When the prefab glitz of Nashville’s country music industry takes a four-day weekend in the surreal contrivances of Las Vegas, a genuine country girl like Miranda Lambert will have a hard time outshining all the big, bright lights, but she will stand out. Which is exactly what the pint-size pride of tiny Lindale (population 4,290) did in May, when the Academy of Country Music held its annual awards show at the MGM Grand. Call the event country’s midsummer classic, the musical equivalent of baseball’s All-Star Game, with a Montgomery Gentry motorcycle ride and a Big & Rich poker tournament in place of the home run derby and the old-timers’ softball game. And know that the ACMers were perfectly at home in the neon dunes. There’s a reason that supremely earnest Texas singer-songwriters—Miranda not among them—have long derided Music City as “Nashvegas”; if Vegas is where stonewashed denim shorts go to die and no man is ever too old to wear his ball cap backward, it’s also a place where Nashville cheese is going to look like just another item on Mr. Puck’s menu.
The MGM’s Grand Garden Arena was home to Miranda’s initial appearance, on Sunday morning, when she rehearsed for Tuesday night’s nationally televised awards show. The hall was mostly empty, with a crew of techs, gaffers, and grips weaving in and out of pockets of professional awards-show stand-ins—underemployed actors who travel in packs from the Emmys to the Oscars to these ACMs, portraying winners and presenters at rehearsals like this one. With unseen producers barking instructions that bounced overhead, Miranda’s band followed a faceless cue and strolled onstage first. Four thousand green-backed seats stretched out below them, the choice spots occupied by sheets of white poster board with publicity-department head shots of the stars who would sit there during the show. The front rows were for the one-name icons: Kenny, Martina, Tim and Faith, Brooks and Dunn. Miranda’s likeness was five rows behind George Strait’s and two sections over from her boyfriend’s, fellow singer Blake Shelton, an arrangement that reflected her management’s desire to keep the couple’s professional identities distinct at this early stage in their careers. Scattered through the rest of the floor seats were familiar but unexpected non-country faces, some there because they were presenting awards (Dr. Phil, Luke Wilson, Hannah Storm) and others because there are those stars who would not be stars but for Vegas, and as such they are inescapable when one is in Vegas (Carrot Top).
After her band had run through the song she’d be performing, “Famous in a Small Town,” twice, Miranda, the favored nominee for Top New Female Vocalist, shuffled onstage wearing a tempered expression that implied that even at the tender age of 23, she’d already grown immune to this specific brand of weirdness. (She had in fact been nominated for the same award at last year’s show but had come up empty, as she had with a nomination at this year’s Grammys and two at last year’s Country Music Association awards.) But far more bewildering, the past year had seen Miranda’s first CD, Kerosene, go platinum and her new one, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, released the week before she headed to Vegas, debut at number one on Billboard’s country album chart—all without the benefit of a hit single on country radio, an almost unheard-of accomplishment.
Approaching the mike stand, she looked immeasurably prettier than on her CD covers, where sultry pouts and faraway eyes are used to sell her music. Instead she appeared ready to spend the rest of the day in a windowless bar with a jukebox, standing slightly pigeon-toed in bright-red roach stompers, low-rise jeans with button flaps on the back pockets, and a loose, sleeveless peach-colored top. Her long blond hair was knotted in a bun above hoop earrings, and as she glanced at her bass player and noticed his spiked mohawk tucked underneath a baseball cap, she smiled. Dimples the size of nickels opened up in her cheeks.
She applied a little lip gloss before she picked up an acoustic guitar and, with a couple confident strums, kicked off “Small Town” for a third time. It’s a song she co-wrote and the first single off Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a bar-band rocker that still sounded country when Miranda wrapped her East Texas twang around its lived-in lyrics: “I dreamed of going to Nashville/Put my money down and placed my bet/But I just got the first buck of the season/I made the front page of the Turnertown Gazette.” With no audience to pull energy from, she displayed none of the high-octane, head-banging dramatics that define her live shows. But as the song wore on, she got into it. She cocked her head, scrunched up her nose, and smiled again as she reached the chorus: “Whether you’re late for church or you’re stuck in jail/Hey, word’s gonna get around/Everybody dies famous in a small town.” Her pride at what she was doing and who she was was unmistakable, contagious. She meant it.
