The Unforgettable Fire: How Miranda Lambert Danced In The Flames & Became A Global Superstar

Miranda Lambert
Photo by Catherine Powell / Courtesy ShopKeeper Mgmt
– Miranda Lambert
performs at Chicago’s Country LakeShake Festival in June 2019.
Miranda Lambert turned 22. Five days later, she was onstage at Madison Square Garden. Though she hadn’t had a Top 10 hit, the fiery blond songwriter scored a performance on the 2005 Country Music Association Awards; with steely determination, the pride of Lindale, Texas had a trick up her sleeve.

“There was a wall of fire, and all I could think was it cost $40,000,” she laughs now. “That I had to pay back. There was an edit to make ‘Kerosene’ shorter for TV. I remember being up there, then I couldn’t remember if I hit the edit.

“I turned around to look at my band, which is what I do when I want to get centered, and all those flames shot up – and I couldn’t see them! That’s when I went wild and started crazy dancing, just let go and…”
When she got offstage, sure she’d ruined her career, she called her mother, who’d flown to New York and couldn’t get a ticket to the awards; Beverly Lambert was beside herself. Watching from a bar in the East Village with friends from back home, she said, “Are you kidding? You were fabulous!”
Burning For You:
Rick Diamond / WireImage
– Burning For You:
Miranda Lambert’s breakthrough 2005 performance before a wall of fire at the 39th annual CMA Awards at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Marion Kraft, ShopKeeper Management founder and Lambert’s longtime manager, concurs: “She went up there a young artist, but after that performance, everybody was talking about the girl with the fire.”

With moxie for days, Lambert crushed the biggest stage in country music – taking a moment of doubt and turning it into absolute triumph. She’s been crushing it ever since.
This week, Lambert will anchor the Country Music Association’s C2C Festival in the UK and Ireland. She’s nominated for the Best Country Album Grammy for her campfire record with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram, The Marfa Tapes, an award she won last year with Wildcard. She’s also hitting country radio’s top 10 with Elle King on their robust even record “Drunk (& I Don’t Want To Go Home).”

Lambert’s integrity, preternatural talent, singular devotion to fans and tireless work ethic over the course of more than two decades in the music industry is unparalleled. When she gets back, she’ll prep for a headlining amphitheater tour that reteams her with Little Big Town and to headline a fistful of festivals where she consistently brings it whenever she’s onstage.

Lambert’s touring numbers bear this out. Over the course of an extraordinary career, Lambert, 38, has sold a massive 2.7 million tickets, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports dating back to 2002. She’s grossed more than $130 million with a rising average gross of $426K, even as her average ticket price remains a reasonable $47 a pop.

Brian O’Connell, Live Nation head of country touring, has never seen Lambert as anything but a pure artist who delivers live. Having offered her a headlining tour opportunity a few years into her career, he marvels at her vision – and clarity.

“I remember so clearly. It was in the Chapel at the old Sony/RCA Building where we had our offices, too. She thanked me, told me she liked what I was doing… and building,” he says. “Whether it was 25 or 45 minutes, whatever slot she was in, she left it all out on that stage. Everything. It was like, ‘OK, follow this.’”
This included opening slots for such luminaries as George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley.
Ed Warm, recent Academy of Country Music Chairman and owner of Joe’s Bar/Joe’s Live/Chicago City Smoke-Out, remembers: “Miranda brings rock & roll energy, right from the start,” he says. “She put together a rocking band, but it’s the whole persona that you see. 
“Even when she was a 19-year-old in an SUV, driving from city-to-city – and her dad was with her the first few runs – she knew to be a hard-ticket act, you start in the clubs, sling those songs from town-to-town. But when she’s onstage, she’s very clear: ‘I’m here to get your attention. I’ve got something to say.’”

