Chances are, half the crowd will still be drinking in the parking lot when Kacey Musgraves hits the stage Saturday, which is too bad because Kenny Chesney didn't recruit her to take up time and space.
The 24-year-old singer from East Texas is a clear contender for breakout country artist of the year, based on her bold major-label debut "Same Trailer Different Park." Although she might not have Miranda Lambert or Carrie Underwood-sized pipes, Ms. Musgraves is a beauty with a sweet voice and writes about small-town life with refreshing authenticity and colorful detail.
You can picture her in a club or coffeehouse, but the rave reviews for her debut and its surprising chart success (No. 2 pop, No. 1 country) have launched her onto stadium and festival stages.
Reached last week in Kansas City, she was three days away from making her Bonnaroo debut Sunday.
"It's been kind of a dream of mine for a long time to play Bonnaroo, and I know the whole band is excited about it," she said. "My dad is coming in for Father's Day so he'll be able to watch me and Tom Petty for Father's Day. So I think that's going to be a huge moment."
And it was. Billboard wrote that "Based on her stellar performance and the crowd's warm reception, Musgraves won't be playing the noon slot at a festival like Bonnaroo much longer."
She had never been to one of Mr. Chesney's stadium shows or even seen him live when she got the call to open on the No Shoes Nation Tour. She didn't hesitate.
"I was immediately on," she said. "It's not only the biggest tour in country music, but one of the biggest in the world. He heard my music and liked it enough to ask me to come along and be the only girl out on the road. So I thought it was an awesome opportunity. Most of them are definitely there to see Kenny, but I hope they end up liking my music by the end of it."
If she seems to have just the right amount of twang in her voice that's because she's well-steeped in country roots.
"I grew up singing really traditional Western swing and old-school country. I just fell into that," she says. "My grandpa had a record collection that I would raid all the time. So I learned about music that I probably wouldn't have known about otherwise."
Singing Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline songs was not the kind of thing that made you popular with the in crowd, even in Golden, Texas.
"Nobody really knew anything about the kind of music that I was singing or listening to at all, and that's partly why I started writing, because I wanted to make music that people my age would dig that I have an appreciation for."
She made her first record when she was 14 and released two more independently before getting signed to Mercury Nashville. She says, "As a novelty it might be fun to seek those out, but it won't give you a picture of who I am musically."
As the title promises, "Same Trailer Different Park" paints a vivid portrait of small-town American life on songs like "Blowin' Smoke," told from the point of a view of a weary diner waitress, and "Merry Go Round," about the traps working people can fall into: "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay/Brother's hooked on Mary Jane/Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down."
"I think it has a lot to do with what I'm inspired by and what drives my emotions, kind of like my mindset you know," she says of her small-town upbringing. "But I was also able to move away from that whenever I was old enough to -- no pun intended -- follow my arrow and learn about different kinds of people and all kinds of cultures, and live in a bigger city and try different things and kind of put myself outside my comfort zone."
"Follow Your Arrow," the song she referenced, is another in a long line of be-your-own-person songs, but Ms. Musgraves pushes the upbeat tune a little further, singing, "Make lots of noise/kiss lots of boys/or kiss lots of girls/if that's something you're into" and then rolling into the final chorus with "When the straight and narrow/gets a little too straight/roll up a joint ... I would."
Those aren't the kind of lyrics that win over the program director at the country station, but she decided to go for it anyway.
"I just feel like the people who are going to like my music are going to like it, and the people who aren't, aren't anyway. So the ideas of that song aren't crazy to me," she says. "They're just ideas. So it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but that wasn't ever a reason not to do it."
For the most part, these songs aren't anthems to be played to the back row of a stadium, and she's smart enough to know that.
"The screens that are so huge kind of help in projecting that to people, but I don't want to stray too far from what I think people come to hear me do. But it has been kind of a learning curve learning how to reach those people back there. So it's a mixture of both."music
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg. First Published June 20, 2013 4:00 AM