Her face when she finished was all grin and dimples, showing the natural charisma of a born performer. With that talent and those looks, she could have been a Go-Go. Or maybe a Bangle. But what she has always wanted is to be Merle Haggard. It was suddenly clear that as long as she stayed in the song, she was exactly where she belonged.
miranda lambert has a habit of ignoring the word “no.” About a year ago she told her business manager that she wanted to buy a second tour bus. Not that there was anything wrong with the first one, except that traveling with her band and her crew members, all eight of them male, was a little like crossing the country in a rolling men’s locker room. Her manager informed her that her career wasn’t quite far enough along to justify two buses.
Her reaction was predictable. Just as she viewed her early success on the Texas country circuit as a stepping stone to Nashville, she has no intention of remaining a significant but second-tier star in the mainstream-country firmament. She has opened on tours with George Strait, Keith Urban, and Toby Keith, but she plans on headlining such tours herself. She means to be entertainer of the year. And she is going to get there in a bus of her own.
So one year later—and two weeks after her trip to Vegas—her new tour bus sat side by side with her old tour bus in the parking lot of Cowboys Dancehall, in San Antonio, where she’d be playing later that night before three thousand, hopefully drunk and rowdy, Ran Fans. The new rig fit her perfectly. Its interior was decked out in red faux alligator skin, with barn wood signs bearing slogans like “Cowboys scrape the shit off your boots before coming in” and a marquee over her bed in the back reading “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star” (the title of one of Miranda’s favorite Merle Haggard songs). A framed silhouette of a four-foot-tall guitar made out of license plates hung in the lounge. If the Rolling Stones had hidden out in a Fredericksburg B&B instead of a French château when they recorded Exile on Main St., the place might have looked like this.
She appeared relaxed and happy to talk about how she got here, sitting with her bare feet tucked underneath her, in a light-blue Lone Star beer T-shirt and a pair of plaid shorts rolled at the waist like a sorority girl’s favorite boxers. She wasn’t as far a cry as she might have seemed from the gun-loving hunting enthusiast cheered by her fans, nor even from the image presented in her best-known songs and videos, which fall into the “Goodbye Earl” revenge category. In “Kerosene” she burns down a cheating lover’s house, in “Gunpowder and Lead” she prepares to shoot an abusive husband, and in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” she threatens to beat up an old boyfriend’s new girlfriend in a pool hall.
“People have asked me, literally, in interviews, ‘You’re not really going to shoot someone, are you?’ Well, no.” She shook her head. “I mean, I would if I had to defend myself, but I’m not just waiting around for someone to shoot.
“I grew up around guns. That’s who I am.” But then, pulling at her shirt, she added, “And this is also who I am, a blond chick just sitting here putting on lip gloss.” She shrugged. “The message of my records is, be strong. In whatever you’re doing. ‘Desperation’”—a ballad about keeping hope for a lost love—“is one of the strongest songs I have, even though it’s vulnerable. It takes strength to say, ‘I’m still desperate for you.’”
The strength in her lyrics is not an affectation. After failing to make cheerleader her freshman year of high school—which was merely eight years ago—she decided to sing in the choir. But Lindale High didn’t have one, so she and her mother badgered the school board until one was created. A country music fan her whole life, Miranda fell in love with performing at sixteen, after competing in a talent show at a Longview honky-tonk, the Reo Palm Isle. “Then I went back over there at seventeen and said, ‘Hey, I want the house gig here. Can I have it?’” She got the job and, as a high school senior, started playing from nine until closing time every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It fit her career plan better than singing the National Anthem at Lindale High’s ball games, so she left the school early. “In November I entered a program called Operation Graduation and graduated ten days later,” she said. “It’s where all the pregnant girls and druggies go. And me.”
She became a fixture on the Texas circuit, playing places like Gruene Hall; Love & War in Texas, in Plano; and the Tap Room, in San Marcos. In 2003, at nineteen, she appeared on the USA Network’s American Idol knockoff Nashville Star, parlaying her third-place finish into a contract with Sony BMG. She was surprised when label execs promised to let her put her own songs on her debut, but not so much that she felt compelled to match their concession with any of her own. At the preproduction song-pitching session, where she was expected to find radio-friendly songs to fill out her record, she held her ground and was practically polite about it. “I listened to twenty songs, and the label people said, ‘Okay, you need to say yes to at least one song, because you’re starting to hurt people’s feelings.’ But I would have hated to put some polished pop cover song on my record. I can’t sell a song if I don’t believe it. I said, ‘This just isn’t as good as “Kerosene.”’ I think I played the game. Luckily, I won.”