If Lambert’s first several singles failed to ignite in a radio way, they established a voice that mattered. “Kerosene,” especially, spoke for women done wrong by cads. But they were about more: striving, dreaming, seeking one’s place in the world. Like the Dixie Chicks before her (also co-managed by Kraft), she gave a power to what women wanted – without relinquishing her ass-kicking bona fides.
She speaks to – and for – anyone who believes in living life fully, making mistakes and dealing with them, the messy crazy all the best people are. She also sings about hope, finding that nugget of gold and knowing your worth.
Touching The Stars:
Becky Fluke / Courtesy Shopkeeper
– Touching The Stars:
With a new album, an upcoming tour with Little Big Town, fest plays, leading the way back to live with early plays at Billy Bob’s Texas, 2021 Grammy wins and 2022 Grammy noms, Miranda Lambert is a strong contender for the 2022 CMA Entertainer of the Year.
“She was speaking to a bunch of people, women especially, but men as well, and because she was speaking from experience, that made her one of them,” explains Joey Lee, her longtime agent, now at WME. “They knew it wasn’t made up, and they connected with and to her. After all, who was speaking for the single mom working two, three jobs trying to make the rent? Or the young person wanting all the world had to offer, knowing what was out there?
“Because of how she grew up, she wants to give those people a $150 show for a $75 ticket. She wants them to have a night they’ll remember, one that feeds them. She’s very creative with the third and fourth acts, people she wants to help out and give ’em something to talk about, but also to give her fans something they can discover. That’s part of it.”
Courtesy Shopkeeper Management
– Shopkeepers:
Marion Kraft, CEO of ShopKeeper Management (left) who began managing Lambert when she was 18. Pictured at Lambert’s Tex-Mex restaurant and bar Casa Rosa in Nashville.
In a world of pretty girl singers, Lambert comes from the Texas club tradition of “bring it.” Guitars aren’t just loud, they engage. Drums don’t just crash, they drive. It’s necessary because Lambert – the most awarded artist in Academy of Country Music History, including nine consecutive Female Vocalist victories and five Album of the Year wins, as well as a seven-time Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year and two-time Album of the Year creator – is not only capable of tender or torch nuance, she can wildcat shred a song when it’s required.
That ability to completely take on rage, passion or a good time has set the woman whose parents owned a private investigation company to siphon the rawest parts of those emotions.
“I feel like the girls I’m singing to, or even the people listening, are people just like me. Men or women, they’ve made their mistakes; they go through things, high and low,” Lambert says. “So, I tell stories for everyone who can’t. I’m kinda representing all of us.
“And when you come to one of our shows, we’re all kinds: blonds, brunettes, redheads, big and little. We’re all fighters, fighting for what we love. You don’t stop because it’s hard, you fight a little harder. My top-earning song, ‘Gunpowder & Lead,’ went to No. 7, but when the crowd sings every word back to you, that’s when you know a hit is not a number.
“I’ve put my life in my songs – and I’ve never counted on my hair, my makeup and my boobs to get me over,” she says. “I’ve always used my guitar. A guitar and a real stubborn head will get you a long, long way.”
Indeed, it will. In 2009, after a stunning Ryman Auditorium album launch show for Revolution, her third album and third No. 1 debut on Billboard’s country album chart, Lambert went all-in on headlining. She’d honed her craft with country’s biggest stars and stages, ultimately landing the middle slot on Chesney’s 2009 tour, which included plenty of stadiums.
Kraft, Lee and Warm point to the night as a pivotal moment.

