seems like a lot of times you forget a lot of details because it’s just chaos most of the time,” she pointed out. “Hopefully, one day I look back and it jogs my memory about all the incredible moments that have happened, especially here at the beginning.”
The Hero worship that followed is sometimes hard to surpass, but Morris is working on it. Even with “The Bones” mega-popularity and its penultimate placement on the set list, her second album wasn’t well-represented at Red Rocks. Caught aptly between two of its songs (“Girl,” with her trademark white Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, and the soulful “RSVP”) was a collaborative sensation that everyone seemed to recognize from the opening notes to kick off a successful sing-along — “The Middle.” One of only two Red Rocks tunes she didn’t have a hand in writing (which also doesn’t appear on a Morris album), the infectious EDM-pop crossover single by Zedd and Grey that was guided by her snappy lead vocals turned into a massive international hit in 2018. At the same time, the Texas two-stepper was making a move to become the music world’s life of the house party. Her invitation to form the Highwomen’s fearless foursome followed, with the supergroup also including Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby making it official in April 2019.
It’s been a whirlwind of activity since earning a Grammy in 2018 for best country solo performance among numerous nominations and heavyweight metal honors. She’s also collected more than a fair share of gold and platinum records, and made the rounds on late night TV shows. Just this month there were appearances with Jimmy Kimmel (who showed her Pickleball magazine cover shot) and Jimmy Fallon (another Zedd collaboration resulted in a performance of new single “Make You Say” on Tuesday night).
Still, this climb hasn’t been easy for Morris. Low moments in recent years have included the 2019 loss of her friend, record producer, and co-writer known primarily as Busbee (real name: Michael James Ryan), who died from brain cancer at age 43.
Sad remembrances and difficult times at this stage of her career led Morris on that Humble Quest, with its concert-cornerstone title cut entering the picture. While the jokes kept coming at Red Rocks (“We’re having fun — the tequila just hit,” she said about halfway through the show), Morris recognized, “The years have been good,” since signing with a major label in 2015. “I’ve learned so many things. I’ve had so many peaks and a couple valleys. … I definitely have been humbled a lot in those seven years. And definitely the most condensed in the last few. I had my son [Hayes Andrew on March 23, 2020] at the beginning of the pandemic. He’s now 2 1/2. (cheers) … I just think about the world I sort of want to leave for him. And the songs I want to leave for him.”
Before performing “Humble Quest,” though, Morris’ easygoing observations about her ongoing “journey” suddenly took a darker turn. “I feel like sometimes it’s OK to not say anything,” she stated. “And sometimes you do not need to shut the fuck up. (crowd cheers) You absolutely should be as loud as you fucking can. Even when everyone else is quiet.”
Perhaps those comments hinted at a public spat that started with an Instagram post in August by Brittany Aldean, a conservative social media influencer who’s also the wife of country hitmaker Jason Aldean. Showing herself applying makeup in a short clip accompanying a brief remark that has received more than 200,000 likes, Brittany Aldean wrote, “I’d really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase. I love this girly life🤎✌🏼”
Believing that point of view was transphobic, Morris’ reply through 2019 supporting act and ally Cassadee Pope via Twitter was, “It’s so easy to, like, not be a scumbag human? Sell your clip-ins and zip it, Insurrection Barbie.”
Trying to deal with a backlash, Brittany Aldean appeared on Fox News, where host Tucker Carlson called Morris a “lunatic” and “fake country singer.” Morris might have won the war of words by making and selling a T-shirt that read:
Proceeds from sales of the shirt (at $35 a pop) are being split between Trans Lifeline and GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, according to Morris’ September 2 tweet, and more than $150,000 has been raised. Despite her comments to the Red Rocks crowd, the outcry appears to have quieted down, though that could change when/if Morris and the Aldeans meet at the upcoming CMAs.
“Honestly, I haven’t decided if I’m gonna go,” Morris said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I’m very honored that my record is nominated. But I don’t know if I feel [at] home there right now. So many people I love will be in that room, and maybe I’ll make a game-time decision and go. But as of right now, I don’t feel comfortable going.”