Four years and two number one albums later, Miranda is right where she wants to be, except for the pesky matter of radio play, a vexing problem with no ready answer. Some would suggest the hang-up is her unapologetic renegade image. Others say it’s the youth of her fan base, that country radio targets women over 35 but that a typical Miranda fan is 10 to 15 years younger than that. Jimmy Rector, a vice president of radio promotion at her label, wouldn’t get into any of that. He just said that if radio had played Miranda more often, if the song “Kerosene” had gone top five instead of stalling at fifteen, the album Kerosene could have sold one or two million more copies.
“I don’t get played a lot on country radio, and I don’t understand why,” Miranda said. “All I know is that I listen to radio, and if I like something, I buy it. And every other person is going to do that. If they don’t hear it, how can they buy it?”
She sounds more frustrated than hurt when she talks about it. “I grew up listening to country radio. I started this career because I heard about that talent contest in Longview on country radio. I feel like I fit into this business, I fit into this format. And I would really love all the radio stations to embrace me. So I will do your free shows, I will do your meet and greets, and, you know, we’ll get along fine.”
In the meantime she’ll continue on the path of artists she admires who overcame the same obstacle, performers like Waylon Jennings and the Dixie Chicks, who played every hall that would book them while they waited for radio to catch up. “The club we’re playing tonight holds nearly four thousand people,” she said. “It’s a warehouse with a bar in it, and that’s just fun. When the fans are screaming and fighting and they’re, you know, drunk? It’s like, yes! This is why I got into this.”
Country fans were everywhere at the MGM Grand during the ACM weekend, waiting for any chance to touch the stars. They started assembling each morning in front of elevator banks and spread out through the day to wait outside big-spender poker rooms, valet stands, restaurants and bars, and random stretches of floor cordoned off by velvet ropes. They were on missions specific and general, looking for stars big and small. A paralegal from Champaign, Illinois—“The home of Alison Krauss, I always point out,” he said proudly—carried a manila folder with fifty CD booklets in it, most of which he had gotten autographed on this trip. A woman behind him shouted at anyone walking by in boots and a hat. “You look like Brad Paisley! Come over here!” she screamed, waving a digital camera and a Sharpie over her head.
A group was already calling Miranda’s name when she arrived at 9:45 on Monday morning to do an hour-long, nationwide tour of country radio stations in a small banquet hall just outside the arena. There, in a crowded room set up like a sweatshop for phone solicitors, more than a hundred radio deejays from around the country were broadcasting live and taping spots for their shows. Again in boots and jeans but this time with a fitted red Western shirt with roses stitched at the waist and the yokes, a clutch of beads and necklaces around her neck, and a big gold-and-red ring on the hand holding a Starbucks to-go cup—“It’s my ladybug ring, which I bought for five dollars at some cheapie store,” she said with a smile—Miranda signed a couple guitars to be auctioned for charity and then went to work on radio. She was given to a handler who led her from table to table and kept her on a strict schedule of three minutes at each interview, two minutes of witty banter and one minute of station IDs: “Happy holidays, St. Louis, from Miranda Lambert and WIL country radio.” At each stop deejays started by telling Miranda how great “Famous in a Small Town” was and then asked some variant of “How thrilling is it to be nominated again for Top New Female Vocalist?” Then they proceeded to get witty.
“What’s the last thing you killed?”
“A deer,” she smiled.
“What’s the weirdest thing that was ever thrown at you onstage?”
“Boxers,” she smiled.
“Have you ever been on a hunting or fishing date?”
“Of course,” she smiled.
Miranda stayed sweet and chipper, which couldn’t have been easy. She knew all too well which deejays were playing her songs and which weren’t. But if she’d been raised to stand up for herself, she’d also learned manners, and she showed no resentment, not even in her eyes.
