Notes from an extra in the Amanda Palmer “Voicemail for Jill” video

Amanda Palmer

I’m in Amanda Palmer’s latest video!

I’ve been trying for a  few weeks  to come up with the sentence to end all sentences to start this post with. I was hoping for something whip-smart, witty and brilliant.

Then I realized something: the damn sentence doesn’t matter. So let’s just forge ahead shall we because I’ve got a hell of a good story to tell. As someone with ADHD, telling stories briefly and in a concise, succinct way is damn near impossible. I ramble. I give too many details. I can’t seem to help myself. That said, I invite you to settle in because I think you’ll appreciate this story, even if Palmer is an artist you’re not familiar with.

The video is for the song “Voicemail for Jill.” It’s a track from Amanda Palmer’s new album “There Will Be No Intermission.” The album and video were released on the same day: Friday, March 8. As for the album on a whole: NBD. Just my FAVORITE ALBUM OF 2019. Read my review here. Oh and while you’re there by all means poke around as I’ve written about Amanda a bunch of times and also reviewed a Dresden Dolls show.

OK so the video. Although this post is about my experience of being part of said video, it is also my sincere hope that a key takeaway is HOW IMPORTANT THE SONG AND VIDEO ARE, especially now as attempts are being made all over the country to dismantle abortion rights. The struggle is not only real, it’s terrifying.

“Voicemail for Jill”  (click if you’d like to listen to the song before forging further ahead, I’ll of course include the actual video at the end of this post) is about abortion – and supporting rather than shaming women who have them. Amanda’s been trying to write such a song for many years.  The song is structured as Amanda leaving a voicemail message from London to her friend Jill on the morning of Jill’s abortion in Boston. The message offers support, love, friendship, empathy and even the promise of a party; an abortion shower. “Voicemail for Jill” isn’t hellbent on being a straight-up political song, it’s more, at least in my opinion, one that is focused on compassion. The song acknowledges that no one is happy about getting an abortion. It offers a lifeline to women who have felt alone, misunderstood, villainized, threatened and judged.

jill walking in boston 2
Kate Adams as Jill in a still from “Voicemail for Jill”

“You don’t need to offer the right explanation
You don’t need to beg for redemption or ask for forgiveness
And you don’t need a courtroom inside of your head
Where you’re acting as judge and accused and defendant and witness”

So we’re clear on how importance this song is right? OK.

Now I’m going to nerd out about being in the video.

First off, in addition to being a GIANT fan of Amanda’s, I am also one of her patrons. This means I kick in a little dough every month to support her making art. Patreon is a fantastic platform. For info click here.

I mention Patreon because membership has its perks, including being on the receiving end of casting call for the “Voicemail for Jill” video shoot that went out in early January.

The post included these words from Amanda: “This video – if i get it right – feels like it will be more than just a video, it will be a love letter, it will be a message in a bottle to women everywhere, it will be…a thing. i really, really, wanna get it right.”

I scanned the list of what the shoot was looking for and it was only when I came upon the last category that I dared to dream I could maybe get cast: Party Attendees. Requirements were this: All ethnicities, genders, personal clothing style, and body types. You will be being genial, happy, and having fun at a “party”.. possibly dancing, general nice frivolity. I had to email the video team a photo and a little bit about myself and then wait and see. I sat on this for a day or two. Then I gave myself permission to take a little risk and sent in my stuff. A couple of weeks later I got a response. I WAS IN! As you can imagine, I lost my mind with excitement. Me? In a music video? And not just ANY music video. AN AMANDA PALMER ONE. What the what? How can this be happening?

Then I started to worry. Not full scale panic, but a mid-range level of worry and all my worries were born out of massive insecurity.

Would I look dumb?
Would I look fat?
Would I be a zillion times less cooler than everyone else?
Would I screw up?
Would I make a fool of myself?

I sat with these thoughts long enough to remind myself of a key piece of information:

THIS ISN’T ABOUT ME. This is about creating art because art -in all its forms – is essential. So in a sense, I insecurity-shamed myself to, well… get over myself. I had to take all of that bullshit out of the equation. It tried to bite me a few more times, but I did my best to firmly (but with empathy) kick it to the curb.

The original day of shooting that included the party scene had to be rescheduled because the director got sick. Then my jury duty almost caused me having to miss the entire thing. But somehow, it all worked out and the next thing you know it’s Thursday, Feb. 7 and worked for for half the day before heading to Boston for the shoot. My friend and co-worker Sally, god love her, was in charge of my make-up. I own it but rarely wear it and am terrible at putting it on. Sal worked wonders. To be clear, wearing make-up was not required. But I figured fuck it, I may as well try and look good-ish. Eyeshadow, eye liner and mascara helped the cause.  We were instructed to show up ready to go wearing what we might wear to a party. We were also told to bring a second option. It was up to the director what we’d end up wearing.

So I busted out one of my favorite items of clothing. It’s one that I rarely have occasion to wear,  a  burgundy colored velvet motorcycle jacket. I also busted out my EPIC pair of tall, dark red heeled leather boots that are the absolute BOMB, even if I can barely walk in them. I threw a few other things in a bag (as instructed) and then it was off to Boston (I drove in other footwear, lest anyone be worried about that). Said outfit can be seen in the photo below.

Amanda Palmer
Being welcomed by Amanda Palmer at the “Voicemail for Jill” video shoot.
Photo by Jesse Epstein

And when I say I was off to Boston, I don’t mean just ANY location. Holy shit, the party scene was shot on the top floor of the legendary CLOUD CLUB! If you’re a hardcore fan of Dresden Dolls and/or Amanda Palmer then you likely know what the Cloud Club is. If not, fear not, there’s a groovy website that will tell you everything you want to know. But the short version is that Cloud Club is a pair of side by side townhouses in Boston owned by Lee Barron who bought them in the 70s and founded an artist co-op like none other.  And holy shit, Lee was there on video shoot night . Amanda Palmer has kept an apartment there since the late 90s. Want to take a massive walk down Cloud Club memory lane? Carve out some time for this. Or to go even further back, check out THIS. Cloud Club holds a huge amount of Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer history. If those walls could talk…(and frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they did).

Knowing that I was about to be granted access to this sacred locale was a trip all on its own to try wrap my head around.

One by one us party extras assembled outside Cloud Club at the appointed time. We were all big Amanda Palmer fans, some of us based in New England and a few from way further than that. One woman, Dianna, had come all the way from the west coast just to participate in the video shoot. She was literally in Boston for about 48 hours. That is impressively hardcore!  We were let in by one and the nicest guy in the world named Eli who let us all use his first floor apartment as a greenroom/place to hang before it was time to head upstairs. During this pre-shoot time was when a woman named Jacque walked in. We had met and hung out at one of the three Dresden Dolls shows in Boston in November of 2017. I hadn’t seen her since and had no idea she was in the shoot yet there she was and this was both entirely fabulous and surprising yet not surprising at all. Things in the world of Amanda Palmer sometimes work in mysterious ways.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the first level of Cloud Club. This is where we first met the video’s director, Amber Sealey who could not have been any more welcoming. She also gave our outfits the once over and a few of us, including me, got asked to make a few modifications. Off went the black jeans and blue Taos boots and on went my retro blue patterned pants and yes…the red boots. In all, there were ten of us party extras and we all looked fab!

Climbing the stairs to the top level of Cloud Club I felt like ascending the stairs to another dimension. Said dimension isn’t all that different that the one we’re normally in. But there were a few key differences. In the Cloud Club dimension, the only  tense that that mattered was the present.  My past didn’t haunt me and the future felt vague. In the Cloud Club dimension I could spend actual time with one of my favorite musicians.  And once I climbed that final step and was standing in the sanctuary that is the top floor of the Cloud Club,  another realization struck me: This was really happening!

The top level of Cloud Club is the dream-like creation of Lee Barron and it’s the kind of place that once are in, you don’t want to leave. It’s magical, mystical, forest-like and you don’t feel like you’re in Boston. Narnia maybe. But not Boston or not anywhere you could ever find on a map.

Have you ever been in a music video? Me neither. I had no idea what to expect. I had to sign a “music video actor release” for god’s sake. And BTW, this was a paid gig!

I was immediately impressed with everyone involved from the director to the people handling cameras and dealing with lighting and people dealing with everything else that goes into an undertaking such as this. I may have not had anything to compare this to, but it sure as shit was a highly professional undertaking.

THANK GOD THERE WAS WINE. Though I’m more of a whisky girl, I have to say that the wine that was out both as a prop and for our enjoyment helped me immensely to loosen up. Despite my best efforts, I was nervous. This was all SO NEW to me. I appear on TV once a month to talk about upcoming concerts,  I have a radio show and I host events from time to time. I’m not shy…usually. But this was a WHOLE OTHER THING. When I was a sophomore in high school I got a TINY part in a play. I had TWO lines and I forgot one of them. What the fuck was I doing in a music video?  Even as a “party goer” extra surely I was going to massively fail. More wine, please. But I reminded myself: this was about helping to MAKE ART, not about my bullshit insecurity.

Amber started to talk to us about what was going to happen, how it was all going to go down. She instructed yours truly walk across the room and start talking to another party goer. Other people were given loose direction and we were all told to not look at the camera.

I don’t follow directions well. I had a physical therapist once tell me (lovingly, he was great) that I was a motor moron. I also realized there would be scenes that we’d be dancing in (which, HELLO, was clearly stated in the casting call). Oh god. What had I gotten myself into? But wait. The art!  Remember the art, I told myself. We forged ahead.

At some point, I can’t remember the exact moment because there was a lot going on, Amanda joined us and talked to us for a bit. I’ve been a giant fan  of hers for many years and as a journalist I’ve interviewed her and written about her for the Portland Press Herald newspaper as well as this music blog. But until this point I had never had anything resembling a substantial face to face conversation with her. Said another way, she didn’t know who the hell I was. There was no reason why she would.  I had never hung around after a show to get something signed. In the fall of 2017 she walked up the steps of a Harvard Square church where an event she was part of was happening and I was the only person there in line at the moment and she asked me what door I thought she should go in. Even then I didn’t actually say hello or introduce myself. It’s not so much that I was starstruck (and trust me, I can be starstruck. Read my piece about meeting Bono for proof) it’s just, I don’t know, I just never wanted to engage in a quick, meaningless exchange with the likes of Amanda. But I don’t know, scanning my memory now surely I may have said hello when Dresden Dolls played at a Bull Moose record store in Maine about a million years ago? I guess it doesn’t matter. The point is that here was a unique opportunity that might actually permit at least snippets of real conversation in a non-rushed, non meet & greet and non fan-meeting-artist setting.

So when the moment to say hello was in front of me, I did indeed introduce myself and it came as no surprise that Amanda was super cool about it. She put two and two together that I was Aimsel Ponti of Aimsel on the Record. Over the course of the next few hours in between shots and such, we had little moments, like bonding over The Cure. But, and this part is an essential one, for the most part it just felt normal. Well I mean as normal as being in a video shoot can be. We were all part of a production which was on a time schedule and there was work to be done. Said another way: this wasn’t social hour, we all had jobs to do. Any “fun” as far as I’m concerned was a bonus. Little did I know what would ensue.

During the entire shoot, mostly 80s alternative music was being played. They were of course just shooting video so the audio didn’t matter. In fact, us party goer extras hadn’t even heard “Voicemail for Jill” at the time the shoot was happening. That would come later in a very unexpected way. Hold that thought.

hayley rosenblum of amber, kate and amanda
Kate Adams (Jill), director Amber Sealey and Amanda Palmer.
Photo by Hayley Rosenblum

Kate Adams, who portrayed Jill, had also arrived and she was lovely. We were into it now. This was happening. Scenes were being shot. Conversations were happening around the room. Different things were happening. It was all being filmed. I didn’t really know where the cameras were. It almost didn’t matter.

For one scene Amber had us all sit in a circle, some in chairs and some on the floor, in the corner of the room. It was the ten of us, plus Amanda with Kate in middle. The scene involved  a sheet cake, after all this was an abortion shower. As Amanda put it so goddamn perfectly with epic timing:  it was not a birthday cake, it was not a birthday party. Zing!

The scene involved clinking glasses, eating cake and showing the Jill character a whole lot of love. But the scene also involved something else, something that will always stay with me. Amber said she was going to point to a few of us and ask us to share something personal. The first person called upon, and I won’t say whom because it was indeed quite personal, shared that her son had died about five years ago from a drug overdose. She was, as you can imagine, quite emotional when speaking about her son and this of course made all of us quite emotional. It was rough. But it was honest. Then Amber asked someone else to share and in that moment, I prayed to god that I wasn’t going to get called on. Me, who loves to talk and loves the spotlight, didn’t want to say one word. I was teetering on the edge of full blown tears and I don’t even know why. I felt that had I been called on I would have burst out crying without explanation or gone the other way and made some dumb joke. Thankfully, I wasn’t called on. I think in all three people shared and it all got quite real in a hurry.

Aimsel Ponti, Zia Revere and Amanda Palmerin a still from
A still from “Voicemail for Jill.” Me, Zia Revere and Amanda Palmer.

From there we were moved to the center of the room and dancing happened. I had just enough wine in me to do as  I was told and it was REALLY FUN. Then we were told to all draw in close for the mother of all group hugs with Kate in the middle.

When the shoot officially wrapped it occurred to Amanda that we should probably hear the song, “Voicemail for Jill.” We of course thought this was an excellent idea. But it wasn’t mean to be. It kept cutting out and the issue couldn’t be resolved.

Get ready. Because you won’t believe what happened next. I still can’t. Amanda made a quick, executive decision and we all marched down two flights of stairs into HER ACTUAL APARTMENT. Crammed into the kitchen with a different audio set-up, Amanda again tried to play us the song. Nope. It still wasn’t working correctly.

Are you ready for this next part?

Amanda had us all move over into the room off the kitchen. This room was full of all sorts of Dresden Dolls stuff (cds, merchandise, etc). But there was something else of note in that room: a baby grand piano. She was going to play the song live for us.  Her goddess-of-all-things assistant Hayley Rosenblum pulled up the lyrics for Amanda on a phone and Amanda sat down and played it. I happened to be at a spot where I was literally standing inches from part of the piano.  A few times during the song, I closed my eyes and put my palm on top of it to feel the vibrations. I’ve never done or experienced anything like that before. Not to mention the fact that “Voicemail for Jill” is beautiful and emotional and powerful and tear-inducing.

I’ve been around the sun a few times. I’ve had more than my fair share of to-die-for experiences both as a music journalist and as a fan but I gotta tell you, this was a whole other thing.

When it was time to leave about six of us repaired to a bar around the corner just to hang for a bit and chat. I for one couldn’t quite process what had just happened over the past few hours but I for sure wasn’t ready to let the evening end. I think everyone felt that way. Contact info was exchanged and some of us are still in touch and it’s lovely.

This was all in early February. A month later the video was released. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it would be something quite special. I fully expected the party scene to only be featured for a fleeting second but it was actually in there for a longer period of time than I thought. I didn’t know if I would see myself (or would even want to) but there I am, I think for three different moments (and to be clear, these moments are super quick).

Most of the video is of Jill’s character hooking up with the man, sleeping with him, arguing with him and then walking through Boston on the way to her abortion appointment. You don’t need me to narrate it for you, just watch it. It’s stunning and intense.  I can’t believe they turned it around in a month. Amber Sealey and everyone involved in the production of the “Voicemail for Jill” video is a goddamn hero in my book.

I’m going to share again what Amanda had said before the video was made: “This video – if i get it right – feels like it will be more than just a video, it will be a love letter, it will be a message in a bottle to women everywhere, it will be…a thing. i really, really, wanna get it right.” Amanda, Amber, Kate, everyone, you sure did get it right. I’m in awe of this video. In absolute awe of it. Being even just a tiny part of it is something I’m proud of, even if I still can’t believe it happened.

I think I’ve said everything I need to say.

Clear your head for a moment.

Here’s “Voicemail for Jill”

Video credits:
Amber Sealey (Director), Matt Crum (Cinematographer), Stefanie Sparks (Producer), Jesse Epstein(Producer), Patrick Nelson Barnes (Editor) and Matt Crum (Colorist). A complete list of cast and crew appears in the description of the YouTube clip.

Ponti out.

Album review: Amanda Palmer “There Will Be No Intermission”

“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”
+ Anaïs Nin

Amanda Palmer’s latest album “There Will Be No Intermission” comes out on March 8 which coincides, by design, with International Women’s Day.

I’ve had it since February 9 and as I figure out what I want to say about it I can tell you -and I’m not making this up – that I’ve easily listened to the entire album (all 74 minutes) at least 50 times.  Paraphrasing my own comment that I made on Palmer’s Patreon page (I’ve been proud Patron of hers since  2017), I feel spellbound, hypnotized and pretty obsessed with “There Will Be No Intermission.”

I hear the songs in my head even when I’m not listening to it.  That’s the thing about art, sometimes it’s like being struck by lightning and it changes you. Sometimes you’re ready for this and sometimes you’re not and you have to kind of take shelter and hide from its impact. Art can hurt. Art can be traumatic to experience. It can stir shit up for you in a way that you never knew was possible. Art can do a real knife-twisting number on you if you let it.

