Looking at recent Reba McEntire concert reviews and set lists makes at least one thing pretty clear: The country music legend is performing the same songs in the same order with the same dialogue night after night.

Her show, a roughly 90-minute spectacle, is a well-oiled machine. And it really needs to be: The song “Fancy,” alone, includes pyro and two outfit changes. Before McEntire even takes the stage, there’s a pyrotechnics display and a montage of clips from her career — her hair tells the story here, ranging from the big, curly style of her early days to the shorter, straighter style of recent years.

McEntire does virtual duets with Vince Gill, and Brooks and Dunn. You get clips from her show, “Reba,” which ran for six seasons. After performing a bunch of what she calls “wallering” songs — songs about your heart being broken — she has an incredible, perfectly precise moment where she rips off the bottom half of her sparkly blue dress and moves on to the feisty power anthem “Going Out Like That.”

McEntire has been in this business for a while — it’s been 46 years since she released her first album — and she really knows how to put on a show. Every word and action has been carefully thought out, and you know her show is going to be a full-on production before she even takes the stage. 

But what really made McEntire’s Salt Lake City show stand out were the moments the singer couldn’t have predicted. 

Like when the thousands of fans at Vivint Arena cheered and clapped nonstop for at least half a minute after McEntire performed her first No. 1 hit (1982’s “Can’t Even Get the Blues”) and most recent No. 1 hit (2010’s “Turn on the Radio”) back-to-back. McEntire flashed a beaming smile and touched her hand to her heart, visibly emotional as she let the roaring applause wash over her. 

“That’s the greatest sound in the world,” she said. 

Four songs later, after performing her renowned rendition of the murder-ballad “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” McEntire was prepared to tell her enthusiastic audience what she’d been up to for the past year — including filming a Lifetime movie and the crime-drama show “Big Sky” — when the crowd interrupted her. 

It took a few seconds for it to come together, but when it did it was unmistakable: The entire arena was singing “Happy Birthday” to McEntire. 

The March 25 show fell three days before the country star’s 68th birthday, and marked her last show before her big day. As the serenading came to a close, McEntire again placed her hand over her heart and said, “I’m blushing like a 25-year-old. Thank y’all for that. Very sweet.” 

McEntire then had a brief conversation with someone in the crowd whose birthday also fell on March 28. When she learned that the mother of this fan’s primary motivation during labor was the thought of having her child on McEntire’s birthday, the singer quipped, “That’s a dedicated mother right there.” 

Moments like these threw off the rhythm of McEntire’s show, but the three-time Grammy winner didn’t skip a beat. Ever the skilled entertainer, McEntire seamlessly wove those moments into her show’s overall design. And in that way, the unexpected birthday serenade fit in perfectly as it became a central theme of McEntire’s show — one of celebration. 

That includes the celebration of a nearly five-decade (and still going strong) career. It includes the celebration of traditional country music (McEntire’s husky yodel is still intact). And it includes the celebration of an extensive catalog that, although universal, especially lends a voice to the shared experiences of women — everything from struggling marriages to shattered hearts to single motherhood to being a survivor.

Reba McEntire performs at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on March 25, 2023. | Melissa Majchrzak

Which makes country singer-songwriter Terri Clark such a fitting addition to McEntire’s tour. During her opening set — which included chart-toppers like “Better Things to Do” and “You’re Easy on the Eyes” — Clark shared some of the stories behind her catalog, referencing how “If I Were You,” a song about marital challenges, helped pay for her divorce.

The arena was packed for Clark’s set, which began roughly 90 minutes before McEntire took the stage. And when Clark returned to the stage to sing a medley of Linda Ronstadt songs with McEntire, the crowd erupted. In some ways, it was just as much Clark’s show as it was McEntire’s. 

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The Salt Lake show was also a celebration of faith. McEntire is vocal about her Christian faith, and she performed a medley of gospel songs with conviction — including “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Oh Happy Day” — backed by the harmonies of the Southern gospel group The Isaacs. It was one of the best parts of the show and left no doubt that McEntire’s 2017 gospel album, which also featured The Isaacs, was worthy of its Grammy win. 

Reba McEntire performs at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. | Melissa Majchrzak

At one point during the show, McEntire recalled how she had performed at the same arena in 1996, only to soon have that tour derailed due to a skiing injury in Park City. Not one for resting, McEntire eventually continued the tour by sitting on a stool. 

In her return to Salt Lake City — her last appearance at this arena was with George Strait in 2011 — McEntire showed that she still doesn’t have a desire to slow down. She made it painstakingly clear that she’ll be making music for a while longer.

And of all the reasons her show gave fans to celebrate, that may be one of the best.

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