“Everything about it,” Warm says. “It was a whole album. It was the Ryman. It was the first time I’d ever seen anyone sing without a mic in a place like that – and it just cut straight into you. You could feel the energy around her.”
She’s Rocked A Million Faces:
Courtesy ShopKeeper Management
– She’s Rocked A Million Faces:
Miranda Lambert, performing at 2017’s Country LakeShake festival in Chicago.
Without proper setup time to field a single opening act, Kraft, Lambert and Lee put the “Pink Guitars & Roadside Bars Tour” together with a cast of young male acts she believed in. As much about turning people onto music – like she would if you were hanging out – it was about proving that her unbridled girl energy could sell tickets. With “White Liar,” the Revolution single that became her first No. 1, she was making a lot of points without a single scolding word.
Show, don’t tell. Be the change you think the world wants to see. Rather than getting up in radio’s reality of slowing records’ chart movement down, she blazed across the country with Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Randy Houser and Wade Bowen opening. Rather than bitch, she rocked.
O’Connell ultimately bonded with Lambert in the parking lot of Boston’s Fenway Park swapping John Prine deep cuts for hours. He recognized something more than even the songs giving people back their lives is her gift.
“With Miranda, you can’t just go for the party. Is it fun? Yes. Will there be hits? Absolutely. Is it uptempo? Of course. But she’s taking you on a trip, showing you things, giving you so much more meaning – and rocking you while she’s doing it,” he says. “There are very few times in the course of any of our careers where you’re working with a true, first-ballot Hall of Famer – as they’re actually doing the work, forging what makes them someone you know will be in the Hall of Fame.”
Part of that is what you don’t see. As Lambert’s ascension solidified, Joey Lee teamed with agent Kevin Neal to have Lambert and Jason Aldean co-headline midsize arenas, flipping who closed each night. In Murray, Ky., sitting in the nosebleeds as Lambert went on first, a woman noticed Lee’s pass and asked if he could get some CDs signed. He demurred, but saw her two daughters “probably 7 or 8, maybe 11 or 12,” and felt horrible.
When Lambert was done, Lee headed to the bus, only to see the woman in the parking lot.
“There’s nowhere to go in that venue, and she asked again, standing there on a Thursday night,” he says. “Clearly, she’d brought those girls to see Miranda. When I tried saying I didn’t know where she was, the mother said, ‘She got on the bus…’”
Lee pauses, remembering how awkward it was. “So, I got on the bus, and there were business people up there, talking about something. I told Miranda what was going on, explained it was school night and all. She told those folks, ‘I’ll be right back.’ She didn’t just sign their CDs, she got off the bus, walked right over, got down on the ground with them, asked where they went to school, did they have fun? It wasn’t just taking a picture, it was showing them they mattered.”
Kraft remembers, “There was a bit of a Dixie Chicks moment, with the girls coming to the shows dressing like Miranda, clearly wanting to look like her.”
But “she’s as good as any artist, human or performer,” O’Connell says. “I don’t see gender when I look at her show, because she rocks as hard as anyone. There’s no getting around that. Even when she’s doing something broken down, there’s a punch to it. When she does ‘That’s The Way The World Goes ‘Round,’ it’s a masterclass in philosophy; oh, and if you don’t know, it’s by John Prine.”
Maybe that’s why the men are passionate, too. Lambert knows men need her perspective as much as the women need a voice.
“I look for the dads or the husbands, who came with their girls, because there are a lot of men out there who love the message. Or they just want someone they love to have a really good time,” Lambert says. “You’ll see ’em in meet and greets, the wife walking a little bit tilted ahead, and he’s behind, smiling, just letting her have her night.
“Who doesn’t want to be part of a ball of fire? The emotional, moody, crazy part is part being with a women who excites you. You’d be surprised all the boys with their great big beers singing every word of ‘Hell On Heels.’”
Kraft recognizes the power of message. Lambert has notched eight No. 1s in her 17-year career and her shows are a festival of scream-alongs that matter to the people attending.
“Sometimes we’d pick a single we knew had no chance of going No. 1, because it was the right thing in her career, where she was or what she wanted to say,” Kraft says. “‘All Kinds of Kinds’ was one those. It was a message she believed in, so fun for her to perform live and it’s a song that brought people together.”