Such is the case with “There Will Be No Intermission.” It has turned me inside-out. It’s like Amanda Palmer performed open-heart surgery on every emotion I’ve got. “There Will Be No Intermission” has challenged me to contemplate some pretty heavy things in my life. It has made me uncomfortable and caught me off guard. It has made me feel deep sorrow. But, and this is the biggest but I’ve uttered in a long time, “There Will Be No Intermission” has also made my heart grow about 17 sizes bigger. It has filled with me immeasurable joy. It has loosened some things up for me, kind of like a deep tissue massage for the soul. God forgive me for the “Jerry Maguire” reference but TWBNI had me at hello, from the first few strains of the Jherok Bischoff-helmed instrumental track “All The Things” that opens the album. And it kept me enthralled until the final nano-second of the closing track “Death Thing.”

My initial thoughts after the first listening of the record was a combination of “what the fuck did I listen listen to?” and “this is my favorite album of the year without question.”

When the album ended after that first time hearing it, I needed to hang back  for a bit and collect myself, like, say, after a particularly intense therapy session.  When that feeling dissipated enough my next move revealed itself: I needed to listen to the album again (and again, and again and again). And that’s exactly what I’ve done over these past few weeks at home, at work and in the car. Sure I’ve listened to other things as well of course but if too much time passed between listenings I’d feel myself get a little twitchy and would dive back in. I’m still doing that.

As a longtime fan of Palmer’s, I’m well aware that no topic is off limits and there’s rarely a filter. But nothing could have prepared me for “There Will Be No Intermission.” It was, in a sense, like agreeing to a trust fall. Would I be caught by loving hands or dropped on the ground like a bag of old bones, wounded and alone? The answer is of course both. But, like my friend Nina said to me many years ago, if passion brings pain, that is the price of living well.  And for every emotional cut and bruise I endured with these songs, the salve was always Palmer’s sincerity with her lyrics, vocals and playing. Said another way, I was made to feel safe and bathed in light as she led me over and through some dark and formidable terrain. Amanda Palmer has laid herself completely bare (both literally and figuratively as she’s nude on the album cover) with this album. “There Will Be No Intermission” is a no holds-barred manifesto that has eaten me alive and spit me out feeling better – and stronger – than I was before I heard it.

“There Will Be No Intermission” has twenty tracks. Ten of them are gorgeous inter-song instrumentals with the brilliant Jherek Bischoff on double-bass, sub bass synth, cymbals and bass drums. And there’s also, cellos, violins, violas, vibraphone and glockenspiel from a wondrous cast of players. The album opening “All The Things” is delicate and haunting with an air of suspense. It has a calming effect like a cup of chamomile tea. But it’s like you’re feeling your way around the back of the wardrobe and light starts to pour through the cracks and you’re not really sure if you’ll end up in Narnia or the ninth ring of hell.  All of the inter-songs reference other songs on the album. They’re the intricate embroidery that not so much hold the album together but add another layer of grace and beauty to it.

Amanda Palmer
“There Will Be No Intermission” album cover.
Image courtesy of the artist

And then there are the ten songs…

It took me several days to figure out how to talk about them. Then I gave myself a frustration headache because still, after all these years on this planet, I still get “objective” and “subjective” confused no matter how many times I try to get it through my  apparently quite thick skull. Writing 101. And yet here I am.

So I’m going to do the only thing that makes sense:  I’ll tell you how the songs made me feel and will throw in some other relevant info as needed. But before I do that, I’ll also toss it out there that Palmer’s vocals and playing (both ukelele and especially piano) are the best they’ve ever been.

So here’s this:

Aimsel’s Unofficial Field Guide to “There Will Be No Intermission”

“The Ride.” Palmer. Wait. Hold up. Screw the conventional journalistic style of using last name after the first reference. That rings hollow in this context. We cool? OK. Amanda wrote this one in 36 hours after spending several hours reading comments on a Patreon post what were in response to her asking her patrons to tell her what they were afraid of. And, long (and super incredible) story short, a couple of days later she recorded the song in one take and sent a private link to the video that was filmed of her playing it to her Patrons.  I remember being absolutely leveled by it. In fact, I just watched that ten-minute clip again. Yep. Still leveled. And I was leveled again when I saw that the she decided to tackle it again when recording TWBNI.

“The climb to the crest is less frightening with someone to clutch you
But isn’t it nice when we’re all afraid at the same time?”

Amanda uses a roller-coaster metaphor to talk about fear and life and connection and “The Ride” infuses me with hope, especially in this time of an insane White House occupant among other more-than-I-can-bear things going on right now. We’re all alone in this world. Except when we’re not. “The Ride” reminds me of the latter.

“Drowning In the Sound.” Amanda wrote it during a two-day songwriting exercise and she drew some of its inspiration from solicited comments on Patreon. “It wound up being a response to the insanity of internet politics melded with the recent total eclipse and the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and, you know, other stuff,” wrote Amanda on her site about the track. I’ve had my fingers crossed from the moment I heard it that it would end up on the album.  “If you can hear/If you’re around/I’m over here/I’m over here/I’m watching everyone I love/drowning in the sound.” The version on TWBNI is bigger and better which I feel  weird even saying because that original take is so, so good.

“The Thing About Things.” This one first surfaced, at least in a recorded version, in 2015 yet somehow managed to slip through my cracks (and I call myself a fan!).  So it was new to me and although I’ve now gone back and listened to that first version, I fell in love with the TWBNI one. Amanda, playing her ukelele, sings about the complexities of certain possessions, in particular a stolen, lost and then found ring that belonged to her grandfather. “The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said/and if you’re not allowed to love people alive then you learn how to love people dead.” This one hit me hard because I cling to certain objects with an irrational sense of nostalgia and have slowly started to loosen my death grip on them. (But don’t anyone mess with the monkey doll named Bosco that my grandfather gave me when I was five). The song is heart-rending and yet  cathartic, a hallmark of my favorite Amanda songs.

 “Judy Blume.” Amanda wrote this one about one her writer heroes, Judy Blume! This one first saw the light of the day last year and the video to it, is well, shit you GOTTA see it so here click here. Judy Blume’s books were most certainly in my childhood wheelhouse but even if you’re not familiar with Blume’s work, the song is a lovely and certainly painfully accurate portrait of being a pre-teen (I can’t bring myself to officially say the word “tween”) and teenage girl.  Amanda’s vocals capture that anguish and her words make several Blume book references. “I don’t remember my friends from gymnastics class/but i remember when Deenie was at the school dance/Buddy feeling her up in the locker room/Margaret bored counting hats in the synagogue.”

“Bigger On The Inside.” I think this one kills me the most of all the songs on this album. This is the cry ugly, uncontrollable tears song. It’s also the first song Amanda ever released on her Patreon, back in 2015 and it featured cellist Zoë Keating.  The song is about a TON of stuff that had been going on in and around Amanda’s life, most of which was extremely difficult. There’s also a live version from 2013. The TWBNI version clocks in at 8 minutes and 29 seconds and it’s exactly as long as it needs to be. “You took my hand when you woke up/I had been crying in the darkness/We all die alone but I am so, so glad/That you are here.”

“Machete.” Amanda originally released “Machete” as a demo in 2016. There’s a compelling backstory on this one that’s worth diving into (as is the case with many of Amanda’s songs) so dive in when you can.  “Machete” is frantic and huge  and Amanda’s vocals  damn near reach caterwaul level as she sings the line toward the end of it “So I took your machete and I sliced off your hand!” Strings come crashing in all around like they’re on acid and it’s goddamn glorious. I can’t wait to hear this one live in Boston next month.

“Voicemail For Jill.” Amanda has written a song about abortion that offers understanding, empathy, compassion, support and solace to any woman who was gone through the experience of having one while also giving the rest of us  women, or for that matter humans, some insight into that private world. The song has a quiet urgency to it. It puts words to the fact that support can be hard (if not impossible) to come by for women who have had abortions . Several women have already shared online how much this song means to them.

“You don’t need to offer the right explanation
You don’t need to beg for redemption or ask for forgiveness
And you don’t need a courtroom inside of your head
Where you’re acting as judge and accused and defendant and witness

There’s a video dropping for “Voicemail For Jill” on album release day (March 8) and I’m going to have a lot to say about that in a separate post so stay tuned for that.

“A Mother’s Confession.” This is one of the most intimate songs I’ve ever heard from Amanda. Amanda and her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, have a three year old son named Anthony (Ash for short). “A Mother’s Confession” at nearly 11 minutes long is a fiercely honest portrait of parenting fuck-ups including unintentional shoplifting, speeding tickets and accidentally leaving the baby in the car. But it’s not just that. “A Mother’s Confession” also bursts with little moments of human connection and there’s a multi-voiced chorus at the end of the track singing a line that’s repeated throughout the song: “At least the baby didn’t die.” It gives the song just a pinch of levity, enough to make it all the more accessible and real.

“Look Mummy, No Hands” is the only song on the album that Amanda didn’t write. It was written by British actress, singer and comedian Dillie Keane.  Keane is part of the comedy cabaret trio Fascinating Aida and “Look Mummy, No Hands” is on their 1997 album “It, Wit, Don’t Give a Shit Girls.” The song is a melancholy tinged and is about, I suppose, the shifting dynamics between mother and daughter. Palmer has been playing it live for several years and there’s also a version on the 2013 album “An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.” I’m pleased as punch that “Look Mummy, No Hands” was recorded for TWBNI because there’s an ache in Amanda’s voice as she’s singing it that gives me chills and has me picturing the song being sung by a woman at a piano in a dingy bar that she thinks is empty. But unknown to the woman, there’s someone in the corner sobbing into their long empty whiskey glass. Is that someone me? Is it you? Is it all of us?

 “Death Thing.” I said that “Bigger on the Inside” kills me more than any other song on “There Will Be No Intermission” but now I’m not so sure because I’m sitting here crying (again) while listening to “Death Thing.”  If  death is a hard topic for you to think about (it’s brutal for me) this song might take your breath away, as it does mine. The song builds and builds upon itself.  I am not going to quote any of the lyrics, my instinct is telling me not to. “Death Thing” closes out “There Will Be No Intermission” because it had to. It was the only one that could. Sometimes we, as humans, are able to hold it all in and keep our emotions at arms length where they can’t do any real damage. There have been several times over the past three weeks that I’ve been able to maintain that distance when listening to “Death Thing.”  But there have been a few times, like tonight, when the song rips my heart wide open, not to destroy it, but rather to hold it close.

Final thoughts…

I don’t know if you’re an Amanda Palmer fan or if you’ve never heard of her. I also don’t know if “There Will Be No Intermission” is going to resonate with you like it has with me. Some of these songs might take you to places you don’t want to go with their unflinching lyrics. But they’re also some of the most provocative, beautiful, honest and empowering songs I’ve ever heard. Do me one favor and promise me this: If this album isn’t your bag, go out there and find one that is. That is my wish for you: To find some music that touches you in the way that this album touches me.

“I want you to think of me sitting and singing beside you,” sings Amanda in “The Ride.”

I love that line. I love this album. Go get it.

Ponti out.


“There Will Be No Intermission” album notes:
Produced, mixed and engineered by John Congleton.
Recorded at 54 Sound in Los Angeles
Mixed at Elmwood West
Mastered by Greg Calibi at Sterling Sound in New York
All songs written by Amanda Palmer, published by Eight Foot Music with the exception of “Look Mummy, No Hands,” written by Dillie Keane

A small story about a big new declaration of my love for music

I promised myself I’d be short-winded with this post and I’ll try really hard to stick to that.

So let me say this right out of the gate: A couple of days ago I got a HUGE new tattoo and it’s a Shawn Colvin lyric with some headphones.  It was done by the enormously talented artist Cyndi Lou at Tsunami Tattoo in Portland, Maine.

I’ve been planning this for several years. It finally happened on February 24 and I absolutely LOVE IT.

I have long wanted a tattoo that would truly capture the importance of music in my life. Can the emotional response that I have to music be explained?  Can it really be captured? Are there even words?  During this multi-year thought process I kept coming back to the same thing: a line from a song. The line is simple but it says everything that needs to be said, at least for me.

In the fall of 1992 singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin released the album “Fat City.” At the time  I was living in Keene, NH where I attended Keene State College. Pretty much every track from it I played one time or another on my WKNH radio show during that time. Since then my love for Colvin continues to grow and I’ve seen seen her several times live starting in the mid 90s. In fact, I just saw her a few weeks ago in Mexico at Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend festival. Shawn Colvin’s one of the great ones. Now then…where was I?

fat city cover
Shawn Colvin’s “Fat City” album was released on October 27, 1992.
Image courtesy of Columbia Records

The time of Fat City’s release was also a time in my life that I was in the midst of trying to extract myself from a relationship (my first one at that) with an alcoholic who I was surely enabling but too afraid to walk away from. I was so very young, so very insecure and so very clueless.

Mercifully, she left and  I mean really left by moving to California. We parted on good terms and a massive weight was lifted from my tattered and torn shoulders.

“Fat City” was a soundtrack to much of this and I don’t mean it in a depressing way. I just mean it was a key album in my life during those years in New Hampshire, which included as many happy times as rough ones. God I love that album. Every damn song. All 11 of them. Mad, unfettered love. And I still do. For me, it’s a perfect album.  Guests on it include Richard Thompson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Chris Whitley, Bruce Hornsby, Bela Fleck and even Joni Mitchell who played a little percussion, among many others.

Whoops. I’m rambling. So yeah. THE TATTOO.

“Fat City” closes with the Colvin-penned balled “I Don’t Know Why” and the song has been killing me now for 27 years. There are times I can’t listen to it without crying. The song is as beautiful as a song can be about love;  something I knew absolutely nothing about back in 1992.

There’s one line that is repeated twice during the song that has resonated with me in a hugely significant way since the first time I heard it all those lifetimes ago.

And so it’s that line I got forever inked on my left arm. I came up with the idea of adding the headphones because it speaks to the fact that probably half of my life has been spent wearing them as both a music lover and music journalist.

Oh and speaking of music writing, most of the interviews I’ve done with artists have been via telephone. That’s standard practice as the stories I’ve written are often previewing upcoming shows. There was one time in the mid 90s that I interviewed Ani DiFranco in person in a locker room and it was, as you can imagine, effing awesome. But there was a more recent in-person interview that happened. This one took place in 2015 at a venue in Rockport, Massachusetts. It was with Shawn Colvin.

ANYWAY….

My tattoo is only a few days old so it’s very much in healing mode. It will look a little different in a few weeks and perhaps I’ll pop back in here and add a “finished” photo. But I couldn’t wait to share with you what it looks like now because looking at it makes me so happy.

I’d love to know some of the ways you’ve expressed your own love for music so please feel free to comment below.

two pics combined

PONTI OUT

The 50 Best David Bowie Songs

On the occasion of his birthday, here are the 50 best songs by David Bowie.

Relax, it’s all OK. The word “best” is entirely subjective. I’m clear on that. I’m just a fan among many others who wants to share my love of for my favorite musician.

Before I share this list, let me just state for the record that my heart is still broken about losing him. I couldn’t listen to Blackstar for a solid six months (after a joyful three-times-in-a-row listening the day after it was released on his birthday in 2016). I still sometimes can’t believe we’re living in a world without David Bowie in it. And when my grief is at its worst, that’s when I remind myself why his departure was so deeply felt by so many people: HIS MUSIC.

When I got the call from a friend very early on the morning of 1/11/16 telling me that he had died (which as we know was on the 10th but the news broke early on the 11th) I felt something break inside me. I had never cried about the death of someone famous. I never got to meet David Bowie though I’ll always be thankful I got to see him perform live on three separate occasions. I can’t imagine what it must have been like – and still be like- for those closest to him.

I’m going to share a quick story before I share the list of songs because it’s something I’ll never forget.

In December of 2015 I interviewed Blackstar producer (and producer of several other DB records), musician and longtime friend of David Bowie, Tony Visconti. The interview was via telephone and was in advance of a performance in Portland, Maine (where I live) from Holy Holy. Holy Holy featured Visconti on bass and former Bowie drummer (not to mention one of the Spiders from Mars) Woody Woodmansey among other first-rate musicians. They were on tour  playing “The Man Who Sold the World” album in its entirety as well as some other 70s era Bowie tracks.  I of course went to the show on January 7, 2016 (the day before Bowie’s 69th birthday) and got to say hello to Tony in person. What a lovely, friendly, wonderful man (not to mention tremendous producer and musician!).  The show was fantastic.

A few days later Bowie was gone. On January 22, still in shock,  five friends and I (two from Maine and three high school ones from my home state of Massachusetts) met for dinner in Boston before going to see the Holy Holy show at the Wilbur Theater.  These tickets were purchased months earlier. I was half expecting that show to be cancelled and we would have absolutely understood if it had.

The six of us were happy to be spending time together but the sorrow was palpable. We had lost our hero. We didn’t really know what to do or say. While we were eating who walks in but Tony Visconti accompanied by two other people. They were seated close to us. In a moment of huge uncertainty I walked over and said hello. Before I even got the word out of my mouth it struck me that I probably shouldn’t have. I should have let Tony and his friends be. He had just lost someone very dear to him. I was a random journalist/fan from Maine invading his space.  Tony was so kind and introduced me to his companions. I didn’t say anything about Bowie. I mean what could I say? I was nervous and shaky. I wandered back to my table, my friends unaware of who was sitting so close to us. I managed to whisper to my friend Becky “Beck, that’s Tony Visconti over there.” She couldn’t believe it. And here’s the reason why I’m sharing this story with you now. About 20 minutes later, Tony walked over to our table and said hello to everyone and told us he hoped we enjoyed the show. And if that’s not the classiest, kindest thing ever, I don’t know what is.  Before the show started Woody and Tony came out on stage and talked to the audience for a few minutes, both in tears.  And then the show began and it was an emotional roller coaster but also a magnificent experience of shared grief and immense love for a man and his music.

