Kacey Musgraves is making the leap to arena-sized attraction with her Star-Crossed: Unveiled tour, which comes to the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Wednesday.
The country-pop star from Golden, Texas, is touring in support of Star-Crossed, her 2021 album that chronicled the dissolution of her marriage to singer Ruston Kelly, whom she divorced in 2020.
It’s the follow-up to Golden Hour, the breakthrough 2018 release that won four Grammy Awards, including album of the year and best country album.
Golden Hour completed the rise to stardom that began when Musgraves emerged as a nonconformist country artist with her Same Trailer Different Park in 2013.
Musgraves, who’s now in a relationship with writer Cole Schafer, began to build a bond with LGBTQ+ audiences with “Follow Your Arrow,” the Same Trailer single that urged women to “kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into.”
The Star-Crossed: Unveiled tour’s opening acts are queer electro-pop trio Muna, who are signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory record label, and Brooklyn singer King Princess, who also identifies as genderqueer.
Musgraves spoke on the phone from her tour bus after it arrived in Kansas City last week, two shows into to the tour, which began two days earlier in Minnesota.
The following conversation has been edited.
How’s it feel to be back on stage?
Given the circumstances of the last couple years, it’s lent itself to a little bit more anxiety than usual. But the environment in the shows is so warm and relaxed, it feels like we’re just hanging out in one big room. ... It’s been really nice to remind myself that everyone’s here for the connection and for music and the songs, and beyond that, they don’t really care about perfection.
Did you did you perform at all over the last two years?
Not really. I mean, there was a thing here or there locally, but no. Nothing like this.
Did you miss it terribly?
Touring isn’t the thing that fills my heart the most.
Creation. The writing, the shaping of a vision, bringing the seed of a creative idea to its full potential, visually and sonically. But then you know, the execution of that, bringing it to the public and representing your work, … that’s a whole other side to being an artist that’s the most difficult part for me. … I love playing with my band. I love seeing the way that the fans relate to the music. But it’s definitely the hardest part.
Excuse me, I’m eating a doughnut.
Oh my God. So we went to Stan’s Donuts in Chicago and I got a stack of these cherry old-fashioneds. Oh my God. They’re just like, they’ll make you angry they’re so good.
Did you have angst about whether the tour would go on?
I had a lot of trepidation about it. But ultimately, I think, as we all figured out, that you can’t hold too tightly onto expectations and plans these days. You have to just roll with the punches, right? We’re all vaccinated and boosted and following all the protocols that all the cities require. So right at this point, it’s really just out of our hands.
Star-Crossed was created entirely in the time of COVID. Is that right?
It was, yeah.
You’re singing about your divorce. But it was also happening during a pandemic. Did that also shape it?
I definitely felt the weight of everything. There were less opportunities for escape from pain. … But as far as the recording, I keep a small group, whenever I record it’s really only just like a handful of us. Same people that recorded Golden Hour, holed up together in Nashville, masked up.
Have you had COVID?
I finally did get it. It hit me pretty hard. Over the holidays. It was definitely not fun.
Have you seen these stories about how weed could block COVID?
Weed? No. I feel like if that was true, then no one would get it.
From looking at your Instagram, it seems like you’re in a happy place now.
I am, yeah.
But on tour, you’re revisiting songs that aren’t so happy, every night. What’s that like?
I think when subject matter is based on your own personal experience, it’s easier to revisit than if it were someone else’s. So I can always tap into what I was feeling in those times. … I am happy right now. So I’m honestly thankful for the sad experiences that I’ve had, because I’ll continue to draw on them for a long time.
I’m past the point in my life to feel like you need to suffer to make great art. I don’t really believe that. But I do think that you can use hurt or hurt of the people around you and be inspired without being a martyr in your own life. So I’m drawing on very real feelings, but I’m looking at them from more of a bird’s-eye view. And I also find inspiration from the fact that there’s a ton of people going through what I went through, so I’m able to kind of channel that for them.
And then the older songs can mesh with the new songs?
Yeah. Golden Hour doesn’t have to die with a certain relationship that may have sparked a lot of those ideas. It’s really an album about the human experience and, and this beautiful thing that we get to experience called love. If you’re lucky, you get to experience that once in your life, and if you’re really lucky, you get to experience it more than once. I can still relate to that album, but in a totally newer and healthier chapter.
Tell me about “Camera Roll,” which is a simple and a brilliant idea for a song.
I was revisiting old memories. We all carry around these little computers in our pockets, full of memories. Nobody takes pictures of the bad times. We just carry around the highlight reel. And when you’re in a sad place, and going through a loss of some kind, it’s a mind ... to only be able to see the good parts. When you’re looking back and you’re in fear of having made a wrong decision, it can be really dangerous because it can be pretty deceiving. So, that was the inspiration. I was hit really hard when I was looking through my camera roll.
In “Justified” you sing: “Healing doesn’t happen in a straight line.” Where are you on that line now?
I’m definitely in a very linear feeling spot, finally. But it’s nice to be able to take the pressure off of yourself when you are going through a big life change, though a divorce. One day you might be feeling really validated in your decision, very self-assured and confident. And then the next you might be like reeling with uncertainty and fear and longing. It’s OK that it’s not like it’s just an uphill climb to victory.
“Merry Go ‘Round” is the one song from early in your career you’re doing on tour . “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay, brother’s hooked on Mary Jane, and Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.” How has your songwriting changed since then?
I’ve started putting a little bit less pressure on myself to turn phrases. I love a turn of phrase. I’m a massive John Prine fan. But sometimes you can tire out a listener by trying to be too clever. On Golden Hour, with songs like “Slow Burn,” I made it a point to ease up on myself and play with stream of consciousness a little bit. Just letting it flow out and not being so literal all the time.
When Same Trailer Different Park and “Follow Your Arrow” came out in 2013, you were portrayed as a rebel, maybe too radical for country to handle. Nine years later, more diverse voices are finally starting to be heard. Has the establishment opened up? Or are artists that have been shut out creating space for themselves?
The climate has improved some, and I’m happy to see a widening of diversity. But I think that there’s still a long way to go, and that can apply to a lot of areas. Different subject matter, different sounds, different producers, different artists. Yeah, there’s still a long way to go.
Were you annoyed that the Grammys didn’t categorize you as country this year?
Some of the greatest artists of all time are really kind of genre-less. When you look at the Beatles, what genre are they? It’s almost impossible to answer. The Eagles are kind of country but also kind of not-country. Joni Mitchell — what is she? Some of the best music is uncategorizable.
Star-Crossed is a massive blend of different styles. All that matters to me is: Did I make an album that came from a very authentic place? Did I push myself to do something different? I could have made Golden Hour again. But I wouldn’t respect myself for that. And I don’t think that my true fans would respect that either.
How did you choose your opening acts? Why do you think you have such a sizable gay audience, and why is that’s important to you?
I think I’ve really made a space for people to feel invited to a party that they didn’t feel invited to prior, and I’m really proud of that. I really love being able to curate an experience from the moment that you walk into one of my shows from start to finish, and I look at artists like Muna and King Princess as people that are doing something very unique, and the quality of the songs is there for me. I am a huge fan of their material. They’re songwriters writing about real life. It may be wrapped up sonically in a different bow than me, but I think people that come to my shows love all kinds of music.