Tanya Tucker Lights Up the Ryman With Classics, Friends

Tanya Tucker still sings about that faded rose of days gone by in “Delta Dawn,” but in 2020, the attention is turning toward “Bring My Flowers Now,” a breathtaking high point of her newest album as well as her headlining concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on Sunday (January 12).

“Bring My Flowers Now” will compete for Song of the Year (among all genres), Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance at the Grammy Awards on January 25. A lyric from that song — which she co-wrote — inspired the title of While I’m Livin’, which is up for Best Country Album. After that, she’ll headline the CMT Next Women of Country Tour starting on February 5.

So, hey, why not throw a celebration party? That seems to be Tucker’s philosophy, as she trucked out guest after guest after guest to join her on stage. The surprises ranged from Nashville admirers like Jamey Johnson, Margo Price, and Lee Ann Womack to surprises such as actor-songwriter Dennis Quaid, ’70s country star Johnny Rodriguez, and Texas songwriter Billy Joe Shaver. Even her longtime pal Billy Ray Cyrus emerged to sing “Achy Breaky Heart” with her. She kept him on stage so she could try her hand at “Old Town Road.”

With a career beginning its sixth decade, Tucker has appeared at the Ryman multiple times over the years, including as headlining spot for a charity event for mental health in 2006, but as she told this crowd, this was her show. In other words, this time she was calling the shots (and not just tequila shots).

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Without an opener, she kicked off the night with an abundance of early hits: “Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone),” “Jamestown Ferry,” “What’s Your Mama’s Name,” and “Blood Red and Goin’ Down.” Jamey Johnson revived a lesser-known cut, “Don’t Believe My Heart Can Stand Another You,” and electrified the crowd — and Tucker herself. She was even doing karate kicks. “I love Tanya Tucker,” Johnson dryly told the crowd. “If only she wasn’t so damn shy and would come out of her shell a little bit.”

After another pair of ’70s hits from her teenage years — “Lizzie and the Rainman” and “San Antonio Stroll” — she jumped to 1988’s “Strong Enough to Bend.” Not too long into the song, she spotted a baby in the crowd, walked to the lip of the stage, and swept it into her arms. She sang the sweet song to the infant, who kept reaching for the microphone. Tucker determined the child was destined to be a star.

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If so, the kid could certainly learn a lot from Tucker, who paced the stage with vigor, talked a lot but not too much (until a lengthy thank-you speech at the end), and explained that she owed much of her career to songwriters. She continued the parade of stars, with Margo Price stepping out for a duet of “Love Me Like You Used To” and Billy Joe Shaver tagging along on a song he wrote called “I’ll Love You as Much as I Can,” a track that is likely to appear on Tucker’s next album. She kept him around for his classic composition, “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal.”

Then she dove into While I’m Livin’. Usually when a new artist announces that they’re going to play some new songs, a beeline forms for the bathrooms (particularly in a drinking crowd) but pretty much the whole Ryman audience remained in place while she worked her way through “Mustang Ridge” (about a woman who broke out of jail and faked her own death), the cinematic “Wheels of Laredo” and the clever “You Don’t Owe Me Anything.”

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Lee Ann Womack, shimmering in an iridescent gown, offered soprano harmony to “High Ridin’ Heroes,” a cool counterpoint to Tucker’s husky alto. After offering “Hard Luck” and “Bring My Flowers Now,” she moved over to the tequila table, grabbed her red Solo cup, and suddenly things seemed like they just might go off the rails. But that’s also part of the fun of seeing someone as unpredictable as Tanya Tucker. You never really know what she’s going to do or say next. But the show chugged right along, as did she and the crowd.

To conclude, Tucker delivered “Texas (When I Die),” a Dennis Quaid original titled “Game That I Can’t Win,” and a rare Nashville appearance for Rodriguez. After Cyrus performed and Tucker brought out Quaid himself for a performance, she pulled out the songs that brought her: “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane” and of course “Delta Dawn.” That latter signature song will turn 50 years old in 2022, but truly Tucker’s audience is heeding her advice and bringing their flowers now, and she is not only livin’ but thriving.

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