So about that list…

These songs aren’t really in a specific order except for the first one on it, though it does sort of flow in and out of being chronological. Also, I of course love WAY more than 50 Bowie songs, these are just my absolute favorites.

THE 50 BEST DAVID BOWIE SONGS

  1. Rock ‘N’Roll Suicide
  2. Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me
  3. Heroes
  4. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
  5. When I’m Five
  6. The Man Who Sold The Word
  7. Oh! You Pretty Things
  8. Wild Is The Wind
  9. Life on Mars?
  10. Quicksand
  11. Queen Bitch
  12. Five Years
  13. Lady Stardust
  14. Moonage Daydream
  15. Starman
  16. Drive-In Saturday
  17. Panic in Detroit
  18. Time
  19. Lady Grinning Sould
  20. Here Comes the Night
  21. Friday On My Mind
  22. Sorrow
  23. Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family
  24. Fascination
  25. Across the Universe
  26. Word On A Wing
  27. Stay
  28. Breaking Glass
  29. Sound and Vision
  30. Warszawa
  31. Sons of the Silent Age
  32. Fantastic Voyage
  33. Yassassin
  34. D.J.
  35. Boys Keep Swinging
  36. Up the Hill Backwards
  37. Ashes to Ashes
  38. John I’m Only Dancing (Again)
  39. Fashion
  40. It’s No Game (Part 2)
  41. Modern Love
  42. Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
  43. Loving The Alien
  44. Blue Jean
  45. I’m Afraid Of Americans
  46. The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
  47. Where Are We Now?
  48. Lazarus
  49. I Can’t Give Everything Away
  50. Kooks

I would sure love to know what your favorite Bowie tracks are so please comment away here or in the land of social media.

Bonus! Here’s a Spotify playlist of this list!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/eastcoastaimsel/playlist/0uYl9TjQuzK6fng0OTBH8K

I love you, David Bowie.  Always. Happy Birthday!!!

Ponti out

thumbnail
Yours truly at the “Bowie Is” exhibit. Chicago, 2014. Photo by Matt Rosen

Aimsel on the Record is sponsored in part by LB Kitchen in Portland, Maine.

 


Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities.

The 43 Best Songs of 2018

Hi.

I’ll start by saying that as soon as I hit the almighty “publish” button on this thing I’m going to start twitching and a wall of angst will close in around me as I’ll suddenly remember all of the incredible songs I left off of this list.

As someone who wears a few hats as a music journalist, radio host and music blogger I am inundated with new music in a way that I can’t even begin to keep up with.  This causes me equal parts joy and stress. But here’s the good news: I’m not going to let that stop me from sharing this year’s crop of songs because this list comes from an honest place and one of sheer joy.

Some of these songs are from artists  I am a hardcore fan of, others are ones I’m just getting to know. But they’re all songs that I have mad love and respect for and ones that have moved me to tears, made me dance, raise my fist in the air and most of all, experience the range of emotions that can only be elicited from music.

I started working on this list in January and every time a strong struck me in just the right way, I added to it. A few came in just under the proverbial wire (I’m looking at you, SHEL and Dido) and in some cases, there are two songs from the same artist because I couldn’t help myself.

I’m now going to sit and write out this list and if I have something specific to say about a song on it, I’ll say it. In some cases I may share a photo and/or video. These songs are not are in any particular order. I love all of these songs for different reasons and with different parts of my heart, mind and soul.

So we’re good on the disclaimers front right?

OK then. With a mixture of nerves, excitement and above all love I offer up my list of the 43 best songs of 2018!


1. “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” by Amanda Palmer & Jasmine Power. I had a lot to say about this song and video. Amanda Palmer is many things to me including hero, spirit animal, source of huge inspiration, incredible songwriter and all around spectacular human. Take your time with this song and this video. (btw, video is NSFW).

2. “Heroin” by Lucy Wainwright Roche. Holy shit.I could easily put the entire “Little Beast” album on this list. Tremendous record. Do yourself a favor and check out”Little Beast” and LWR’s previous stuff too.

3. “Party of One” by Brandi Carlile. First off, I’m THRILLED beyond words that Carlile got SIX Grammy Nominations! “By The Way, I Forgive You” is among my absolute favorite records of the year. And yeah, ‘The Joke’ is epic. But it’s the song “Party of One”  that REALLY kills me on the album.  It straight up makes me cry. I saw Carlile many times in 2018 and the song brought me to tears in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Colorado.  BTW, I interviewed Carlile a few months ago. Read it here. Also, I reviewed “By The Way, I Forgive You.” And while I’m at it, here’s my review of her show at Red Rocks in August. She’s also a huge part of my review of the 2018 Newport Folk Festival.  I guess you could say I’m a big fan. How big? This kid is going on the Girls Just Wanna Weekend Mexico trip in January. (and yep, I’ll be writing about it here).

Also, HOLY SHIT. A video for the song starring Elisabeth Moss was dropped on Dec. 11. I can’t even…

Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

4. “Dreamers” by Judy Collins. I saw Collins sing this live in Portland (Maine) a few months back and I sat there in stunned silence, tears rolling down my face such is its impact. One of the most important songs of 2018 hands down. “Dreamers” is written from the perspective of an immigrant woman and it’s a poignant, emotional song of stark desperation with some “fuck you, Trump” in there as well (in not so many words).  It’s just the famous, timeless vocals of Collins, no instruments. Ready yourself and click here.

5. “Halls of Sarah” by Neko Case. Case’s “Hell-On” is another one on my very short list of favorite albums of 2018. This woman can do no wrong in my book. That voice! That songwriting! “Halls of Sarah” is a goddamn spectacular song off of a goddamn spectacular record. P.S. Follow Case on Twitter. She takes no shit and it’s glorious.

6. “Good As Gold” by Sarah Shook & the Disarmers. From the “Years” album. I’ve got a mad crush of Shook and am still in discovery mode with her whiskey drinkin’ outlaw country sound. I’m pissed I haven’t seen she and her band live yet but I have feeling that will change in 2019. So yeah, “Good As Gold.” Love at first listen. Catchy AF.

7. “Famous” by Serena Ryder (featuring Simon Ward of The Strumbellas). As far as singing along with a huge, gorgeous melody goes, it doesn’t get much better than this one. I’ve been addicted to this song since I first heard it months ago on WCLZ. “Famous” makes me happy.

8. “Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”  by Sheryl Crow (featuring Annie Clark). I mean it’s Sheryl Crow with St. Vincent for god’s sake.  I ain’t got nuthin’ else to say about this mighty fine song. Just listen.

9. “Such A Simple Thing” by Ray LaMontagne. Lest you think there wasn’t gonna be any fellas on this list. I know a beautiful song when I hear one. This song is a million percent lovely.

10. “I Can Change” by Lake Street Dive. My oh my what a song.  I adore this band. Had a chance to chat with singer Rachael Price last summer. Not only is the song a tender ballad that will hit you in the feels, the video is pretty special too.

11. “City Looks Pretty” by Courtney Barnett. From her scorching album “Tell Me How You Really Feel.” Interviewed Barnett this summer and saw her explosive yet all smiles set at Newport Folk Festival.  She’s the absolute bomb and “City Looks Pretty” is but one example.

Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

12. “Diamonds” by JanaeSound. JanaeSound’s real name is Janay Woodruff and she lives right here in Maine. This is my favorite local song of the year and I’ve all but worn it out on my Music from 207 local radio show on WCLZ.  I also wrote about her. We’re lucky to have her in Maine. “Diamonds” is sacred to me and it’s got heart and inspiration to spare.

13. “Fruity” by Rubblebucket. I love this song because it’s fun, vibrant and full of surprises. Saw the band open for Lake Street Dive last summer and they were fabulous. Dig “Fruity!”

14. “Strangers” by Katie Herzig. The song is from the sensational album “Moment of Bliss” and Katie Herzig is a wildly talented and innovative artist. Here’s our chat from April and here’s “Strangers.”

15. “The Things We Do to Each Other” by Cowboy Junkies. Somehow I managed to forget how much I LOVE this band. But I fell back in love big-time upon hearing their “All That Reckoning” album and seeing them live at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH last summer.  Just so happens I recorded their jaw-dropping take on Bowie’s “Five Years”. I digress. Check out the entire “All That Reckoning” album when you can. In the meantime, here’s “The Things We Do To Each Other.”

16. “Parking Lot Pirouette” by Amanda Shires. Her exquisite album is called “To The Sunset.” Just listen to this moody tune. Jesus.

17. “Never Surrender” by Rose Cousins. You’re damn right I mean a cover of the 80s Corey Hart song. Rose Cousins has taken the already powerful song (there, I said it) and turned it into something truly remarkable. Among the best damn covers I’ve ever heard of any song.  So if you’re lost and on your own…listen to this!

18. “All This Time” by Katie Herzig. Yep, she made the list again. This is my favorite “Moment of Bliss” track. Why? Hear for yourself.

19. “Me & My Dog” by Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus as boygenuis. The three of them released an EP together under the name boygenius and it’s insanely good. They’re all SO GOOD on their own. Together it’s almost more than I can stand as evidenced by “Me & My Dog.”

20. “Broken Headlights” by Roscoe & Etta. Roscoe & Etta is the dynamic duo of singer-songwriters Maia Sharp and Anna Schulze. They made an album together and I love it start to finish. Saw them this summer in Portland, Maine and they were all that. “Broken Headlights” is the album’s first single.

roscoe and etta
Anna Schulze and Maia Sharp of Roscoe & Etta.
Photo by Patrik Giardino

21. “Fireworks” by First Aid Kit. From their “Ruins” album. In a word: SWOON! Also, here’s my interview with Klara Söderberg and my review of their February show in Boston. And most importantly, here’s the dreamy “Fireworks.”

22. “Spark, Set Fire” by The Western Den. They’re the Boston duo of Deni Hlavinka and Chris West and they’re  a very recent discovery for me. If “Spark, Set Fire” is any indication, I have a very good feeling we’re gonna get along just fine.

23. “Don’t Let Go” by Tiny Deaths. The album is called “Magic” and it most certainly is. I listened to it several times through during a road trip a few months ago and love it. Tiny Deaths is the dream-pop duo of vocalist Claire De Lune and producer Grant Cutler. Fun fact, the song “Oceans” was one of my favorite songs of 2016. I’m still obsessed with it.  But let’s focus on the “Magic” album and this effin’ great song “Don’t Let Go.”

24. “The River” by KT Tunstall. Scottish singer-songwriter K.T. Tunstall released her sixth studio album called “Wax” in October. I’m savoring each track, including “The River.”

25. “423” by Roscoe & Etta. I simply HAD to include another one from the Roscoe & Etta album. Love the imagery and Sharp and Schulze’s vocals together.  And the refrain is spectacular, but in your head say another word for spectacular because I use it too much. Behold: “423.”

26. “Venice Bitch” by Lana Del Rey. Truth be told, I only know a handful of Lana Del Rey songs and I love them all. As for this one, you GOTTA love the “fresh out of fucks forever” line.  Also, I LOVE that this song clocks in at just under ten minutes. Dig it.

27. “The Wanderer” by Emilie Mover. Mover, out of Toronto, is another artist on this list that I didn’t know about until about five minutes ago. But I do know that this single, a cover of the early 60’s Dion song “The Wanderer” is swoon-worthy.  I’m confident you’ll agree.

28. “Django” by Janelle Monáe featuring Zoe Kravitz. First of all, and you don’t need me to tell you this, the entire “Dirty Computer” album is an absolute banger. Second of all, the song  gives a shout out to Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues.” So you’re damn right that “Django Jane” is on this list.

29. “Fine With the Dark” by Amy Ray. Ray’s latest solo album is called “Holler” and it’s extraordinary. Any number of songs could have made this list but at the moment I’m all about “Fine With the Dark.”

30. “Fugitive” by Indigo Girls. The song first appeared on their 1994 studio album “Swamp Ophelia” and is in my top five list of favorite songs by the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. So why is the song on this list? Because a double live album was released earlier this year of Indigo Girls live with The University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Here’s my review. Anyway…when I heard the symphony version of “Fugitive” I wept and cheered and pretty much lost my mind.  Just when I thought I couldn’t love a song anymore, Indigo Girls hit me (and the world) with THIS.

31. “Wild One” by I’m With Her. I’m With Her is the trio of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins. After a few songs here and there over the past couple of years the debut full-length album “See You Around” was released in February. I chose “Wild One” for this list because it makes me entirely sad and happy and their voices together destroy me.

32. “The Night That Bowie Died” by KT Tunstall. Another track from “Wax.”  I’m still not over losing Bowie and when I saw his name in this song title I steeled myself and put my headphones on. The reward was huge.

33. “Are We Good?” by Eleanor Friedberger. From her 2018 album “Rebound.” I can’t remember when I first heard this song as I scan the past 12 months but listening to it again as I write this I remember why I stuck it on this list. Maybe I got a press release about it? Delivery mechanism doesn’t matter, the song is excellent. Lend an ear.

34. “Neon Prayer Flags” by The Wind and The Wave. From their latest album “Human Beings Let You Down.” All I know is that I can’t get enough of Patty Lynn’s voice. She and musical partner Dwight Baker have a fantastic thing going with this band. Plus, the song talks about therapy so of course I love it.

35. “Some Kind of Window” by Rachael Yamagata. Rachael’s one of my favorite singers on the planet and she surprised us all with the release of a seemingly-out-of-nowhere EP called “Porch Songs” a couple of months ago. There are five songs on it and they all put me into emotional orbit. I chose “Some Kind of Window” because the lines “I don’t know where my will has gone, I never felt so shut down before” are effin’ fantastic and Yamagata sings them in a profound, soul-searing way. Just listen!

36. “Black Monday” by Neneh Cherry. I’ll be honest, I haven’t really kept up with Cherry’s career. I’m lame. Up until this point I pretty much only knew her now 30-year-old hit “Buffalo Stance.” But then one fine I got wind of her latest album “Broken Politics” and I guess I got wind at the exact moment that I actually had time to listen to it. Wow. It’s going to knock your socks entirely off. Her vocals are to die-for. I’m still getting to know the album but “Black Monday” sure as shit made my list.

37. “Follow Me Home” by SHEL. It was love at first listen with the four mesmerizing Holbrook sisters back in 2016. Since then I’ve seen them in a Tennessee cave, at a festival in North Carolina and a festival in Colorado. Their latest project is scoring the new Catherine Zeta-Jones Facebook Watch series “Queen America.” Out of that came the song “Follow Me Home,” released a little over a week ago. I have a heart attack every time a press release arrives with SHEL in the subject line and this was no exception. Listen to the song and fall under the SHEL spell.

38.”Extralife” by Darlingside. Pleased as punch to report that I FINALLY saw them live a week ago and they were dreamy and I was transfixed. I’ve adored Darlingside for a couple of years and the adoration grew all the more with the release of their album “Extralife.” The title track made my list because when I listen to it I leave my body and float up to 60s folk heaven. Here it is.

39.”Hurricanes” by Dido. Cause …want to thank her… for releasing her first album since 2013. Well technically it’s not out quite yet. “Still on My Mind” is set for a March 2019 release BUT the first single “Hurricanes” was shared with the world on the 12th of November and it’s lovely and lush and well heck, just listen.

40. “Right Down the Line” by Lucius. Yes indeed I mean a cover of the 1978 Gerry Rafferty hit. It’s one of ten tracks on the “Nudes” album, released in March. The indie-pop quartet of singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, guitarist Casey Foubert and drummer John Dion can do no wrong in my book. I got hip to them in 2013 and everything they’ve done since then has been fantastic. I was lucky enough to see them last year with Roger Waters. Holy shit. Anyway, “Nudes” is an acoustic album of new stuff, old stuff and some covers including their marvelous take on “Right Down the Line.”

lucius with lukas
Holly and Jess from Lucius on stage with Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

41. “Blue Again” by Weakened Friends. I do sometimes like to rock out. Weakened Friends is the Portland, Maine trio of singer-guitarist Sonia Sturino, bass player Annie Hoffman and drummer Cam Jones.  They just won a Boston Music Award for Alt/Indie artist of the year. YEAH! “Blue Again” is from their tremendous debut full-length album “Common Blah.”

42. “Social Life” by Armies. Because it’s commentary on social media is blistering and spot-on. Also, I’m all about the vocals of Dave Gutter and Anna Lombard. “Social Life” is from the band’s second album “Armies II.” They’re a Maine act but do all sorts of cool stuff all over the place. There’s a video coming at some point for the song that was filmed at the album release show a few months ago (I was there). For now, take a listen to “Social Life.”

43. “Only Lonely” by The Ballroom Thieves. The Ballroom Thieves is the trio of Martin Earley, Devin Mauch and Calin Peters.  OMG I love this band. I even bought a necklace Martin made at a show a couple of years ago. I also love the fact that they now call Maine home. “Only Lonely” will have you at the first chill howl. It’s from their “Paper Crown” EP. Enjoy.


And there you have it.

Ponti out

p.s. Because I love you here’s a Spotify Playlist of all the songs!
https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/eastcoastaimsel/playlist/4AHxy9Dg1VNs9T8dg20PVI


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Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities.

Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration: All-star artists gather in Los Angeles to say I Love You, Joni, right out loud

There aren’t enough deep breaths in the world to settle me down enough so that I can be calm and properly centered to be able to write this review.

Why?

Because in one of the most unexpected concert experiences of  my life I saw these artists pay tribute to Joni Mitchell in honor of her 75th birthday by performing her songs live:

Brandi Carlile, Glen Hansard, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Kris Kristofferson, Los Lobos with La Marisoul, Cesar Castro & Xochi Flores, Graham Nash, SEAL, James Taylor and Rufus Wainwright.

