In junior high, Kacey Musgraves tried to keep secret how she was spending most of her weekends — doing mandolin-strumming western swing tunes on the Texas Opry circuit, dressed in fringe-shirted cowgirl regalia.
"When you're in eighth grade, you don't want to give anybody a reason to make fun of you more than they can already, so I just kept to myself," she says. "But it was my choice to go and do these things, and I'm totally glad that it happened that way. I got way more out of learning to play music than going to some school dance or whatever."
Musgraves, who opens for Kenny Chesney at Shoreline Amphitheatre this week, has matured into quite a remarkable talent.
After three indie efforts, she signed to Mercury Nashville for "Same Trailer Different Park," featuring the hit single "Merry Go 'Round" with its wickedly cynical chorus: "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay / Brother's hooked on Mary Jane / Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down ... We get bored so we get married / Just like dust we settle in this town."
She also celebrates the hard-working waitress life (the bluesy "Blowin' Smoke") and, in the jangling "Follow Your Arrow," champions individuality with "When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight roll up a joint / I would / And follow your arrow wherever it points."
From Lindi Ortega to Ashley Monroe and her side group with Miranda Lambert, The Pistol Annies, Nashville kittens are growing sharp claws again. Musgraves believes that country music is cyclical.
"Maybe 20 years ago, the guys were the ones saying everything, and the girls were just supposed to be sweet," she says. "But back in the day, with Jeannie C. Reilly, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton? I mean, they said things, and for a while, that was lost. So I'm really happy to see some substance coming back."
But Musgraves acquired her edginess from an unusual source. In high school, she rebelled by ditching the Dale Evans persona, chopping off her long locks and diving wholeheartedly into Dashboard Confessional-dark emo.
"Old-school country can be hard to relate to at that age," she says. "That's when I stumbled into knowing that I could have music that came from somewhere inside of me instead of singing someone else's story, and that seemed so much more appealing."
Encouraged to pen originals by her guitar teacher, Musgraves wound up in Nashville, Tenn., where she became a staff songwriter at Warner Chappell Music.
Is "Same Trailer" the first emo-country and western hybrid?
"Yeah!" she replies. "There's just something about having something that sounds timeless up against something that doesn't — where a lyric that's really in your face has music that's not, you know?"
IF YOU GOKacey Musgraves
Opening for the Kenny Chesney "No Shoes Nation Tour"
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $47.35 to $106.75
Contact: (650) 967-3000, www.livenation.com