Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
There was some grumbling. Folks shelled out half a hundred dollars or more on Saturday for “an evening with Loretta Lynn,” the queen of country music, and instead got saddled with the Lynn Family Revue. From a biographical perspective, seeing three generations of Lynns onstage brought “The Coal Miner's Daughter” narrative into the present nicely, as the twins Patsy and Peggy, their older brother Ernest Ray, and his daughter Tayla took to the stage. But strip away the family time and the audience was left with precious little solo Loretta, who, even at 73, still sings about as bright and strong as she did 50 years ago, which is to also say, a mile better than any of her descendants.
After she strolled in singing “Let Your Love Flow” and wearing a tomato-red gown (made, she revealed, by her assistant Tim Cobb, a Little Rock native, whom she later coaxed out for a bow), she claimed “hoarse” and spent most of the rest of her performance seated — better to display the gown in all its mass and pouf and sparkle. But if this was Loretta depleted, her voice didn't register it.
Early on she invited the audience to call out requests. “It doesn't mean I'm gonna play them,” she deadpanned, “but you can call them out all you want.” Joke aside, she worked through rousing versions of a good chunk of what folks likely wanted to hear, hits like “Fist City,” “The Pill,” “You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “Don't Come Home A'Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind).”
A seven-piece band backed her and, from the rear of the stage, sporting three generations of Nashville hair — a fading pompadour, a shoulder-length mane and one of those $80 angular 'dos of today — a multigenerational trio sang back-up and, in the later part of the set, took the lead, unimpressively.
The other interruptions, from the twins and granddaughter Tayla, were fleeting and OK enough so as not to detract too much, but the audience wasn't so lucky with Ernest Ray, Lynn's 50-something son.
In the variety show tradition of classic country music, Ernie and Loretta spent most every song break yukking it up. But as staged as the idea was, mother and son clearly hadn't spent any time honing their act. They were obviously improvising, but in a way that seemed rooted in family dynamics, which meant that their hee-hawing was funny every once and a while, but mostly just awkward in an over-sharing kind of way. Nothing was helped by Ernie's seeming drunkenness either. If not for a shout-out to the Hogs for their performance against LSU and his fairly rich voice, which he leant to several duets with his mother (weird for their sexual undertones), Ernie might've gotten a tomato to the eye.
For Loretta, the audience soldiered through. A lot of white hairs dotted the crowd, but if those seated around me were any indication, it was a mixed audience. Just in my immediate vicinity were a middle-aged couple in matching Loretta Lynn T-shirts who appeared to be high on sherm, an old man who started eyeing his watch midway through the set, a young, hip-looking couple with earrings and scarves, and a lady of indiscriminate age who clapped continuously and arrhythmically, like a metronome a beat ahead of the song.
Maybe it wasn't everyone's dream concert. Lynn didn't play anything — at least anything I could identify — from her most recent album, “Van Lear Rose.” And the aforementioned dalliances. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find another 73-year-old performer, who's been at it for 45 years, put on a show as strong as Lynn gave Saturday night.— Lindsey Millar