For real.

How can I begin to wrap my head around this? A handful of days ago (Tuesday, 11/6/18 to be exact)  I sat in the fourth row of the balcony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and watched and listened as, one by one, all of these artists were introduced and backed by a STELLAR band under the direction of co-musical directors Brian Blade (drums) and Jon Cowherd (piano) performed an eclectic collection of career-spanning Joni Mitchell songs.

It was nothing short of a miracle that I was even at this show to begin with. A California trip with another agenda was already booked when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Tweet telling me that Brandi Carlile and James Taylor had been added to the already stacked lineup and more importantly, a handful of tickets had been released. With my calendar in one hand and my credit card in the other I snagged two tickets in a state of delirium and for the next month leading up the show had to pinch myself because I felt like Charlie Bucket holding the golden ticket.

The stage at the gorgeous Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was adorned with an old canoe, wooden skis and other retro, rustic props that gave it a cabin in the woods kind of feel. Couches were on either side and were both put to good use throughout the evening. Nothing quite like seeing Emmylou Harris perched on one watching other artists. I digress.

Throughout the entire show images of Joni were projected on a giant screen behind the stage and we’d also see occasional clips of interviews with her as well as well wishes from Elton John and Peter Gabriel.

And so it began, just after 7:30 p.m. on election night no less.

A voice welcomed us and the first artist was announced. With said announcement came the first of several heart-stopping moments. It was Norah Jones who stood center stage and opened the show with a lovely version of “Court and Spark.” Jones would return to the stage during the second half of the show, this time at the piano where she played “Borderline,” a track from Mitchell’s 1994 Turbulent Indigo album.

When Jones finished with “Court and Spark” I realized that I had an entire evening of moments ahead of me when time would stand still for a few seconds before the next name was announced. If only this kind of exquisite anticipation could be bottled.

Glen Hansard was next with “Coyote” and the dude nailed it, which came as no surprise. With vocals that made me think of Cat Stevens it was a joyous thing to watch Hansard shine with his acoustic guitar.

While I could say something about every single song that was played during the 22 song show, I know you have to get back to your life at some point so instead, I’m referring to my scribbled notes and will share what were my favorite moments of the night. But let me a thousand percent clear before I do. EVERY SINGLE PERFORMER WAS EPIC and it can’t be stated enough how spectacular the band was.

That said, I’m gonna jump to the seventh song of the evening. It was “Help Me” from “Court and Spark” and OMG, Chaka Khan owned it. Immensely. I don’t even know what to say about it so here’s this:

Two songs later came Los Lobos with Marisoul playing “Nothing Can Be Done,” a favorite of mine from 1991’s “Night Ride Home.” Spectacular.

Truly nothing could have prepared me for the song that closed out the first set. I’ve since read that Joni specifically asked SEAL to perform it. I have the chills even thinking about how incredible and vocally tremendous he was on “Both Sides Now.”

Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Seal performs onstage at Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on November 7, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for The Music Center

Put on some headphones and be prepared to lose your shit. Ready?


As you can imagine, we all went insane at the end of the song and SEAL got a much-deserved standing ovation.

The house lights came back on and I sat there in a daze because I couldn’t believe there was still a second set to come.

And so it was that Graham Nash opened the second set of the show by sitting at the grand piano where he said “I’m honored to be here. Most of the songs you’ll hear tonight will have been written by Joan except this one. I wrote this song for Joni almost 50 years ago.” With that, Nash played “Our House” and I got full-on teary. Halfway through the song he invited us all too sing along. Most did. I was too overwhelmed with emotion to pull it together but everyone else sounded great. I did manage one  “la  la la la la” out  but barely.  And damn it, I’m getting teary again watching the YouTube clip of it even now.

Quick but supreme shout-outs to Diana Krall for “Amelia” and Rufus Waingwright for “All I Want.” Both were exceptional and I have huge love for both artists. My god…

If you’ve ever read any of my other posts here (and I sure hope you have or will) you likely know that I am a MASSIVE BRANDI CARLILE FAN. HUGE. RABID. HARDCORE. She was indeed the artist I was most excited to see and along with SEAL, Carlile was the highlight of the night for me.

First came “A Case Of You” from 1971’s “Blue”  which she sang with Kris Kristofferson who also played an acoustic guitar.  Kristofferson is a living legend. He’s 82 years young. Look, I’ll level with you and you’ll hear it for yourself below, his vocals weren’t so hot but I say this with reverence and respect. The man can do no wrong. Carlile clearly holds him in the same regard as the rest of us and the smile on her face, one of adoration and of realizing the significance of the moment was one of the most genuine goddamn things I’ve ever had the honor to bear witness to. She deferred to him for much of the song but when she sang, and I’m sorry but I HAVE to use profanity, it brought the fucking house down.

Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Brandi Carlile (L) and Kris Kristofferson perform onstage at Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on November 7, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for The Music Center

Then it was time for Carlile to shine on her own as she sang “Down To You,” another track from Court and Spark.  Her performance of that song has been absorbed by my very cells.

Here’s a clip of “Both Sides Now” and “Down To You.” Take note of (and you really don’t need me to say this, it will be quite evident) how tremendous the band is during “Down To You).  When “Down To You” ended I clapped and cheered with everything I had. Part of me is still in Los Angeles in that balcony and I’m still cheering.

Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Brandi Carlile performs onstage at Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on November 7, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for The Music Center

Time for another shout-out. This time to James Taylor for “Woodstock.” It didn’t hurt ONE BIT that SEAL lent some backing vocals to it.

The time had come to land the Joni love plane and I’m awarding high marks to all those involved in the decision of what song to end with. It had to be one that would work with several singers. And it had to be iconic. And upbeat also wouldn’t hurt.

“Big Yellow Taxi” got it done.

I was at the first night of two shows. This clip below is from the second night which fell on the official date of Joni’s 75th birthday. Joni Mitchell was out on the stage for it and everyone sang Happy Birthday to her. A cake was brought out and she’s beaming.  Although I wish I had been there on that night, I will always be thankful for being at night one. I had tickets to see Mitchell in the mid 90s but the show ended up being cancelled (I can’t remember why) so I’ve never seen her live. But that’s OK for obvious reasons: Joni Mitchell’s contribution to music can’t be measured. Her songwriting is something that I’ll always be in awe of. Same goes for her vocals. And if you’ll pardon the tired cliche I’ll say this: the world is very much a better place with Joni Mitchell and her music in it.  I don’t know what else to say about it so I’ll leave it there.

Years from now as I look back on the night of November 6, 2018, I am certain those same feelings will come over me that did as I sat there and took it all in: Ones of sincere wonder and awe. Ones of immense gratitude. And ones of love for all of the artists who performed that night all because of a shared sentiment: Love for Joni Mitchell.

Lastly, I for sure would like to thank my spouse Tracy for dealing with my hysteria over this entire show and for going with me to it. You’re the best!

Here’s the set-list:

1. Court and Spark – Norah Jones
2. Coyote – Glen Hansard
3. For the Roses – Diana Krall
4. Blue – Rufus Wainwright
5. Cold Blue Steel – Emmylou Harris
6. The Magdalene Laundries – Emmylou Harris
7. Help Me – Chaka Khan
8. Dreamland – Los Lobos
9. Nothing Can Be Done – Los Lobos
10. River – James Taylor
11. Both Sides Now – Seal

INTERMISSION

12. Our House – Graham Nash
13. A Strange Boy – Seal
14. All I Want – Rufus Wainwright
15. Borderline – Norah Jones
16. Amelia – Diana Krall
17. The Boho Dance – Glen Hansard
18 A Case of You – Kris Kristofferson and Brandi Carlile
19. Down To You – Brandi Carlile
20. Two Grey Rooms – Chaka Khan
21. Woodstock – James Taylor
22. Big Yellow Taxi – Everyone (!)

And here’s a Spotify Playlist of all of the songs performed, in order!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/eastcoastaimsel/playlist/4hlc1Q2vOsZipr1e2g1cQj

Ponti out.

P.S. Here are a couple of MIGHTY FINE shots from night two. You gotta love how Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones are in the background of the one of Brandi and Kris with Joni.

Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 07: (L-R) Joni Mitchell, Brandi Carlile and Kris Kristofferson attend Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on November 7, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for The Music Center
Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 07: James Taylor (L) and Joni Mitchell attend Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on November 7, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for The Music Center

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Coping Mechanisms: A 50 song playlist of women artists

Well holy hell. It’s one day since Kavanaugh was confirmed and my head is still in my hands.

So today I did what I always do to help myself cope, at least for a few moments.

I listened to music.

A ton of it.

And, with all due respect to all the MANY male musicians that I adore out there, today was all about us women. Because it had to be,

The 50 song playlist is called “Coping Mechanisms 2018” and here’s how I describe it:

An assemblage of songs by female artists to acknowledge despair, document trauma, instill hope, remind of us the beauty in the world, inspire a revolution and to serve as a reminder about the importance of art, especially when things are at their darkest.

It starts and ends with songs by Tori Amos because of course it does. I’ll share ten of the songs below via YouTube and will link to the entire Spotify playlist below.

“Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos

“This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush

“Talkin’Bout A Revolution” by Tracy Chapman

“Nameless, Faceless” by Courtney Barnett

“Not Ready to Make Nice” by Dixie Chicks

“I’m An Animal” by Neko Case

“You Are The Problem Here” by First Aid Kit

“Hold Out Your Hand” by Brandi Carlile

“Sing” by The Dresden Dolls

“Hit The Road, Jack” by Shirley Horn

Can a song fix everything? Who’s to say?

But can 50 of them help?

I believe they can.

Ponti out.

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST LINK


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ART MATTERS! Amanda Palmer and company release chilling video for “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”

10.6.18  9:46 p.m.

So as to not bury the lede let me say right off the bat that Amanda Palmer released a video yesterday to what I’ve already said I think is the most important song of 2018: “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”
And in breaking news, I interviewed her via email about the video, the response to it and how fucked up everything feels right now.

But let me do this right and lay it all out for you. I’ve been working on this off and on all day, starting early this morning and twelve hours later I’m ready to hit “publish.”

Hi.  It’s late morning on Saturday, October 6, 2018 as I start this post and a lot of stuff went down yesterday. Not since the day Trump was elected in 2016 have I felt such politically-charged emotion.  But it goes WAY beyond that and I know many of you are right there with me. Never as a woman and as a human have I felt more offended, insulted, dismissed, disappointed and hopeless.  Holy shit. But hold that thought for a second.

Now it’s 4:45 in the afternoon and I just watched the senate vote to confirm Kavanaugh and it’s like knowing someone is going to die but then when it actually happens it still hurts just as much.  You can’t really be prepared can you?

By the way, this is indeed a music blog and we’ll get there because OMFG the video of “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” was one of things that happened yesterday and it’s the reason why I’m writing now.  But I’ve got to set the scene first because it very much feeds into my response to said video and why I think it’s so important for as many people as possible to see it.

Here’s where I’m at:

I 100% believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Her bravery is remarkable. I, like many of you, watched in horror, expected horror, but horror just the same, as Senator Susan Collins (from Maine where I live) spent 45 minutes saying she didn’t believe Dr. Ford. When she finally ended her  “speech” I started to shake and teetered on the edge of a teary tantrum. Later today is the official vote, otherwise known as the final nail in the coffin of not believing victims of sexual assault with the added bonus of having reproductive freedom potentially jeopardized when Kavanaugh gets on that bench. Meanwhile, POTUS took it upon himself to make a grotesquely erroneous comment  via Twitter recently about trauma and how it impacts memory. Then he straight up mocked Dr. Ford’s testimony a few days ago at a rally. HE MOCKED HER. Over the past ten days or so I have read countless stories that women have shared about being sexually assaulted. Some of these women are friends of mine. I’ve read and heard stories of women I know who were raped and didn’t report it for fear of not being believed and for fear of it bringing shame to their family and for many other reasons. My heart has been shattered. All of ours have been. I feel unprecedented anger and acute helplessness and it all sucks tremendously. While I’m at it let me add that in my opinion, #metoo is NOT a movement. It’s a reckoning. I’m starting to cringe when I hear it referred to as a “movement” even by allies because “movement” is not nearly strong enough of a word. “Movement” feels way too temporary. Reckoning is better but I’m not sure if that is even strong enough. Revolution is getting closer to the marker. #metoo revolution. Now that’s more like it. I know, this is really just a matter of semantics. But still…

I am woman hear me roar and watch me revolt.

Despite everything, I am able to find moments of peace and hope because there’s a huge sense of “we’re in this together,” especially, of course, among women. There’s a huge feeling of “we’re not gonna take this anymore” and we’re all figuring out strategies in our own ways. But my god, this hurts. My heart breaks for Dr. Ford. It breaks for everyone who has relived past traumas because there’s been a mine field of triggers.

What else? So much. Too much.

What next? Everything.

We will march. We will protest (and THANK YOU to everyone who did SO MUCH to try and stop this horrible confirmation from happening). We will vote. We will be heard. We will not be silenced. We will be believed.

We will also let our creative selves shine. I NEED art. It helps me make sense of things that can’t be understood. It helps to say the things that need to be said. It helps to make me feel less alone, knowing there are people out there who are harnessing all of their rage, their sorrow, their pain and their hope and they’re making things. Paintings, poems, films, music, you name it. ALL OF IT.  Sometimes I need a song to show me the way to my own heart, to crack a rib and let the emotions in.  Art, and for me music in particular, is one of the best ways to truly feel human.  And now today, and not for the the first time , Palmer and the people she chooses to work with, have fused music with film and the result is something remarkable.

Now about that video…

One year ago yesterday,  October 5, 2017, the New York Times story broke a huge story and the world learned that Harvey Weinstein is an absolute monster thanks to the bravery of women like Ashley Judd  and others who told their story.  We all know what happened next. #metoo was born. Weinstein’s now in jail.

A few months after this all broke, Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power collaborated on the song “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”  and they released it on  May 23.

single cover by coco karol
Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now Single cover by Coco Karol

If you haven’t heard it yet, decide on your own if you’d rather have your first listening be by way of the video that just came out or first via just the audio. There’s no wrong way to be introduced to the song. It’s going to destroy you either way. I don’t know how else to say it. But it’s also an incredible, stunning song so don’t fear it, just know it’s no “Walking on Sunshine.” It gives voice to the women, and there were many of them- that were assaulted, abused, threatened or otherwise mistreated by Weinstein. But it’s bigger than that.  I’ve listened to the song at this point a couple of dozen times and every listen twists and turns inside my heart. But it’s also a MAGNIFICENT piece of music. Art can be both things: Painful and beautiful. It should be. You don’t need me to tell you that.

In July, Palmer along with Power, director and choreograph Noémie Lafrance, producer Natalie Galazka along with a huge crew and cast assembled at rectory of a church in Brooklyn, New York and shot a video for “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”

weinstein video still 1
A still from the “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” video shoot. Photo by Hayley Rosenblum

In all, 60 women along with a few men were involved in the making of it. It was paid for by Palmer’s nearly 12,000 Patrons. I’m one of them. We all contribute to Palmer’s Patreon so that she can make art without having to worry about how the bills will be paid.

Yesterday was the day  the video was released, on the one year anniversary of the Times Weinstein story.  I watched it after watching Senator Collins offer up her “yes” in that morning cloture vote and before her 3 p.m. shit show speech that made it official and sent millions of women (and of course several men) into an unprecedented tailspin.  It was  between those two things right around lunchtime when I set aside six minutes, put my headphones on and watched the video to “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”

I watched it two more times over the course of the day and evening and have since watched it again. There’s a lot to take in.  I’m not going to say much about it because it speaks for itself. But it may be helpful for you to read a bit of what Palmer shared about it on Patreon.

Palmer wrote that that she and director Noémie Lafrance spoke at length and agreed that the video should not be sentimental, it should not exploit, it should not be patronizing and it should not be obvious. As for what it should be? Three words: raw fucking power.

I think it’s also important to share Palmer’s reasons for making this video which she also shared on Patreon:

“it has come to this. in order to effect change, we are having to expose our darkest pain in public forums. on the internet. in newspapers. in the streets. in the senate, in front of hundreds of millions of people watching.

it seems infinitely complicated to address these issues when they’re already so over-saturated and raw. how to not make things worse? how can we express ourselves and our righteous anger in our own terms, on our own dime, in our own time?

that’s what i wanted to do with this video.”

She did that. And she did a hell of a lot more than that.

Now it’s half past eight and I’m in my pajamas watching the Red Sox game because I can’t handle any more coverage of today’s events. I say that yet I check Twitter every 15 minutes.

Earlier today I reached out to Palmer via email with a handful of questions. A few minutes ago, I heard back from her and in the interest of clarity, I will share them in their entirety.

What reactions have you been getting so far, on day one, on the video? From what I’ve seen on social media people are feeling quite moved and affected by it. Any surprises on the feedback front?

