It was the kickoff taping of Season 47 of Austin City Limits, and excitement was palpable. We've been in a pandemic, after all, and on Wednesday night (April 29) inside the Moody Theater in downtown Austin, Texas, old friends — live music and its audience — reunited. Co-writers and longtime friends Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall took their stools without fanfare, settling in like they might have around a fire in Marfa, Texas.

They're comfortable there, and they were here, too; Marfa is the home base of a new project coming from the songwriting trio. Their first trip to West Texas, to Marfa, in 2015, was a getaway for Lambert, who says she "needed to get the hell outta Dodge" after a rough personal year (she and Blake Shelton announced their divorce in July of 2015). "The Wind's Just Gonna Blow" — the first song she, Randall and Ingram wrote together on that first trip — captures what she may have been feeling at the time. It "started the whole shebang," she says, though the song came mid-way on their Austin City Limits setlist.

Appropriately, "Two-Step Down to Texas" launched their set, during which they called for no second-takes. That's true of the "formal" project, too — Lambert previously told Taste of Country Nights that you can expect imperfections, like cracking voices, forgotten lines and even helicopters. "You can hear the cows and the wind," she shares. "In ‘Tequila Does’ you can hear the border patrol flying over (laughs). It’s pretty funny, we looked up and were just laughing."

Courtesy Austin City Limits
Courtesy Austin City Limits

The trio took turns frontrunning songs from their album on Wednesday — a true campfire session (minus the flames), set against a painted (literally) Austin skyline. Laid-back and in all denim and a cowgirl hat, Lambert, an Austin City Limits veteran, was nothing but jokes and smiles, despite the true-to-life nature of some of the songs, like "Ghost," which she says is about a man from her past.

"I replaced the headboard with a chiseled stone, here lies the meanest man I've ever known," goes one dagger of a lyric.

"There's been some men in my life that have driven me to drink a little more," Lambert confessed, hoisting her drink up to the balcony more than once throughout the hour-and-change show. It was Randall's ACL debut and the first time back for Ingram in 25 years.

Another song that came from Marfa, "Geraldene," was at least inspired by someone real, and the "Jolene" spinoff — "Jolene" with extra grit — left the crowd whoopin' and hollerin'. Some, like "Tin Man," which was also on Lambert's critically-acclaimed The Weight of These Wings album, were more well-known, while others, like "Am I Right or Amarillo," have been released in recent weeks to build enthusiasm for the project.

The Marfa Tapes will be released on May 7. The Lambert, Ingram, Randall episode of Austin City Limits will air this fall when the new season premieres on PBS.

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