Thirty minutes after the radio work was completed, Miranda unwound while waiting to rehearse for a performance that night at the ACM’s new artists showcase. She focused on the tiny, apocalyptic problems of a 23-year-old woman: her clothes and her boyfriend. Reba McEntire had recently invited Miranda and Blake to stay at her home in Cabo San Lucas. “But Blake doesn’t have a passport,” Miranda said in disbelief. And then: “I tried on some skinny jeans last week, but short girls with big butts cannot wear those.”
Her cell phone rang, its ringtone playing “Red Bandana,” by Merle Haggard. It was Miranda’s mom, calling from her hotel room, where Miranda’s dad had gotten food poisoning from the free burritos in the VIP area. Miranda fished through her purse for the phone, pulling out first a couple lip gloss pens, then a piece of chewed-up chewing gum, three more lip glosses, a camouflage pocketbook, and finally the phone. She looked at it while Haggard sang on.
“Sometimes I don’t even answer it because I’m just listening to the song.”
If you visit Lindale on an afternoon when Rick and Beverly Lambert aren’t on the road with their daughter, you’re apt to find them at a picnic table in front of the Miranda Lambert General Store, drinking beer, listening to Miranda records, and talking about the long haul to country stardom with a group of Bev’s girlfriends known as the Ya-Ya’s. Bev calls the store, stocked with CDs, posters, and stacks of twenty different Miranda T-shirts, Lindale’s number one tourist attraction. In a town where the previous favorite daughter was a girl who carried the Olympic torch on its way to the 2002 Games, the claim is believable, if not entirely verifiable.
Though the parents, of course, look nothing alike, somehow the daughter looks exactly like both of them, possessing her dad’s defiant chin and her mom’s flirting eyes. She also inherited their unconditional love of old country music and the self-reliant, no-nonsense worldview that steers her career and informs her songs. Her parents are retired private investigators, good enough at proving up infidelity, and sure enough of their moral assessments, that they were hired by Paula Jones’s litigation team to head the investigation of Bill Clinton in the nineties. But before they grabbed that brass ring, they endured a bad financial stretch in which country music was about the only bare thread they had.
When Rick and Bev met, in 1975, he was a 24-year-old don’t-jack-with-me Dallas narcotics cop and an aspiring country singer, and his band was playing a party at the apartment complex where Beverly, then 15, lived with her mother. “I fell in love looking at him with that guitar in his hand,” said Bev, sitting next to a cooler full of Michelob Ultras one evening at the store in mid-July. “And our love of music has always been the link. I told my mom, ‘I met the man I’m going to marry today.’” They wed five years later and became full partners in everything they’ve done since, from raising Miranda and younger brother Luke to staking out cheating spouses to managing Miranda’s career when she left high school.
In 1990, when Miranda was six and Luke was two, a bad side-business venture ate up the family’s cash, and a couple slow investigating months kept new money from coming in. (As Miranda recently told Blender magazine, “It’s not like you can ask people, ‘Is your husband cheating on you? Because I need work.’”) Constitutionally incapable of declaring bankruptcy, Rick and Bev ended up losing everything they had: two houses, two cars, and two businesses. They moved from Dallas to Lindale to live with Bev’s brother.
“When we got to Lindale, we had to start a whole new life,” said Rick. “We wanted to farm, and Bev and I are like SpongeBob SquarePants when it comes to something we want to know about. We read every book and talked to every damn body that knew anything about it or looked like they might. I started hanging out at the feed store talking to old farmers. I remember asking one old guy how to keep goats in your yard . . .”
“And what did he say, Dad?” Bev asked. “He said, ‘If your fence won’t hold water, it won’t hold a goat.’”
“That’s right,” said Rick. “So we started growing onions, cabbage, and broccoli, raising rabbits, chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, everything. The kids saw life from the beginning, from the breeding through the birth to the death. Bev would stir-fry rabbits for dinner, and I sold the rest for five dollars apiece, skin-on for petting or skin-off for eating. And if I saw a deer down in the pasture, I’d shoot it. I didn’t give a damn if it was in season or not.”
From the safe distance of seventeen years and two number one albums, Bev looks back at the rough times as the happiest in their kids’ lives, the memories dominated by the “picking parties” Rick hosted on the porch two or three nights a week. His hunting buddies would bring beer by the house, and Bev would cook big meals with ingredients from their yard. “I’d play guitar and sing,” said Rick, “sometimes until two in the morning. And Miranda would crawl up between my chest and guitar . . .”