Amanda: You know, I should be used to this by now, but I’m not. The reaction from my community on the internet is astounding – people are really finding it cathartic, triggering in a good way, and empowering, which was my hope. The reaction from the flesh and blood human beings who came out in the hundreds to see the screening in LA the other night was equally powerful, there were a lot of abuse and assault survivors sharing their stories. So many women poured so much time, rage an energy into making this video happen. And the response from the media was just….deafeningly silent. I’m used to most mainstream media not picking up on stuff like this, but the feminist media, where are they? Why aren’t they amplifying the art? Where’s Bust? And Bitch? And Ms. and Elle and Teen Vogue on and on…the other feminist allies? We sent them all the clip. It’s astonishing to me that every single article that’s run on this video has been written by a man . It’s just bananas. There’s this part of me that feels like I’m in fourth grade again, getting shoved away from the cool lunch table. It’s possible that everybody in feminist-land was just too wrapped up in the political cycle, but…just, wow. There are so few artists out there doing what we just managed to do, and it was really frustrating – for all of us – to see such loud silence on that front. On the other hand, this is the kind of problem that I’ve been facing for fifteen years. The media follows, but only very lazily, and the most powerful women in the arts are usually blazing way ahead with no regard to the coverage. So I continue to build the Patreon for this very reason: so that I will never need to rely on the media to be the force that authenticates or holds the keys to the amplification of our work. 

With both the song and now the video, you’ve given voice to victims through a stunning piece of art. I believe it’s helping people, likely more than you’ll ever know. How does that make you feel?
Amanda: It makes me feel like I’m doing my job. 
Did you watch any of the Collins shitshow ? If so, alone or with anyone? How was that for you? I mean we all knew deep down she was gonna go this way but it still HURT SO MUCH. Thoughts on that? Especially since it ended up being on the same goddamn day as the one year anniversary (anniversary feels like such the wrong word) of the Weinstein stuff blowing up. I felt so empowered when I watched the video (along with several other intense emotions) and then so defeated watching Collins speech. How was/it for you? How are you feeling right now? Honestly, I don’t know what to feel right now because it’s so easy just to sink into my couch a pile of tears. Thoughts?
Amanda: I’m feeling so hurt. I cried in yoga yesterday, I woke up today and read the news and cried. I cried and streamed to twitter. I cried and listened to my new album mixes, which couldn’t wait, because we have to head to mastering soon. I’ve just been crying a shit ton. I can’t believe what is happening to my country. It feels like our rights and freedoms and achievements – as women and minorities – are going to just get slowly chipped away at, one by one, and like frogs in boiling water 
we’re going to wake up one day with no fucking abortion rights and no immigration rights and it’s just going to be one brutal dictatorship of capitalist frat boys who will not share their toys. It really feels like that. I am also getting ready for what feels like the fight of my life. I’m ready to put down everything else right now and fight for justice for women and other disenfranchised people. Fuck everything. We need a full on revolution. Today. And believe me, I’ve been texting my allies. We are organizing, we are pissed, and we are going to change this.

And what that, here’s the brand new video for Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now

Ponti out


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Transformative show from Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks 8.12.18

Let me ask you something. Has there been a place you’ve wanted to go to for pretty much your entire life? As a live music fan, there are venues around the globe that I still haven’t been to but the one that’s been on the top of my list since the 80s is  the one  I FINALLY saw a show at in August.

What you’re about to read is a review of a recent Brandi Carlile concert.  (Spoiler alert, I LOVED the show). But that’s not where the story begins, it begins with the band U2.

I’m in my 40s and have been a fan of U2 for as long as I can remember.  On June 3, 1983 U2 played, in the cold rain no less, at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. It was the only time they’ve ever played there and several of the songs from that show were released on the “Under A Blood Red Sky” EP. This was the first U2 thing I ever bought. The show was released on video in 1984  (I still have a VHS copy somewhere) but initially, I saw it  on MTV as individual clips. These clips are what made me a fan of U2.

This  brings me to “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” This was the first performance footage I saw of U2 and to this day I can’t watch it without getting the chills and without being reminded of how much I love this band. But the main reason this footage has stayed so close to my heart for so long is where it was filmed.  To me, Red Rocks has never quite been a real place. It’s been a dreamscape, an alternate reality, a musical nirvana and a sacred locale that surely can’t actually exist.  And yet performances have been happening there for more than 100 years. I don’t have a good answer to the question of why it took me so long to finally bridge the gap between fantasy and the real world. Maybe I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Maybe I was afraid that if I actually stood in that place of my dreams that it would somehow shift its place in my heart. I’m still not sure. But what I can tell you is this: I can’t imagine a better act for my first visit to the hallowed ground that is Red Rocks than Brandi Carlile.

But first, in case you haven’t seen this, here’s the “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” footage that I used to stand in front of the TV and imitate Bono’s moves to and lip sync the lyrics to. Here’s the video that put its hooks into me decades ago and that has kept my desire to see a show at Red Rocks a constant pull in my heart for so, so long:

OK so onto the evening of Sunday, August 12. Whew…
I kept going in and out of almost a dreamlike state as the four us (my gal Tracy and our local pals Jodi and Jen) arrived on the grounds of Red Rocks and it got all the more real when we stopped at the box office and I was handed tickets. I had an all out Charlie Bucket Golden Ticket moment as I stood there with the pair of killer seats I had bought for Tracy and I months and months ago.

Fast forward to securing a parking spot and beginning the march to one of the entrances where the line moved along at a respectable pace and I took in the breathtaking scenery around me, all the while coming to terms with the fact that within a few minutes I would cross the proverbial threshold and would be standing inside Red Rocks.

As for that first moment, it’s hard to put into words. Something you’ve visualized for decades is never quite what you imagined it would be. But I have to say,  when the full view of the venue lay before me two worlds collided; the younger version of myself watching Bono hold up that white flag and the present day version of myself finally standing in a musical version of the promised land.

The first order of business was to climb to the top and take it all in while also loving the hell out of The Secret Sisters set.

Red Rocks
Standing at the top of Red Rocks on 8/12/18 while The Secret Sisters played a stellar set.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

It took a moment for my brain and heart to sync up such was the poignancy of the moment.

From there we spent a little time in the visitor’s center which you simply must do because the Performer’s Hall of Fame documents hundreds of shows that have taken place at Red Rocks including, of course, that legendary U2 one.

Next up was a set from Shovels & Rope.  They’re the duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent and I’m a huge fan. The fact that they were on this bill was another layer of frosting on the concert cake.

By this time Tra and I were in our 7th row seats ( off to the side a bit but entirely fabulous) which were none too shabby! From there I snapped a few more photos so as to try and capture to scope of Red Rocks’ natural magnificence.

Red Rocks long shot side view
Another view of heaven, aka Red Rocks. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The last bit of sunlight faded and the time for Brandi Carlile and her nothing less than 100% dynamite band to take the stage was drawing near.  This was my sixth time seeing her this summer and the final show of my incredible #summerofbrandi2018.

Previously in 2018 I had seen BC twice in Boston, once in Portland, Maine, once at the Newport Folk Festival and the night before the Red Rocks show at a private fan performance in Boulder.  My love for her music is as deep as the ocean and it grew all the more after the release  of her latest album “By The Way, I Forgive You.”

Brandi Carlile
Yours truly nerding out just before Carlile took the stage.

And then it happened. The show started by way of a string trio medley that I’d heard at previous shows this year. It was all the more riveting because this was happening at RED ROCKS! I had chills that were multiplying more than Sandy and Danny combined and they didn’t stop until well after the last song about two hours later.

Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks
Brandi Carlile and the Hanseroth twins at Red Rocks on 8.12.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

What followed were no less than 20 songs. It began with “Every Time I Hear That Song” and ended with the lights out all being turned off and thousands of us holding up our phones while Brandi and Laura and Lydia of the Secret Sisters sang ‘Amazing Grace” in what was one of the most memorable endings to a concert I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

In between Carlile and company delivered a tremendous set of tunes that included Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” which was sung by Brandi’s niece Caroline in advance of an upcoming talent show competition. The kid nailed it.

Shovels & Rope were invited to play their song “Cleanup Hitter” with Carlile and holy shit, it was fantastic.

Red Rocks LIT night Looking Back
Red Rocks at night. Divine! Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The Secret Sisters sang backup on one of my favorite “By The Way” songs, “Sugartooth” and then stayed put for a rendition of their song “Mississippi” from their Grammy-nominated album “You Don’t Own Me Anymore.” And yeah, it was goddamn great.

Back to back covers  late in the set just about put me over the edge, despite having seen Carlile sing them both at previous shows this year. It didn’t matter. This was Red Rocks and Brandi Carlile sang Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” and for the love of all that is holy in this universe, it was one of those moments that was a reminder of why the live music experience means so much to me. Hearing Carlile’s voice ring out in that Colorado night against a backdrop of piano and strings was everything.

No sooner did the Mitchell song end did Carlile and the band break into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.”  I always like to remind people, in the interest of given songwriting credit where it’s due, that the song was written in the late 50s by a woman named Anne Bredon and the first famous recording of it was by Joan Baez in 1962. The version however that is arguably best known and most revered is the one recorded by Led Zeppelin in 1969 on their debut album.

Carlile made the song her own and I think the world might have damn well stopped spinning for a few minutes while she sang it.  Here’s a great clip of her singing it on July 21 in Portland, Maine (where I live) with gratitude to the fan who captured this and posted it.

Hearing “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” at Red Rocks elevated the song to yet another level of rock perfection and is one of about 12 bazillion examples of Carlile’s vocal capabilities.

Brandi Carlile
Here’s a shot of Carlile as projected on a giant video monitor to the right of the stage.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The last song they played before the encores was one I still can’t make it through without crying and that’s “Party of One” from “By The Way,  I Forgive You.” I always think I’m going to survive and then the strings come in like a wave and I lose it. But at least I can say I’ve cried in four different states during the same song this summer.

Here’s a decent video  by a YouTuber named Annalie Benjamin of the song being played at Red Rocks.

I dried my eyes and we were all rewarded with the return of the band to the stage for three encore songs beginning with a  when-in-rome esque medley of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High” and “Sunshine on my Shoulders.” It didn’t suck one bit that the band’s former fiddler Jeb Bows joined them for this little slice of magic.  Hell even I sang along.

Next up was the sing-along of the ages with the song “Hold Out Your Hand” during which every kid of the band came out on stage not to mention former White House (when we had a sane POTUS named Obama) photographer and friend of the Carlile clan, Pete Souza. And so did Shovels & Rope and The Secret Sisters. The devil sure as shit wasn’t getting our souls that night. We were in the throes of redemption in the form of a glorious song.

But perhaps what gave me the biggest chills of the night was “Amazing Grace.” I’d been to shows before when fans were asked to shine their phones. But this was something altogether different and I think everyone there knew it.

Shout-out of gratitude to YouTuber RESphoto for capturing this:

It was perhaps the finest example of how pristine the acoustics are in the natural wonder of Red Rocks , a place that took more than 200 million years to form.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful” said Carlile at the end of the song and she was absolutely right. This was one time that the prevalence of technology at a concert made for an unforgettable live music moment full of wonder, full of angelic vocals and full of upwards of 9,000 fans who knew this was something special.

I’ll always be thankful that I was one of them.

I’ll end with seven words that you’ ll just have to trust me on:

GO SEE A SHOW AT RED ROCKS

Ponti out.


Aimsel on the Record in sponsored in part by LB Kitchen in Portland, Maine.

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Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities.

Worth the wait: Thoughts on the 2018 Newport Folk Festival

I don’t really know why it took me this long to finally realize the dream of attending the Newport Folk Festival. I’m reminded of a favorite line from writer Gail Godwin: “Some things arrive in their own mysterious hour, on their own terms and not yours, to be seized or relinquished forever.” OK so that’s a bit dramatic but the point is… I FINALLY WENT.

There’s a piece of my heart still out there at Fort Adams Park and  likely will be forever, such was the impact of this storied festival.

I scribbled a few notes here and there in my reporter’s notebook but I’m not looking at them now. Instead, I’m gonna just write from the heart because after thinking about the experience three plus weeks later, I already know there’s no way this can be a traditional “review.” Maybe it’s an essay or a love letter or a journal entry.

Let me start by saying that walking into this festival on that Friday morning, July 27, I felt like Dorothy Gale stepping into Technicolor, Charlie Bucket walking into the Wonka factory , Edmund Pevensie stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia and Alice descending into the rabbit hole.  Remove all scary or challenging parts of those stories and that may give you some idea of what it felt like for this music fan to be at this festival.

Before I unpack anything about what I saw and heard over the next three days, I think it’s important to mention that I’ve wanted to attend this festival since 1992. This is the year this compilation album below was released and I still have it. Before that I had heard of the festival but didn’t have a full understanding of just how special it is. But when I heard Indigo Girls singing Paul Simon’s “American Tune” I lost my mind. I knew that someday I would make it to Newport. Little did I know it wouldn’t happen until 2018. But let me say, in no uncertain terms and hell yes in all caps: IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT!!!

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So there I was on a Friday morning on what was my first time in Newport and probably only my second or third time in the state of Rhode Island.

Upon arriving to the entrance to Fort Adams I saw a sign that told me everything I needed to know. It wasn’t a sign from God or a sign from the universe. It was literally a sign. This sign:

welcome sign
iPhone photo happily shot from my car window after I said Hi to the police officers by the entrance and told them I was a first-timer and made one of them high-five me.

I parked my car, gathered up my stuff and began the seaside stroll to the front gates where I picked up my media pass and photo pass.  I had purchased my actual tickets last November the second they went on sale in what was one of the most nail-biting ticket buying experiences of my life. I reached out to festival people a few weeks before the opening day requesting the photo pass and they graciously provided me with one and I’ll always be thankful for that because even though I am a complete rookie when it comes to photography, it was awesome to be in the photo pit all weekend where every single photographer I spoke to was incredibly kind.  Early on I had a problem with my camera (which, TBH, I barely know how to use) and asked one of them for help and I was feeling quite embarrassed about it. Turns out it’s always a good idea to make sure ones lens is actually on properly. This guy, I wish I could remember his name, was amazing and didn’t make me feel foolish. I mention this because that’s what it was like the entire weekend. Every person I spoke to, rubbed shoulders with, asked questions to, hung out with and watched performances with was kind, in a good mood and super happy to be there. Said another way: there were no assholes at the Newport Folk Festival.

If you’ve never been to the Newport Folk Festival you may not know that when tickets go on sale in November, the lineup isn’t  announced. That comes months later on a rolling basis and every announcement feels like the moment in “A Christmas Story” when  Ralphie’s Dad tells him to look behind the desk because Santa left one more present there.

Even when acts I wasn’t familiar with were announced it sent a shiver of excitement down my spine because I knew that I’d end up loving some of them. (I’m looking at you, The War And Treaty, Bedouine and Beneath The Sacred Mountain to name a few).

The first announcement came on January 31 and it was Courtney Barnett!!  Then every couple of days or weeks other ones would appear and every single time I smiled and it was like kernels of popcorn exploding inside my heart. Rachael & Vilray? YEP! Darlingside? YEP! Passenger? YEP! Phoebe Bridgers? YEP! The Lone Bellow? YEP! Jason Isbell? YEP!

On March 21 things took a turn for the even more exciting when my favorite name of 2018 was announced: Brandi Carlile!

Five days later another bomb was dropped: Lucius!

Three days later: Amanda Shires!

Then the floodgates opened with announcements of Margo Price, Tuck and Patti, Jenny Lewis, Glen Hansard and OMFG St. Vincent among many others.

For a complete list of 2018 performers click here.

Anyway….back to that Friday morning, July 27. I joined the ever-growing line of festival goers and we excitedly awaited for the 10 a.m. opening of the gates. About 15 minutes before that magic moment, festival producer Jay Sweet appeared and made some enthusiastic, cheer-inducing announcements most of which I couldn’t hear but I’m quite certain included a welcome and a promise of good times ahead.

And then it happened. The gates opened and I watched as several hardcore fans made their way as quickly yet calmly as possible to the Fort Stage to secure a good spot for their blankets and chairs.

BTW, the festival has four stages: Quad, Harbor, Museum and the almighty Fort Stage.

I was immediately overwhelmed but not in a bad way, more of in a “Oh my God, I’m finally here! way.” But I also had a mission and that was to see the first act of the day on the Quad Stage, Tuck and Patti. Tuck is one of the most incredible jazz guitarists you’ll ever want to see and Patti is one of the most incredible vocalists on the planet. They’ve been playing together (and have been married) for many years and have a ton of albums out. I had only seem them once, in the mid 90s in Portland, Maine. It came as no surprise that they put on a sensational show and I can’t imagine starting off my first festival experience any other way.  Also, about a week or so before the show, I Tweeted a request to them for the song “Takes my Breath Away” from the album “Tears of Joy.”  Not only did they end their set with the song,  they thanked me (not by name but that hardly matters) for the “sweet request.” I felt like Rudolph when Clarice called him cute.

Tuck and Patti
Tuck and Patti at the Newport Folk Festival 7.27.18 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Here’s the part of this Newport tale where I tell you that many brutal decisions had to be made all weekend long because with the four stages, acts overlap and some acts that I love I only saw a little bit of and some I missed entirely. (My apologies, Glen Hansard).

Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

It was torture, for example, leaving Jenny Lewis’ set early but the reward was Courtney Barnett. If only all problems could be like this one.

Amanda Shires
Amanda Shires at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.18 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I also only caught a few songs of the AMAZING Amanda Shires as I made a mad dash to the photo pit for Margo Price.  (BTW, OMG, Amanda’s new album…get it!) I had seen Price earlier in the year here in Maine and knew she was not to be missed. It was during her set that I experienced my first legendary Newport moment. The festival is FAMOUS for guest appearances and this year was no exception. When Margo Price played the John Prine song “In Spite of Ourselves,” she was joined by JOHN PRINE!