However, the show must go on. As must Morris’ Humble Quest. Following a couple of late October dates in Texas, her final scheduled concert of 2022 will take place December 2 at Bridgestone Arena, the same 19,000-seat Nashville venue where the CMAs will be held next month. The title cut — that “cast many new meanings to me since I wrote it” and “became an anthem to me” — elicited a nice reception at Red Rocks. Yet it was Hero’s “I Could Use a Love Song” that caused a genuine chain reaction of emotion among Morris and her fans during another heartwarming sing-along.
“Damn, you almost got me on that one,” she told them while trying not to cry. “There were tears percolating. It’s like, ‘Maren, no. Not yet. Just keep it together. You’re not done with this.’”
That did conclude a particularly riveting trifecta of songs during a portion of the show that began with her sultry dance on a sexy rendition of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” followed by Humble Quest’s manic “Nervous,” another surprising gem highlighted by Morris’ powerful pipes and Bennett Lewis’ blazing electric guitar.
Hurd’s name then came up again with “Tall Guys.” Married on March 24, 2018, Morris wrote the Humble Quest song for her hubby. Poking fun at her pint-sized self as someone “looking up everyone’s noses” being “my lot in life,” she played it for “all the petite girls in the crowd, and all the short kings, too.”
An extended and raucous rendition of “Rich” managed to work in band member introductions, with Lewis one of four masterful musicians among the 2019 tour’s backing group that included drummer Christian Paschall, Eric Montgomery (guitar, keys), and former Sugarland bassist Annie Clements, an expectant mother (at 30 months). She moved into the spotlight during “Hummingbird,” the sweet lullaby Morris wrote for her son, but dedicated on this night to “the cutest pregnant person I’ve ever seen.” Completing the lineup were recent additions Josh Blaylock (organ, keys) and Rachel Beauregard (guitar, tambourine, backing vocals).
Before closing it out with “The Bones” and the revered “My Church,” Maren Morris spent a few more minutes opening up to the Red Rocks crowd, first admitting with a laugh, “I feel like I’m a really awkward person at stage banter. There’s no filter. It just like goes from here to here. And there’s just no smart person filtering it for me. …
“I’ve played this place a few times, and they were all magical but truly, and I know it’s not an easy place to get to for a show,” she continued. “So all the moves that you had to make in your day today — your babysitter, your transportation … whatever you saved to buy this ticket, it is not unnoticed by me because [for] two years you didn’t get to do this at all. So thank you for putting our butts back on stage. … If everything in my career just like plummets tomorrow, I will get to say, ‘I sold Red Rocks out tonight.’ And that’s some real shit, so thank you for getting me through a lot. I hope some of my words and these songs have done the same for you at one low point or high point.”
It seems like Maren Morris is serving up humble pie wherever she goes these days. And customers craving a delicious slice of life are loving it now more than ever.
All proceeds will be split between @TransLifeline & the @glaad Transgender Media Program 🌈https://t.co/Xtru7LgHIP pic.twitter.com/6ndkbNkWbc
— MAREN MORRIS (@MarenMorris) September 2, 2022
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Maren Morris “Humble Quest”
Maren Morris set list
October 19, 2022
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
1. “The Furthest Thing” (2022’s Humble Quest)
2. “Circles Around This Town” (2022’s Humble Quest)
3. “I Can’t Love You Anymore” (2022’s Humble Quest)
4. “80s Mercedes (2016’s Hero)
5. “I Wish I Was” (2016’s Hero)
6. “Girl” (2019’s Girl)
7. “The Middle” (2018 single)
8. “RSVP” (2019’s Girl)
9. “Make You Say” (new single w/Zedd, BEAUZ)
10. “Humble Quest” (2022’s Humble Quest)
11. “Background Music” (2022’s Humble Quest)
12. “Criminal” (Fiona Apple cover)
13. “Nervous” (2022’s Humble Quest)
14. “I Could Use a Love Song” (2016’s Hero)
15. “Tall Guys” (2022’s Humble Quest)
16. “Hummingbird” (2022’s Humble Quest)
17. “Detour” (2022’s Humble Quest)
18. “Rich” (2016’s Hero)
19. “Good Friends” (2022’s Humble Quest)
20. “The Bones” (2019’s Girl)
21. “My Church” (2016’s Hero)