Lambert, for all the hard edges, wants people to enjoy the ride, but also be mindful of how they live, to look out for those mistreated, to help where they can. That mindfulness informs how she tours; O’Connell recounts a sold-out show “in a major arena, where she’d played four years in a row,” and her saying, “We need to change this up. I don’t want anyone to ever feel, ‘Oh, here she is again.’ We want them fired up to be coming out.
“You don’t wholesale this,” he continues. “It’s surgical, and the details matter. She’s thinking about where to go and why. Everything must have a reason.”
Starry, Starry Stage:
Christie Goodwin / Courtesy ShopKeeper
– Starry, Starry Stage:
Miranda Lambert performing in 2019 at London’s O2 Arena as part of the 2019 “Country To Country Tour.”
Whether it’s the packages – this summer will see another “Bandwagon Tour” of amphitheaters with Little Big Town and The Cadillac Three; her second edition of the “Pink Guitars & Road Bars Tour” was a rotating all-female lineup that included Elle King, Ashley McBryde, Caylee Hammack and Tenille Townes – or the choice of venues, Lambert wants to keep it interesting, lean into music and give people more than they wanted, but what they didn’t know they needed.
Part of how is the alliances she’s forged along the way. Lee says, “They weren’t promoters, but partners for us from the very beginning. Glenn Smith before she even had a record deal, Brad Garrett who helped when we wanted to do arenas, Bob Romeo, Gil Cunningham, Troy Vollhoffer with Country Thunder and Ed Warm believed so early. They invested more than money and dates.”
Warm beams explaining Lambert will be the first female headliner of his Chicago Smoke-Out Festival. “First time she played for us, she finished soundcheck, got offstage and started setting up her merch table. 19? 20? Who does that? She was so focused on what she wanted; she played that night and every person in the room was talking about it the next day.
“When you can do that, grow that – and dream big, well, look what she’s done. It’s not because of anyone else, but what she does on that stage, how committed she is to her music. The records she makes are for a reason, then she gets onstage and shows you.”
O’Connell, who’s had her headline his festivals, concurs: “Onstage, big or small, you have to keep up with her. She closes because most people can’t follow her – and nobody does what she can.”
So why hasn’t Lambert won CMA Entertainer of the Year? Was it Garth’s decision to come back into play? Country radio’s female desert? The whole bro-country thing? This, for an award meant to be given for the winner’s overall impact on the genre? 
It’s just unfathomable at this point in her career, with consistently topping festival lineups, curating tours and supporting younger artists with meaningful exposure; her Idyllwind clothing line; her Casa Rosa restaurant, the only female-fronted establishment on Nashville’s teaming Lower Broadway; Mutt Nation, her four-legged charity; the consistently forward-leaning platinum-certified albums, which most recently include the double-disc Weight of These Wings, the Grammy-winning Wildcard, the Grammy-nominated Marfa Tapes, Pistol Annies’ Hell of a Holiday and a groundbreaking new album set for release this spring.
Then there’s her courage and trailblazing leadership. When COVID had the industry on lockdown, Lambert was the first major country star to play indoors. Announcing a series of Fort Worth shows at Billy Bob’s Texas last spring, sales were so fast that three shows grew to five, yielding the largest gross and biggest run at the storied venue.
In The Moment:
Becky Fluke / Courtesy Shopkeeper
– In The Moment:
Miranda Lambert performing in Indianapolis in 2018 on her “Bandwagon Tour” with Little Big Town. The co-bill will play amphitheaters again this summer.
“First, Billy Bob’s is her home state,” Kraft says. “We’d had a tour plan; she wanted to play. It was a year in, and nobody really knew… She’d been keeping her people employed, she wanted to have not just her road family together, but to bring people together with music.
“The venues wanted to stay in business, too. Even at reduced capacity, it was such a big moment. Billy Bob’s followed guidelines, they made it work, too. When she does things, people know she’s really thought it through. I think when people realized this was happening, it gave other people validation to do it too. If Miranda’s doing it, if she feels it’s safe, then they felt safe to give it a shot.”
Whether shooting out the lights, tequila or making a crazy dream real, Lambert is fearless. In a genre stacked against women, she keeps following her music and making it happen on her terms. 

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