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Margo Price with John Prine at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Yeah, that happened. Three songs later, one of my favorite moments of the entire three days went down and I still can’t believe it happened. Not only did  Price sing  Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”, she was joined by BRANDI CARLILE. I lost my mind and still haven’t quite found it. I have loved this song forever (I’m old af and saw the movie in the freakin’ theater) and seeing a duet by Price and Carlile was, if you’ll pardon the over-used but entirely justified word, EPIC!

Thanks to the fella named Chad for getting the whole song. Dude! Owe you one.

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Margo Price with Brandi Carlile at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.18 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Still on a musical high from Margo Price, I readied myself for another band that I’m ALL ABOUT. This time it was Lucius who were joined by a trio of  mesmerizing dancers called The Seaweed Sisters.

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Lucius with the Seaweed Sisters at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

They opened their set with the arresting and vocally over the moon “Go Home”  (from 2013’s debut album “Wildewoman”) and then went right into the Gerry Rafferty tune “Right Down the Line” (from the 2018 album “Nudes.) Their 12-song set was sheer bliss for every single second and when they played “Dusty Trails” (from 2016’s “Good Grief” another spectacular Newport moment happened. They brought out Brandi Carlile to sing it with them. I’m still feeling the afterglow of this. Holy shit.

Lucius also played tribute to musician and producer Richard Swift who passed away on July 3 at the age of 41 by playing his song “Most of What I Know.”  Swift is sorely missed by many and his name was mentioned a number of times over the course of the weekend.

Lucius
Lucius at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Friday wasn’t nearly done with slaying me though, not by a longshot. I managed to catch a few songs by Rachael & Vilray (LOVE THEM) and while cooling my heels for a bit in the media tent (they needed cooling, it was blazing hot out all weekend) I listened to Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite who tore it up on the nearby Quad Stage. I also mourned missing sets by Darlingside (LOVE THEM) and This Is The Kit (newish band to me and love them too).

Rachael and Vilray
Rachael and Vilray at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

At 5:40 however I was all business as I hit the Quad state for the entire St. Vincent set. For this performance she didn’t play guitar (she’s a goddamn brilliant guitarist) but rather was accompanied by pianist Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett for a 13 song set that included “Los Ageless, “Pills, “Slow Disco” and “New York.”

St. Vincent
St. Vincent at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

She changed the first line of “New York” and sang “Newport isn’t Newport without you love.” As you imagine, we all went crazy. Annie Clark also pulled out an unexpected cover that I melted over. She sang Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” and it was a tender and beautiful and  true “Newport” moment if ever there was one.

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St. Vincent Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Friday night was closed out on the Fort Stage by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. I had just seen them a week before at Thompson’s Point in Portland with co-headliner Brandi Carlile where they put on a hell of a great show.  Little did I know that another giant Newport surprise was coming at the end of their set Jason Isbell introduced surprise guest DAVID CROSBY and before I had time to even catch my breath they tore into “Wooden Ships” and then “Ohio” and again…I lost my mind.

Jason Isbell David Crosby
Jason Isbell with David Crosby at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I’m pretty sure all 10,000 of us did. Then Isbell ended with the tear-my-heart-wide open “If We Were Vampires” and I walked out of day one delirious.

When I went to bed on Friday night at my friend Judy’s house about 40 minutes away I was as exhausted as a person could be. I had gotten too much sun and not enough water. I had also experienced one of the best days of my life in terms of live music. My last thought before drifting off that night was “Oh my god, there are TWO MORE DAYS!”

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Lukas Nelson at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti
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Holly and Jess from Lucius on stage with Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Saturday brought with it another round of live music thrills and chills that only the Newport Folk Festival can provide. My first order of business after some wandering around from stage to stage for a bit was Lukas Nelson & Promise of Real. Newport moments kept happening and every one was joyous. Holly and Jess from Lucius joined Nelson for “Die Alone” which make perfect sense as they’re on five songs on the album he put out last year.

Tank & The Bangas
Tarriona “Tank” Ball of Tank & The Bangas at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Then it was off to the Quad Stage where I caught the first few songs of a performance that will long be talked about by the earth-shattering Tank & The Bangas.  I should have stayed for their entire set because their take on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was one for the ages.

Other Saturday highlights for me were Phoebe Bridgers, Jenny Lewis and Courtney Barnett.

Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18.Photo by Aimsel Ponti

But there was one other act on Saturday night. It was the unannounced one to close out the day on the Fort Stage. Speculation had been running wild all day on Friday with guesses including Neil Young. But by my arrival on Saturday morning, the cat had been let out of the bag and word had gotten out that the Saturday night surprise was Mumford & Sons.  When they first broke out in 2009 with “Sigh No More” I was an instant fan thanks to songs like “The Cave” and “Little Lion Man.”  In 2012 I still felt the love with “Babel” with the track “Lover of the Light” and the bonus track cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” Heck Mumford even brought their Gentlemen of the Road tour to Portland, Maine in the summer of 2015 and 15,000 of us attended the Munjoy Hill show.  But then I sort of lost track of the band and still haven’t really listened to 2015’s “Wilder Mind” album. So when I heard they were the surprise act I’ll be honest, I was underwhelmed. Guess what? I WAS DEAD WRONG AND I ADMIT IT.

Mumford and Sons
Marcus Mumford or Mumford and Sons at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Jay Sweet himself came out on stage to introduce them and from the moment the four of them took the stage to the moment the show ended in glorious fashion (I’ll get to that) I was 100 % all-in and screaming along with the “You really fucked it up this time” refrain of “Little Lion Man” just like everyone else there that night.  Marcus and company sounded fantastic and I immediately fell back in love with them.

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Brandi Carlile and Maggie Rogers joined Mumford and Sons on stage at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

It didn’t hurt one bit that they set was jam-packed with guests including -you guessed it- Brandi Carlile who sang “The Boxer” with them. She was one of many surprises. Jerry Douglass was also out on that stage. Phoebe Bridgers sang Radiohead’s “All I Need” with Mumford ans Sons and it was to-die-for. But there were two other surprises during the Mumford set that I still can’t believe. Maggie Rogers, who was not one of the weekend’s scheduled performers, was introduced and sang her enchanting tune “Alaska” with the band.  I LOVE this song and hearing it in this context was an unexpected joyful moment.

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Maggie Rogers on stage with Mumford and Sons at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The Mumford and Sons set could have ended right then and there and I would have left that night elated. Little did I know that another Newport moment was about to happen and even as I write this I can’t believe I witnessed it.

Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples with Brandi Carlile and Maggie Rogers perform with Mumford and Sons (among others) at the closing Saturday night set of the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.18.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Mavis Staples was introduced and she sang,  with her glorious voice, The Band’s “The Weight” with Mumford and company. Phoebe, Maggie and Brandi were also there to sing it. When Mavis took lead on the second voice I could barely process it.

I walked out of the festival on Saturday night even more delirious then I had been on Friday night.

And then came Sunday.

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A happy crowd, including Marian Starkey, get ready for Brandi Carlile at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I’m going to start by saying that I didn’t stay for the final performance of the night, the Change is Gonna Come set led by Jon Batiste with the Dap-Kings. The set featured the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Rachael Price (Rachael & Vilray, Lake Street Dive), Valerie June, surprise guests Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes),  Chris Thile, Leon Bridges, Mavis Staples, Brandi Carlile and several other Newport luminaries. The 2018 Newport Folk Festival ended with an all-star jam of the Staple Singers “Freedom Highway.”

I had given all I had to give by the time Brandi Carlile finished her set just before 6 p.m. and walked to my car all smiles. Sunday had been the hottest of the three days and I stood under that sun with my new pal Marian for hours upon hours with no regrets so that we could be right up front for Carlile’s set. I missed my gal and my dog and as I made the three hour drive home on Sunday night back to Maine, I knew I had experienced something I will never forget. So that’s why I had no regrets about my early departure.

BUT HERE’S WHAT I DID SEE ON SUNDAY!

Sunday was the day I spent just about all of my time parked at The Fort Stage. I did catch a few songs on other stages by The War and Treaty (SO GREAT!) and Jen Cloher (SO GREAT!) but Fort Stage was my Sunday destiny. This was my first time seeing Passenger (Michael Rosenberg) and his solo acoustic set was outstanding. I only knew the radio singles “Let Her Go,” “Scare Away the Dark” and the new one “Hell or High Water” but truly enjoyed the entire set. His voice is exceptional and I did indeed sing at the top of my voice during “Scare Away the Dark.” That song’s damn near perfect.

Passenger
Passenger at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

After Passenger it was the magnificent act The Lone Bellow. Holy bananas. I experienced just about every emotion one can experience during their set and experienced temporarily straightness, such was the handsomeness of Zach Williams.  Looks aside, my oh my, those harmonies, those lyrics, all of it…

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The Lone Bellow at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The Lone Bellow paid tribute to Scott Hutchinson from Frightened Rabbit with the new song “There Is Love All Around You” and it was beautiful.

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Zach Williams from The Lone Bellow at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

After The Lone Bellow it was Gary Clark Jr. I had heard the name but was otherwise fairly unfamiliar with Clark other than knowing he was known to be a hell of a guitarist from Texas. Despite not knowing any of the songs, I thoroughly enjoyed -and rocked out to- the entire set by Clark and his band. Standing near a mega-fan who was more into the performance than just about anyone I had ever seen at a show added to the experience.

By the time Clark finished his set at 4:15, I was hotter than hot and had drained the last of my water, which had been heroically been procured by my friend Marian who braved the crowd to keep us fed and hydrated. No, I will not loan her out for future festivals so don’t ask.  She’s the festival friend everyone needs and I also applaud what a huge Lucius fan she is and how she hilariously described herself as a “heat-seeking missile” when it came to being at the right stages at the right times for the many Holly and Jess surprise moments during other acts’ sets.

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Brandi Carlile front and center at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti
Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.29.18. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

When Brandi Carlile and her band hit the stage at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, July 29, I was a live-wire, a whirling-sun-baked dervish. I didn’t bother using my photo pass for entry to the pit, I stayed right where I was, right up front with Marian and a throng of fellow Brandi fans who shared water, snacks and love for Carlile and the performance we were all about to lose ourselves in.

At this point in 2018, I had already seen Carlile three times; twice in Boston and once in Portland and since the Newport show I’ve seen her at a private fan club show in Boulder and at another bucket list location: Red Rocks Ampitheater (review coming soon!)

I see Carlile as much as I do because she and her band put on one of the best live shows you’ll ever want to see.  They’re THAT GOOD. Carlile’s latest album “By The Way, I Forgive You” is my favorite album of 2018 with songs like “Sugar Tooth” and “Party of One,” not to mention the single to end all singles, “The Joke.” Plus she and twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth chose covers like nobody’s business. The entire band is at the top of their games and every Carlile show is a goddamn spiritual experience. Festival sets are never as long as regular show ones but Carlile demolished the 11 songs with every fiber of her being, as did the band.  They came out swinging with “Raise Hell” from 2012’s “Bear Creek” and then hit us with the song that for many of us, started it all. The title track from her 2007 second album “The Story.”

Next it was Carlile with twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth for the three-part harmony vocal supremacy with the song “The Eye.”

“The Mother” from “By The Way” tells of the birth of Carlile’s first daughter Evangeline and the emotional roller-coaster that ensued for Carlile. She and her wife Catherine welcome a second daughter, Elijah, a few months ago.

Then Carlile played “The Joke” and almost in a daze, I cheered my heart and soul out. The Lone Bellow joined Carlile for “Sugartooth,” a song about losing a friend to drug addiction and what came next was a one-two punch of covers that just about leveled me. Between the two songs I pretty much screamed out something along the lines of “you’re killing me!” and it made Carlile laugh for a few seconds. (I was right the eff up front ).

First she sang Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” I had never heard her sing this before and to say she nailed it would be the biggest understatement of my entire writing career. Even now, a few weeks later, I’m struggling to find the words to capture to gravity of the performance. At this point I was feeling this performance more than I had felt just about any other show I have been to (and trust me when I say, I’ve seen thousands). That’s when Carlile and company busted out with a tune that although I had seen a couple of times before, was all the more intense on the Newport stage. If Wikipedia is to be believed (and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt on this one) the song “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” was written in the late 50s by a woman  named Anne Bredon while she was a student at University of California, Berkeley. It ended up being recorded by none other than Joan Baez on her 1962 “Joan Baez in Concert, Part I” album. Seven years later, Led Zeppelin recorded it for their 1969 debut self-titled album. Fun fact: I saw Robert Plant in Boston earlier this year and he sang it. A few month laters, on that same stage, was when I first heard Carlile’s version. The Newport version was one of the most electrifying moments I’ve ever witnessed.

Then Carlile sat at the piano and played a song I have yet to make it through yet without crying. That song is “Party of One”and it’s the closing track on “By The Way, I Forgive You.” Every time I think I’m going to make it through I always fall apart when the strings come in, especially live.

Brandi Carlile ended the Newport set with the spirited anthem “Hold Out Your Hand” and was joined by The Lone Bellow, The War and The Treaty, The Watson Twins as well as little Evangeline and a couple of the twins’ adorable kids.

She gave it everything she had and so did the band and so did us fans.

Not only will I never forget all of the music I saw and heard at the 2018 Newport Folk Festival, I will never forget the 100% positive vibe. It may sound cliche but it’s entirely true. From the musicians joining each other on stage all weekend long to the enthusiastic open-hearted fans, I now understand why this festival is so well loved and respected. It also explains why tickets vanish moments after they go on sale.

Parting thoughts:

If you’re going to attend this festival here are my four pieces of advice:

  1. Be ready when tickets go on sale in the fall. I mean REALLY ready.
  2. Bring a reusable water bottle and put serious thought into getting one of those little hand-held +fans/water misters. I saw two elderly women with them and I won’t hit this festival again without one of them.
  3. Don’t try to see everything. It’s not possible. See what you can and enjoy every moment.
  4. Expect the unexpected. Fort Adams becomes a field of dreams (by the ocean) during this festival.

Thank you Newport Folk Festival for being so welcoming, so memorable, so magical and such an authentic live music experience. I’ll be back. You can count on it.

Oh and hey, here’s this! (with gratitude as always to my tech hero Shamus Alley)

Ponti out.


Aimsel on the Record is sponsored in part by LB Kitchen in Portland, Maine.

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Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities!

What it was like to meet U2’s Bono & Edge

On Friday, June 22, 2018, I met Bono and The Edge from U2 on a sidewalk (of sorts) in Boston.

This is a moment I never thought would happen and one that I still can’t believe actually did.

Know that I’m coming it this from the perspective of a GIANT U2 fan and I’m sharing this story because it’s a lesson in never giving on your dreams.  I’m also sharing it because I think it’s amazing that Bono and Edge did this  (meet fans before a show) because they certainly didn’t have to.

How did I come to meet U2 on this particular day? Well in part thanks to Instagram. But hold that thought for just a moment and let me tell you, briefly, about my love for U2 and how it all began.

A thousand years ago in the early-ish days of MTV I saw this video and couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I immediately bought a copy of the “Under a Blood Red Sky” EP and soon after “War,” “October” and “Boy.” My love for this band was instantaneous and immense. There’s a handful of junior high friends out there that might remember the sleepover when this clip came on MTV and I acted out Bono’s flag-raising and lip-synced along like it was the most important moment of my entire life.

The first time I saw U2 live was on “The Unforgettable Fire” tour. To this day, that first time seeing U2 live was one of the greatest night of my life. Since then I’ve seen thousands of concerts and I’ve seen U2 about a dozen times through the years. But that first time…my oh my.

Then of course there was last summer when I saw them on the 30th anniversary tour for “The Joshua Tree.” That too was one of the greatest nights of my life. You can read about it here.

OK so getting back to that moment in Boston on June 22 of this year. I got wind of the fact that members of U2 would sometimes come out and say hi to fans before shows by way of Instagram Stories. An ember started burning in my mind and since my buddy Colin and I were already going in early to Boston to secure a “good number” in the general admission floor seats line, I mentioned to him about what I had seen on social media and said something along the lines of  “Um, maybe we should see if this is happening when we go to Boston.” He was of course totally on board.

On the day of the show we arrived in Boston via the Amtrak Downeaster at around 11 a.m. and immediately acquired the all-important numbered bracelets. Then we were able to establish where to go to wait in case the miracle of the band actually stopping to say hello was going to happen.

In a medium-sized paved area by what I’ll call the “artist entrance” to the colossal TD Garden we came across about 25 fellow U2 fans. They were all very friendly and helpful and they included Rebecca from San Francisco, Maggie from Rhode Island,  Leah from Australia and Josie from The  Netherlands.

It was a bit of a downer to hear that the day before (night one of the two nights of Boston shows) that the make-shift meet & greet didn’t happen because the band was running late. But still we persisted because a. today was a new day and b. what else we were doing ? Colin and I had packed water and snacks and it was really fun trading stories with other huge fans about previous shows and such.

And the hours passed…

A few fans knew the deal from previous stops on the tour and told us that the first thing we needed to keep an eye out for was U2’s head security guy who, if this thing was going to happen, could at some point appear to survey the scene.

Somewhere around 3 p.m. he did indeed appear and this was the first moment I experienced a massive rush of nervous excitement and the first moment that I thought to myself “holy shit, this might actually happen.”

From there it was a lot of “hurry up and wait” and as the minutes ticked on I went in and out of losing hope and just staying calm and present.

More and more security personnel started assembling and some barriers were put up on either end of the  line of fans and a black rope was stretched in front of us .

And now it’s 4:45 going on 5 p.m. and there are maybe 200 of us out there. I can’t deal at all.  My new pal Rebecca and I both enabled one other’s stress and talked ourselves out of it and reminded ourselves that no matter what happens, we were going to see a spectacular concert in a few hours and all would be OK.

