Maren Morris hit the Santa Barbara Bowl stage this week with a little bit of country, a little bit of R&B, a little bit of pop, and a whole lot of Southern Girl Next Door charm. Dressed casually in a sundress and tennies, without any of the glitzy artifice traditionally associated with country stars, her sparkling voice and personality were more than enough to command the audience from the moment she stepped on stage. She opened with a poppy tune, “The Furthest Thing,” the first of several songs from her album Humble Quest, a spring 2022 release that reflects on life, love, loss, her musical career (she started touring around Texas at age 12), and becoming a new mother during the pandemic.
The album’s moving title song is an ode to trying to be a better person and the loss of her frequent musical partner Busbee (to a rare form of brain cancer called glioblastoma in 2019). She segued that into another new one, “Background Music,” with the haunting lyrics, “Maybe we got a ways to go, a lot of road ahead of us And who really knows how many songs we got left…”
Luckily for the audience, she had a whole lot of music left that night, including lively renditions of more familiar hits like “80s Mercedes,” “Meet Me in the Middle,” “The Bones” and “Rich,” a breezy tune that’s a great showcase for Morris’s sassy sense of humor (“If I had a dime every time that you crossed my mind/ Well, I’d basically be sitting on a big ass pile of dimes”).
Her 2018 hit “Meet Me in the Middle” was a pitch perfect illustration of a catchy, bop along, crossover tune that brings reluctant country fans like me into the fold. The other song that made me laugh out loud — and send a clip to my husband and son — was “Tall Guys,” an ode to her husband and fellow singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd, who, at 6 foot, 3 inches, is more than a foot taller than Morris.
She may be vertically challenged, but Maren Morris’s performance stood tall that night, especially after a memorable finale where she turned the lights onto the crowd and danced and sung her way up — with her band and some security folks — to the midsection of the Bowl behind the soundboard while performing a rousing rendition of her 2016 breakout hit “My Church.” The upbeat tune about her love of country music was an excellent topper to a terrific show that converted me to be “a little bit country” for at least a night.