“And she’d just be sitting there trying to play it with him,” said Bev, “while he sang Merle and Jerry Jeff and Tammy.”
“And then, when people weren’t around,” Rick went on, “especially during the depressing time, when we were losing our ass, Miranda and I would lay on the hardwood floor in my gun room, in the complete dark, and listen to Mickey Newbury and David Allan Coe and . . . oh, ‘Set ’em Up, Joe,’ what’s his name?”
“Vern Gosdin,” answered Bev.
“Yep,” said Rick. “Every night. That was our thing. I’d drink a glass of red wine and she’d lay her head on my chest and just go to sleep.”
Eventually, the investigating business picked up and the Lamberts got back on their feet. But the kids never did forget that sitting and waiting for life to happen to you is no way to get anywhere.
“People ask why Miranda has such an old soul,” said Bev, “why she does what she wants. Well, that’s where she’s from. That’s why she has the faith to believe ‘I can do this.’ She knows she didn’t come from nothing. She came from something.”
“I love raw albums,” said Miranda that day on the bus. “I’d love to record an album in a garage and for it to sound like an old Gary Stewart album, without a bunch of overdubbed this and that. But when you’re in the mainstream, you’ve got to fit in. You’ve got to get your foot in the door first.”
That’s a calm acknowledgment of the real world she’s in. Country music today is a much different beast, both sonically and substantively, from the one Miranda used to listen to on her dad’s old LPs. Soundwise, the music is bigger. Back when country music was intended for jukeboxes and AM radios, the drums and bass were almost incidental. But the early nineties saw the arena-fication of country music. It began with the unprecedented success of Garth Brooks. When his ticket and record sales became the dream for new acts, producers started making records that would sound at home in football stadiums, with huge, pounding drums and layered guitars playing fat power chords. The biggest-selling female country singer of the decade—and for that matter all time—was Shania Twain, who just happened to be married to and produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the evil genius behind AC/DC’s Back in Black and Def Leppard’s Hysteria. Then, as the ascendance of grunge and hip-hop stole classic rock’s relevance, country picked up the slack. There’s a reason that advance copies of Bob Seger’s and Bon Jovi’s recent releases were sent to country radio and music writers.
On the substantive side, country was swept up in the Republican revolution. “Country music has always reflected what’s going on in the world,” said Don Cusic, a country historian and professor in the acclaimed music industry program at Belmont University, in Nashville. “With all the divorces after World War II, you had the cheating songs: ‘Slipping Around’ and ‘Dark End of the Street.’ The sexual revolution of the seventies produced them too. And the white working class was drinking heavily through those periods.” As the nineties wore on, habits, or at least opinions, and certainly radio playlists, started to change. Maybe it was a function of millennial angst, followed almost immediately by post-9/11 uncertainty. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that so many radio stations were owned by Clear Channel, a corporation that is cozy with the GOP.
In any event, the message was repositioned. Joe Galante, the chairman of Sony BMG, explained: “Look at the big books now, like The Secret. It’s not about finding first love; it’s adults raising families, leading their lives day to day. And those people are grabbed by Ronnie Dunn singing ‘Believe’ or Alan Jackson singing ‘Remember When.’ It’s good news and bad news and raising your kids. And it’s got just as much soul as Hank Williams.”
Maybe, maybe not; it won’t sound that way to those of us who grew up on Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley. When I drove from Austin to Lindale to hang out with Rick and Bev, I listened to country radio for the four-hour drive up and the four-hour drive back. In all that time I heard one cheating song, Sammy Kershaw’s remake of the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Third Rate Romance.” (And not one song, by the way, by Miranda Lambert.) What I heard fully five times was a song called “Moments,” by Emerson Drive. The protagonist sings of intending to jump off a bridge to kill himself, but then he encounters a wise, soulful homeless man who reminds him of the blessings in his life. The singer chooses life and returns home, presumably to kiss his wife and live happily ever after. It reminded me not of the country songs I grew up with but of after-school specials, and I found myself eyeing overpasses, wondering if I might jump off myself.