Then right around 5 p.m. two miracles occurred. A pair of huge black Escalades pulled up, doors were opened and out popped Edge and Bono.

As you can only imagine, I am beside myself at this point.

Here’s the moment of Bono’s arrival:

Bono
Bono arrives to say hello to fans in Boston on 6.22.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Bono walked right by me and made his way to the far right side of the line and Edge made his way to the far left. I was pretty much smack dab in the middle.

Everything was happening pretty quickly at this point and yet time also stood still.

I looked to my left and saw Edge approaching and I looked to the right and Bono was getting closer. With my heart in my throat I started snapping photos and here’s a collage of the scene unfolding right in front of me of their approaches as well as some pics I snapped when they were literally RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME along with a”I couldn’t help myself” selfie once I had had my moment with them:

u2 and me collage
U2’s Bono and Edge in Boston on 6.22.18
Photos by a very excited Aimsel Ponti

If I never take another photo for the rest of my life I think I’ll be OK because I managed to get this one:

Edge and Bono
U2’s Edge and Bono are all smiles as they greet fans in Boston, MA on 6.22.18.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Colin and my new friends and I all shared photos with one another and I’m very thankful because otherwise I wouldn’t have these two to share. The first one is the moment I shook Bono’s hand. I knew full well that if I was able to speak with him at all it would be very brief. I also knew that an autograph wasn’t something I needed to ask for. Honestly, I just wanted to shake his hand.

And so the moment came and I said hello and asked if I could shake his hand. He said hello and something like “of course” and we did indeed shake hands. I had not planned what I was going to say to him. What came out was “Thank you. I guess I’ve waited for this moment for 35 years.” This was for me all I needed to say to one of my heroes. I also got to say thanks and get a handshake with Edge.

bono handshake with ALP
The moment of shaking hands with Bono after just doing the same with Edge in Boston on 6.22.18.
Photo by a fellow U2 fan

This other photo I couldn’t believe when it was texted to me. Someone (was it you, Colin?) managed to get this shot of the back of me with Edge and Bono smiling at me and honestly, I can hardly look at this without my heart growing about 1,000 times bigger and I get a little teary too, such was the gravity of the moment.

Edge and Bono
Edge and Bono smiling at yours truly in Boston, MA on 6.22.18.

A few minutes after all these photos were taken I called my spouse Tracy back in Maine and told her, with my voice shaking, that I had just met Edge and Bono and then, for real, I started crying.

I thought about it later and realized the tears came from many places but were mostly because I have loved this band so much for so long that it was almost an existential moment to actually meet them. Along with David Bowie, they are a primary reason that my life has centered around music for so long. They’re one of the reasons why I am a music writer. They’re one of the reasons that music is essential to both my happiness and sanity.

So in as much as Edge and Bono are just humans like the rest of us, for me they’re also something else. They represent  what it feels like as a 14 year old kid to love a band’s music so much that you know  that you’re going to feel that way forever.

When I stood there in Boston and shook their hands I was 14 again. But I was also 40-something me. And as I sit here and finish this post nine days after the moment happened, I’m again overcome with emotions. And that’s the crux of it isn’t it? Feeling that emotion, acknowledging that despite years of being a writer, at the end of the day I’m still a fan who loves music and really loves the band from Dublin, Ireland called U2.

As for the concert later that night,  it proved that they’re still the best live band out there.

U2
Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. of U2 performing live in Boston at the TD Garden on 6.22.18.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Thanks for taking the time to relive this moment with me. It truly meant everything to me and if you’re a music fan at all, I know you get it.

Ponti out

Amanda Palmer & Jasmine Power release scorching, triumphant “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”

Let me get right to it: Amanda Palmer and Welsh musician Jasmine Power have just released a song called “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.”

I don’t think I’ve listened to a song more times in a 72 hour period than I have this one. With each listen, it seeps in all the more. While listening to it I’ve wiped tears from my eyes. While listening to it I  felt anger in my belly churn and burn. While listening to it I have wanted to run screaming to the top of the nearest mountain and with skinned knees and a thundering heart plead with the universe for those who have been hurt by Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby  and other monsters posing as men  to know some semblance of peace, healing and in some cases…goddamn revenge.

Can a song offer that? I’m not sure if it’s my place to say. But I paused for a moment to consider other songs that have documented abuse that I feel have been important. Ones by Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, 10,000 Maniacs , Suzanne Vega and Sinead O’Connor came to mind.

Before we get to the actual song, here’s a little backstory  that I think is key for you to know about.

This is from what was sent out to inquiring journalists. Jasmine Power, by way of a mutual friend, was at Amanda Palmer’s house for dinner a few months back. The two clicked and three days later  wound up in a studio together to record a song. Palmer explained that the news about Stormy Daniels was at fever pitch. “I found myself thinking about closed doors to hotel rooms across the world over time and how they’ve been the backdrops of so many of these painful encounters. That was the starting point, and we wrote with the idea of a split self: two voices inside one woman’s head.”

British film-music arranger Matt Nicholson added strings (and oh my god, did he ever!) and orchestration with the goal of making the song more cinematic so as to “kick Hollywood in the face.” Mission accomplished. And then some… “It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever made before; it’s almost a mini piece of theater,” Palmer added.

Palmer went on to say that she’d been thinking about how to address the #Metoo movement in a song. “It’s so personal to these women, these stories, and it felt wrong to write something funny and cabaret; the topic is too harrowing. It’s not surprising, that, just like the movement itself, it took two women getting into a room together, comparing notes and joining forces to create something almost like an anthem for taking back our narrative.”

Initially, the song was called “The Hotel Room” but Palmer thought a bolder statement would be to call it “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.” She heard from a feminist friend that using that title could stir controversy because Palmer couldn’t tell a story that wasn’t hers; at least not about this topic. Palmer’s response was that if that’s the case, it’s the “end of all art as we know it.” But she also reached out to Rose McGowan on Twitter with the lyrics and McGowan offered her approval of the title.

amanda and jasmine photo by Matt Nicholson
Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power Photo by Matt Nicholson

Lastly, before you listen to the song (and it is strongly suggested you do so with headphones for maximum impact), I’m going to share with you Amanda’s response to questions I sent directly to her about how she was feeling as she stood on the precipice of the song’s release.

“Every time I release a song, I’m faced with a mystery. I’ve learned by now not to have any expectations whatsoever; it never works. Things that I think will be understood are often misunderstood, and things that I think will be misunderstood are sometimes embraced with zero drama. But that’s the way I like it, and it prods me on to simply make what I make and let the public deal with it in their own way, it’s not like I have any control over it anyway. I’ve played this song in private for a quite a few people now, and I can tell you this: men seem to appreciate it intellectually and say ‘this song is good’ and women look me in the eye and say “Holy fuck.” But all that being said, I’m always in a kind of brace position when a song comes out, because I’m so used to being misinterpreted. At the very least, a conversation starts. I don’t care if people like the song, the lyrics, the orchestral production, but if it gets people thinking about or arguing about the issues, well…hopefully there’s some progress in there.”

So there you have it. Grab your headphones and listen to this when you can really hear it without distraction or interruption.

I think this is the most important song of 2018. I think music like this is vital.  And musically speaking, I think the song is a masterpiece. From the vocals from both women  to the heart-piercing piano to the holy-god-almighty string crescendos and most importantly the lyrics, “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” is brilliant.   So yeah, I’ll add my voice to the chorus of other women when I say with 100% sincerity: HOLY FUCK.

Also, through June 30, 100% of digital proceeds will go to the TIMESUPNOW legal defense fund. Here’s where you can buy it:

https://amandapalmer.bandcamp.com/track/mr-weinstein-will-see-you-now-2

Ponti out.

19 Best Songs of 2017

19 has been my favorite number for as long as I can remember and although I didn’t plan on having my list of favorite songs of 2017 wind up being 19,  it’s somehow perfect that it landed there.

Suffice to say, I listened to and loved hundreds of songs this year so making this list was no easy task. But I told myself not to worry, just sit back and think about it and see what came to mind. Most importantly, I told myself to be honest about this list; to only pick songs that I really do love for one reason or another.

Some of these artists I’ve loved for many years, some are new to me. But they’ve all created songs that touch my heart and so I’ve made this list to show my gratitude to these artists and to inspire you to think about what your favorite songs of 2017 are.

Before diving into the songs let me make this statement:

I am in awe of people who can play instruments well.

I am in awe of people who can write incredible lyrics.

I am in awe of people who can sing.

I am in awe of people who can interpret other people’s songs and make them their own.

I am in awe of people who are passionate about their craft.

I am in awe of all of the artists on this list.

And with that I present my 19 favorite songs of 2017.  I love them all and they truly are in no particular order.

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  1. “Liability by Lorde” from “Melodrama” I could have picked several songs from this album but I went with this one because it’s stark and gorgeous and sad and an emotional masterpiece. Also, I got to see her perform it live with Jack Antonoff on piano at Saturday Night Live in March. Read all about that adventure of being in that audience here.

2. “Wayfaring Stranger” by SHEL. This is from their “Undercover” EP, released in October.  IT IS SPECTACULAR.  I chose their take on the 100+ year old traditional tune “Wayfaring Stranger” because it’s haunting and spellbinding. Eva’s vocals are delicate yet potent. Sarah’s violin is downright arresting and the song transports me to some far off place typically reserved for dreams.

3. “Only Lonely” by The Ballroom Thieves. They’re a folk rock trio out of Boston and for real, they just keep getting better. This is their brand new single. You’re going to love it.  Be sure to also listen to their 2016 album “Deadeye”.

4. “Train Go By” by Josh Ritter. This is from his latest album “Gathering.” There’s something healing and heartfelt about this song. It holds my heart right in its hands. Josh is a heck of a cool guy. Read my interview with him here.

5.  “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga.  “Joanne’s” a tremendous album which I realize came out in 2016 and this so I’m cheating a little by including a song from it. My rationalization is that the single didn’t come out until November and I didn’t fully appreciate the song until early 2017 . Also, be sure to watch the Gaga documentary on “Netflix. It’s Fantastic. This song kills me.

6. “Hollow” by Kris Delmhorst. Singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst made one hell of a record this year.  It’s called “The Wild” and I wrote all about it here.  “Hollow” will level you if you’re feeling at all fragile so be ready. I LOVE the line “A song just ain’t no use at all if there’s no one who can play it.”

7. “Mississippi” by The Secret Sisters.  From the album that has an excellent chance of winning a Grammy for best folk album; “You Don’t Own Me Anymore.” Here’s a live version of the dark and haunting song that I chose for this list.  Lydia and Laura Rogers for the freakin’ win!

8. “I Couldn’t Be” by SnugHouse. They’re a local band here in Portland, Maine and they put out a self-titled EP a handful of months ago that I adore.  I’ve played this song a ton of my WCLZ radio show, Music from 207. (You can listen every Wednesday and Sunday night at 7 p.m.). The harmonies slay me. Incredible song.

9. “Wash Up” by Bridget Kearney.  Bridget plays standup bass and sings backing vocals in a tiny little band called Lake Street Dive. (I’m kidding, they’re hardly tiny and I pretty much worship them). She dropped her first solo album called “Won’t Let You Down” last Spring. Here’s the convo she and I had about it.  “Wash Up” is on my running playlist and I love every bright and shiny second of this song.

10. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover) by I’m With Her.  I’m With Her is the trio of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan. They’ve sent this Adele song clear over the vocals rainbow and into a whole other galaxy of perfection. Enjoy! P.S. their debut album “See You Around” is out in February. Countdown is SO ON.

11. “Keep Me In My Heart” by The Wailin’ Jennys. The Wailin’ Jennys are Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Maine native Heather Masse. They released their covers album “Fifteen” in October. Holy god I love it so much. Read my review HERE. I could have chosen a number of songs from it for this list but went with the Warren Zevon one because frankly, it’s one of the most poignant, heart-opening songs I know of. Zevon wrote it when he knew he was dying. I love his version of course but I also am really struck by this divine take by The Wailin’ Jennys.

12. “Hang on Me” by St. Vincent.  Annie Clark’s latest record “Masseduction” is  an innovative masterpiece. I love every song on the damn thing but chose this one because it’s the album’s opening track and it gives the listener -ok me – a come hither stare and the song pulses with vibrations and not only that, her vocals shine. The song is the rocket ship – and a gorgeous one at that – that takes you to the planet that is the rest of the record.

13. “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile. This song knocked me off my feet. It’s huge and sweeping and emotional with piano and strings and some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard from Carlile. The rest of the album “By The Way, I Forgive You,” comes out in February and if this song, as well as the other one she’s shared called “The Mother” is any indication, I for one can’t wait for it’s release day. I also can’t wait for August! I’ll be visiting Red Rocks for the first time ever to see Carlile and will of course share a review here then.

14. “Appointments” by Julien Baker. Baker is a new artist for me but I’m planning on familiarizing myself with her story and the rest of her music because this song is everything…and then some.  It’s from her album “Turn Out the Lights.” What I do know is that Baker’s out of Memphis and I can’t wait to let the rest of her music seep into me. Because this song fucking kills me. Well done, Julien.

15. “Drowning in the Sound” by Amanda Palmer. Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about this one. Amanda Palmer wrote it in two days.  This is what she said about it: “It wound up being a response to the insanity of internet politics melded with the recent total eclipse and the devastation of hurricane harvey….and, y’know…other stuff.” Take a deep breath or 12 and listen to this.

16. “Deleted” by Amy Shark. This song’s from her “Night Thinker” EP. I had no idea who this Australian artist was until one random day in June, I heard an unplugged session on WCLZ, a radio station here in Maine. Shark wasn’t performing in Maine but was doing some promotional visits apparently in New England and anyway, I heard the session while driving and it really slayed me. She’s getting bigger by the minute and she can count me among her fans because that “Night Thinker” EP is fantastic. Anyway…what can I say? I LOVE SAD SONGS. They resonate with me in a different way than happier ones. This one’s extra sad. We’ve all been there.

17. “Goose Snow Cone” by Aimee Mann. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Aimee Mann’s world, we’re just livin’ it it. “Mental Illness,” her latest album and home to “Goose Snow Cone” is a must-have record if you’re even a casual Mann fan. She’s a consistently upper-level-holy-god songwriter and that voice has been part of my musical DNA for more than three decades.

18. It’s a Shame” by First Aid Kit.  Like many others, I got hip to the Swedish duo of sisters Johanna  and Klara Söderberg when they released their third album “Stay Gold” with the song that will be a lifelong theme song “Silver Lining.”  In fact, the entire record is terrific.  But that was 2014 and while the creative process can’t be rushed, I for one have been waiting with massive anticipation for the next one. The good news is that they’ve finished it and it’s called “Ruins” and it will be out in the world on January 18. YEAH! For now we’ve got this tremendous single “It’s a Shame.” Welcome back, Johanna and Klara. See you in a few months in Boston. P.S. You can also hear the gorgeous “Fireworks,” and breezy “Postcards” also from Ruins.

19.  “Feel Alive” by Katie Herzig. Herzig can do no wrong in my book. I love everything of hers I’ve ever heard and this bright and hopeful song is no exception.  Her next album, “Moment of Bliss” will be out in 2018 but for now we’ve got this one and the heartfelt ballad”Me Without You” to more than tide us over.

And so there you have it. Thanks, 2017, for these and SO MANY other songs. I needed all of them to get me through.

Ponti out.


Amanda Palmer’s heart-stopping, Trump-eviscerating take on Pink Floyd’s ‘Mother’

When I woke up this morning before my alarm the first thing I did was check my phone to see if the MUCH anticipated Amanda Palmer video had dropped yet. It hadn’t.  Two nights earlier I had a dream about the video. One day earlier I had been pretty much beside myself with anticipation. Palmer had been dropping hints about the new video for the past few weeks and some of her posts inferred that the video might be considered controversial by some.

I’ll admit, I was nervous. Was Amanda about to unleash something that would bring her a world of backlash? But then I remembered, this is Amanda Fucking Palmer we’re talking about. If she has something to say she’s going to say it and she’s going to say it intelligently and then she’ll willingly engage in public debate about it. She will not back down but she’ll also hear all sides of something and will participate in a back and forth. And in the end, not everyone loves everything she does and says.  I am not one of those people. I think she’s brilliant and has a heart as big, bold,  messy,  complicated, compassionate, artistic, bloody and authentic as anyone I’ve ever been a fan of. This is in fact one of the things that I’ve long admired about her. Amanda Palmer, like her or not, is as real as they come.

Which brings us to today.

A few hours ago I got the notification that the video was now out in the world. So I put my headphones on and took the deepest breath quite possibly of 2017 and hit play.

Within ONE NOTE I was spellbound. Because Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff, with a cast of several musicians including cellist Zoe Keating had just released their take on Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” identifiable from the very first note. The first thing on the screen is a close-up of Palmer looking on the verge of tears as she sings the lines “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?/Mother do you think they’ll like this song?/Mother do you think they’ll try to break my balls?/Mother, should I build the wall?”

amanda solo

Holy shit. I sat there stunned and felt a hurricane of emotions whirling inside my ribcage.  The hints Palmer dropped in the days leading up to the sharing of “Mother” told us that it had something to do with her disdain for the current administration. But I could have never predicted that she would have chosen such a PERFECT song with which to express it. And let me be perfectly clear, Amanda Palmer is a spectacular songwriter and she could have written an original and it would have likely been epic. But she didn’t need to. The perfect song was already out in the world. She and musician/composer Jherek Bischoff did something incredible with it.