That’s the part of the new country equation with which Miranda will not make peace. “I’m sorry, but I have not been blessed every day, and I have the best life ever. Great people to work with and everything’s going good, but shitty stuff still happens. So why are we pretending it doesn’t? I can picture, like, my dad, driving down the road in our old two-hundred-dollar crap car that had no air conditioner and hardly started. And him with no money, taking us to the Burger King to get four Whoppers and four waters because Whoppers were ninety-nine cents and waters were free. I can just see him turning on country radio and hearing something like . . .” She paused.
“‘Moments,’ by Emerson Drive?” I asked.
“I’m not even going to say any titles because I don’t want to piss anybody off,” she said. “Just one of those songs. Come on. This is real life. We’re from Lindale, Texas, and we’re poor and sweaty in our car that won’t start. I want to hear a song about that. Because that’s what country music is to me.”
Fans started to gather outside the arena a good four hours before the awards show started on Tuesday night, jockeying for a clear sight line at the stars walking in on the orange carpet. (A traditional red carpet might have been used if the show’s sponsor had been Red Lobster instead of Home Depot.) Drawing no attention from the country faithful, and being careful to avoid it from hotel security, Bev and Crysta Lee, a high school friend of Miranda’s who now sells merchandise for Team Lambert, darted past the throng to position themselves in an off-limits spot nearest to where the limos were unloading the stars.
“Miranda wouldn’t let me see the dress she’s going to show up in before tonight,” said Bev, “and I’m not going to miss it.”
A few minutes later, Blake stepped out of a limo, and the fans went crazy. Rather than wave and walk on to get his picture taken, as per arrival protocol, he approached the velvet rope and started signing autographs, shaking hands, and giving out hugs, completely disrupting the tightly choreographed photo-op schedule. He looked positively thrilled at the reception.
“The BS-er sure looks handsome,” said Bev. While she might have liked him and Miranda to have shown up together, she said the relationship has to be taken a step at a time. “First Miranda had to get him to cut that mullet and then take off the hat. Now if she can only get him to wear something besides blue plaid shirts.”
As Blake finally made his way inside, Miranda slid out of her limo in a strapless gold cocktail dress. She turned and waved to the fans, then spun back around to face the photographers. Though Bev didn’t wave or scream, Miranda spotted her and stopped for a hug.
“How’d you get down here?” Miranda said.
“Well, I had to see your dress, little girl. You look so beautiful. Good luck.”
At that, Miranda headed to her photo op and Bev and Crysta left for the VIP area backstage, where Rick had scoped out a table near a flat-screen TV. They didn’t pretend not to care who’d win, uttered no “happy just to be nominated” bromides. They whooped as if they were rooting for a brawler in a bar fight when Miranda gave her revved-up performance of “Small Town” about ten minutes into the show. They even nodded appreciatively when fellow nominee Taylor Swift walked into the audience to serenade Tim McGraw with a song about listening to him on the radio. When the song was over and Taylor looked into the camera and excitedly mouthed, “That’s Tim McGraw. Oh, my God!” just as she’d practiced in rehearsal Sunday morning, Bev gave out a sympathetic “Awwww.”
About an hour into the show, the Top New Female Vocalist award was announced. As Carrie Underwood, the singer who beat Miranda for the award last year, read the list of nominees, Rick grabbed Bev’s hand. When Carrie paused before announcing the winner, a voice in the audience shouted, “Miranda!” and Rick and Bev crept up onto their tiptoes and held their breath.
“And the ACM Top New Female Vocalist is,” said Carrie, “Miranda Lambert!”
Bev looked at Rick and both started to cry, while on the screen, Miranda walked almost businesslike onto the stage. “Thank you so much,” she said as the noise from the crowd died down, unwadding a scrap of paper containing a list of names she needed to thank: family, management, her band, the record label, and then, thrusting her hand in the air twice, God and the fans. Noticeably absent was a nod to country radio.
When the show was over, the Lamberts celebrated in true high-roller fashion, renting out a private dance floor in the MGM Grand’s Studio 54 nightclub. Party pics on Miranda’s Web site show the whole lot of them—Miranda and Blake, Rick and Bev, the band and crew—dancing to bad disco like happy drunks at a country club wedding reception. The sequined, royal-blue minidress that Miranda changed into during the show made her blue eyes pop in the pictures like Fourth of July fireworks.
But the look on her face was mostly one of relief.