The imagery in the video is startling and tear-inducing and evoked so many things at once.  In it you’ll see children building a wall. You’ll see Melissa auf der Maur. You’ll see Zoe Keating playing her cello. You’ll see Jherek Bischoff conducting a string quartet. You’ll see dancers and actors , including one portraying our current President, creating a piece of work that is difficult to take in with one viewing. I’ve now watched it four times and I’m still discovering new things.

mother collage
Screen shots from “Mother.”

I am not going to tell you how the video ends. You’ll see that in a moment. Some people’s feathers might get ruffled. Not mine. I think it was one of the boldest, bravest things Palmer could have done. My interpretation is that it’s meant as a moment of honest-to-God compassion. A moment of “I know everything is really fucked up right now but I am determined to not let my heart turn black.” It’s edgy. It’s going to make some people uncomfortable. I get that. But I hope people also appreciate the artistic message of it.

I am not going to say this is Amanda Palmer’s finest hour because I know with every drop of blood in my veins there are many more to come. But this is the most extraordinary video she and her team have ever done. And believe me, between her solo and Dresden Dolls material there is some insanely great videos out there.

By the time I got to the end of my first viewing of “Mother,” I was trembling. TREMBLING. I felt like crying and yet I also felt hopeful. Isn’t that what art is all about?

ALP eye
Yours truly. One take. No “let me get the best angle.” This was the one and only selfie I took, just before sitting down to write.

OK then. Here’s “Mother.”  With endless depths of appreciation to Amanda and Jherek.

 

12 Songs of Summer

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, deep within me, an invincible summer” +Albert Camus

I have longed loved this quote because he was absolutely right, an invincible summer does indeed lie within all of us. From the early morning light to the lazy, late sunsets to the field down the street from where I live where, for just a few magical nights, you can find yourself surrounded by thousands of fireflies, I’m all about summer.

There’s a hopefulness to summer. There’s a childlike excitement with thoughts of popsicles and sandy feet. There’s the distant roar of 4th of July fireworks and the smell of neighborhood barbecues.

And best of all, there are windows rolled down and tunes blaring from cars and people singing along with reckless abandonment, as they damn well should be.

As for me, I do a heck of a lot of walking, especially to and from work. I walk over gorgeous Casco Bay by way of the Casco Bay Bridge that takes me from South Portland into downtown Portland, Maine.

I walk year round and I love it because I listen to music, grab a coffee and it’s my favorite part of the day, especially in the morning. Even when it’s hovering around zero.

winter alp
Trekking to work selfie . February 2017.

But you know what’s even better? Walking when it’s glorious out. Walking when the birds can’t contain their joy. Walking when the breeze is warm, the grass is extra green and the sun holds you with the gentlest and yet surest of embraces.

I’m ALL ABOUT THAT.

That said, here are 12 of my absolute favorite summer jams.  Some are obvious and some are a bit off the beaten path but they all say summer to me. Want to tell me what some of yours are? Comment away good people. Now get out there and give summer a high-five, one that you’ll feel all the way into October.

  1. “Summertime” by The Sundays. Instant happiness with this one.

2. “Summer in the City” by Regina Spektor. Snapshot of a night, a season, a love affair.

3.Nightswimming by R.E.M. I feel all the things every time I hear this song and it will always be this way. The hallmark of perfect song.

4.  “Summertime Blues” by The Flying Lizards. I adore this cover of the Eddie Cochran classic because it’s hilarious and feels like it’s being performed by a band that’s in a studio with a broken air conditioner that stopped giving any fucks quite a while ago.

5. “Redondo Beach” by Patti Smith. Because it’s Patti Smith. No other reason needed. Obv.

6. “Mimi on the Beach” by Jane Siberry.  Because, IMHO, she’s one of the greatest songwriters ever to walk among us mortals. A three minute video does exist, but the better version is this full-length album version.

7. “Too Darn Hot” by Ella Fitzgerald. A Cole Porter classic as sung by Ms. Fitzgerald. Yeah!

8. “Indian Summer Sky” by U2. A lesser known track from an album sacred to me: “The Unforgettable Fire.” “To flicker and to fade on this the longest day…”

9. “Once Upon a Summertime” by Blossom Dearie. There’s just something about this little song that makes me grin.

10. “Summer’s End” by Ashtar Command with Sinead O’Connor. Granted, this song is all about summer coming to and end BUT it’s Sinead O’Connor singing and is actually one of my favorite songs of hers.

11.  “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra. I love this song so much I can’t even deal.

12. “Rain in the Summertime” by The Alarm. There’s something about this song, a kind of magnetic pull and energy that draws me in.

Tribute to David Bowie…on my left arm

Today I did something that had been planned for about a year. Today I got a David Bowie lyric tattoo on my left arm.

Here’s the thing; Bowie’s my favorite musician ever and his music is everything to me.

On January 11, 2016 the world found out we had lost him. On January 12, my editor at MaineToday.com/Portland Press Herald challenged me to write about it. At first I resisted because I was so sad I didn’t think I could pull myself together to put together anything cohesive. But I decided it was probably a good idea so I essentially opened up an emotional vein and let it flow out of me. Here’s what it looked like.

I spent the next several days crying off and on but also thinking about some of the incredible Bowie related experiences I was fortunate enough to have enjoyed and slowly started to put myself together. Though it took several months before I could listen to “Blackstar.”

I thought about the time my lifelong friend Matt Rosen and I flew to Chicago for two days to see the “David Bowie Is” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on Halloween weekend of 2014. This is the same Matt that slept out on the sidewalk with me outside a record store in Lowell, MA to get tickets to the “Glass Spider” tour of 1987.

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Outside the “David Bowie Is” exhibit in Chicago. 10.31.14. The exhibit was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. An expansive collection of costumes, instruments, personal items and so much more about Bowie. I’ll never forget it.

Soon after that terrible day in 2016 that started off with a phone call from my friend and fellow Bowie fanatic Sarah telling me about DB’s death, my friend Becky Mokos and I decided we were going to get Bowie lyrics tattoos.  Becky and I have been friends since seventh grade. Neither one of us are over losing Bowie and I know we never will be.

About six months ago we decided to set things in motion and began the process of selecting what line we would each decide to get. Many texts were exchanged on this topic. MANY.

Several came to mind all at once because there are SO MANY songs that resonate with me. But after some initial thought, I knew it would have to be one from my favorite album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”

Ziggy Album Cover.jpeg

There isn’t a song on this record that I don’t absolutely adore. Sidebar, while in London in 2007, I tracked down the location of where this album cover was shot and stood on it. It was a truly magical moment at 23 Heddon Street. There’s still a phone booth there (picture on the back of the album of DB standing in it) and although it’s not the original one, it too was full of magic and plenty of Bowie graffiti.

Fast forward to about two months ago. At a surprise birthday party for my friend Lee I started chatting with a woman named Cyndi Lou. Turns out, she’s a tattoo artist and a Bowie fan. Ten minutes into our convo, I knew I had found our artist and texted Becky immediately with the good news.

Cyndi Lou is an artist at Tsunami Tattoo in downtown Portland, ME. The place sort of reminds me of a Buddhist temple and it’s a very special place.

In a word, Cyndi’s awesome. Read more about her here.

Becky and I checked out calendars and reached out to Cyndi and today, April 2, 2017 was the big day.

The song I chose is “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.” I chose it because I’ve listened to it hundreds of times and it still kills me every time, especially the ending. If you’re not familiar with it, take a listen.

Here are some of the lyrics:

Oh no love! You’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone…

But it’s the dramatic, final 30 seconds of the song that reach directly into my heart and soul. And so, today I got this line tattoed on my left arm:

gimme your hands ’cause you’re wonderful

Cyndi Lou at Tsunami Tattoo in Portland, ME works her magic
Here’s a shot that Becky took of Cyndi Lou working her magic at Tsunami Tattoo

And here’s a shot of it moments after Cyndi Lou finished it. It has to heal but I wanted to share this now because I’m so happy about it.

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Lest there be any doubt about my love for DB, here’s my license plate.

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Final words…

I didn’t know how much losing David Bowie would impact me but I sort of feel forever changed. But I also feel so grateful for knowing and loving his music so much. I also really love that Becky and I did this together. BTW, here’s what she had done on her upper left arm and I love it.

Becky DB Tattoo 4.2.17
Becky chose a line from the iconic song “Changes” because she feels the line really captures the essence of what Bowie meant to the world.

At this moment, the sun is starting to do down and my arm is stinging just a little. When I look down on it, it fills my heart up. I needed this tattoo and needed it to be this exact line in this exact location so I can see it all the time.

When music is the most important thing to you, you sometimes go to great lengths to do something some might consider extreme. As for me, I did what I did today without hesitation and with my heart full of love for David Bowie and what his music means to me.

GIMME YOUR HANDS ‘CAUSE YOU’RE WONDERFUL.

AMEN.

The experience of a lifetime: Being in the Saturday Night Live studio audience with host Scarlett Johannson & musical guest Lorde and…the after-party. 3.11.17

Last weekend I had one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life. This one goes into the “memorable experiences hall of fame.” It is something I’ll never forgot and something I’m unlikely to ever experience again.

On Saturday, March 11, 2017, I got to go to Saturday Night Live. As in the NBC show. As in LIVE. As in I was in the studio audience. And what’s more, I also got to go to the private after-party.

If I’m going to tell this story, I’m going to tell it right so I’m going to start where it all began: With a Tweet.

PART I: How it all happened

On Thursday, February 23 I hopped on Twitter to see what’s what as one often does. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but this AMAZING Tweet

SNL original tweet Feb 23

It was a two-fold heart-stopping moment because I love Scarlet Johansson immensely and am also a GIANT Lorde fan.

Without hesitation I replied to SNL’s Tweet with a full-scale five-alarm gushing declaration of my joy that BOTH of these women were going to be on the SAME episode.

Then I got on with my day.

A little while later that same day, I got a Twitter notification. The standard ones we all get when someone either likes or reTweets you. NBD normally right?
Except this wasn’t just ANY notification. This one told me that SNL had freaking RETWEETED me!

SNL 2017 tweet.jpg

Call me cynical, but one of the first things I did was to check to see if they ReTweet everyone. Nope. Kind of a rarity in fact.

So I did what one does in these situations. Screen-snapped it and posted it on Facebook telling people that I would allow myself to feel some semblance of cool for about five minutes. And it did feel cool. They have about two million followers.

Later that day, SNL Tweeted that they were giving away tickets to upcoming shows. You had to email them why you’re they’re biggest fan. Whatever. I’d never win so I had no intention of entering.

But then a few days later, on Tuesday, February 28th the SNL thing came back into my mind and I decided, on an absolute whim, to enter their contest. Someone had to win right?
Here’s an excerpt from the email I sent them:

“SNL is my Northern Star. It’s my rock. It makes me laugh likes nothing else and even, when it’s necesary, makes me cry (Sandy Hook “Silent Night” tribute not to mention Kate McKinnon’s Leonard Cohen moment).
SNL has been the one consistent, reliable thread throughout my entire life. I’ve celebrated with you, laughed myself senseless during opening monologues, mourned the loss of some of your cast members (Gilda, Phil, Chris…etc). I’ve cheered my heart out for some of the musical guests throughout the years. (the 1979 Bowie performance, The Replacements in ’86, St. Vincent in 2014, ETC ETC ETC.
Through every milestone in my life, every celebration, every sorrowful moment, ALL OF IT, Saturday Night Live has been there. I truly love you and I’ll be watching. Forever.
Did I mention I’m free on March 11th?”
About four hours later I was away from my office on an assignment and, because I’m glued to my phone, checked my Yahoo email.
AND THIS HAD ARRIVED:
SNL 2017 Win Notification

It had instructions on what to do, where to go and when. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. When I couldn’t reach my gal Tracy I called my parents and almost hyper-ventilating told them the news. Then I called -and reached- my three older siblings and told them. They all freaked out. I still can’t believe they had chosen me.

Fast-forward to the morning of Saturday, March 11. Tracy and I got on the 6:30 direct bus from Portland to Manhattan and were on our way. Our friend Maayan let us crash with her and after meeting her for lunch, we repaired to her place for what I referred to as a massive Scarlett Johnappson because we knew it was going to be a late night.

PART II: Going to the show

The confirmation email instructed us to arrive by ten o’clock at the latest with I.D. and a print-out of said confirmation.

Although I’d been to New York City many times, I’m not sure if I’d ever made it down to  30 Rockefeller Plaza before. Super fun seeing the skating rink. Super fun seeing the marquis for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

I of course was a nervous, anxious and excited wreck so we got there at 9 and figured out where the “Grand Stair” was. The guy at that, for lack of a better term, security checkpoint was super friendly and admired my purple velvet motorcycle jacket. He suggested we take a stroll around and come back in a bit. So we did but it was downright freezing out at this point so we didn’t stray too far.

By 9:45 we were let in and ascended the “Grand Stair” and came upon another “checkpoint” were I had to show my confirmation letter. From there it was onto a check-in area where they checked my I.D. , looked at the letter, and put dated SNL wristbands on both of us.  Then I was handed a tiny, numbered envelope containing the two tickets and was told to be sure to keep the envelope. Let me just say that this is a very well buttoned-up operation. No one who isn’t supposed to be there will be let in. It’s a huge dealio, that was made abundantly clear.

We were sent into a large, lobby-like area and were told the general area to sit in. It was segregated into three sections, according to what your envelope said. I soon starting chatting with a mother and daughter from Atlanta. The daughter had also won tix via the Twitter contest and we all bonded and obsessed over what the numbers on the envelope meant. Well the three of us did, Tracy was as cool as a cucumber, but I was spazz enough for both of us. There were numerous signs, along with sporadic announcements, that photos weren’t allowed from this point forward. Not even in that lobby area. The space was comfortable with large screens showing classic SNL clips.

What came next was a bit of “hurry up and wait” but at least we knew that it was going to start on time. (haha)

The first group of “envelopes” were called at about 10:30. The next a little after that. And so on. My “group” was summoned at about 10:50 and we were sent to another line to await word to board the elevators. While in that line, I spotted St. Vincent milling around and then she waltzed by us into what I can only assume was “cool peopleville.”  BTW, I love St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and seeing her out in the world was one of many noteable moments.

Time marched on. It was just about 11 when we were ushered in groups of about 15 into the elevators. By this time my excitement was at such a fever pitch I could barely function. It was kind of an out-of-body experience knowing that I was about to witness Saturday Night Live in the flesh. I mean WTF? What was I doing there? This was bananas.

I have no idea what floor we went to, I was too wired to take note of that. But soon enough we were out in a hallway and shit was getting very real in a hurry.

I do remember passing a sign that said the capacity of the studio was 398 persons. This sounds about right because the actual seats were probably around 250 if I had to guess. Plus those 20 or so right-up front ones. BTW, people in those seats are the ones you see the most during the opening monologue. I assume they have upper level hardcore VIP friends.

And just like that…we were in the studio and I felt like a cross Charlie Bucket when he arrived at Willy Wonka’s factory and Dorothy when she landed in Oz. There it was. The set one of my my favorite shows. The set of one of the most well-loved, longest-running and most famous shows in the history of television. And I was about to see how all the magic happened.

The Saturday Night Live Band was already playing and sounded spectacular. A few minutes later Keenan Thompson walked out on stage with three back-up singers including Kate McKinnon. I’m mortified to admit that I can’t remember who the other two of them were,though they were for sure cast members. Keep in mind, that at this point I’m completely overwhelmed by pretty much everything. The sets, the crew members, the cameras, the lights. All of it. Speaking of lights…one thing that I didn’t expect but that makes complete sense is that the studio was an absolute ice-box. I mean it was effing freezing  in there. I’m assuming this is because the stage lights are so hot that if they had the actual heat on, the cast, band and anyone else under those lights would pretty much melt. So where was I? Oh yes, Keenan Thompson busted out into The Knack’s “My Sharona” and as you can imagine, he and the band and the ladies all sounded dynamite.

Then Michael Che, Weekend Update co-anchor came out and slayed us for a couple of minutes. When you’re not on the air, f-bombs can fly freely and they sure  did and he was hilarious.

I kept checking my Fitbit for the time (phone was long shut off by this point) and as it got closer to 11:30 I started smiling. I still am.

As for the seats, there are about six or so rows that more or less stretch across the studio and off to one side. There aren’t any “bad” seats but at any given time you might not be able to see everything because the sketches happen all over the place. But you can hear everything and there are also several monitors. It was very surreal to one minute be looking at the monitor, as if I was home watching the show and then looking over to see the not-ready-for Primetime Players actually there. Again I say…holy bananas.

When I got home on Sunday I played the recorded show and snapped a pic during the opening. This pic is weird for sure, but it does show you where we were. Tracy on the left and yours truly on the right.

SNL Seats 2017.jpg

It got very quiet just before it went live. But there was also a countdown that started at the 30-second mark and whoever was doing it made it fun and a little silly.

And then BOOM! We were live. The show opened with a sketch led by Keenan Thompson about an alien invasion. It was set on a military base. And oh my god…Alec Baldwin was on as Trump. We had NO IDEA this was happening until the moment it happened and I think I screamed louder than Tippi Hedren in “Psycho.”  There he was. Alec freaking Baldwin. It’s been reported that he won’t be portraying Trump for much longer. Was this his swan song? Let’s hope not.

Here’s the clip:

I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a long time. When the sketch ended it gave way to the intro. Everyone cheered as each cast member’s name was said aloud.

And then came this line… “Ladies and Gentlemen…Scarlett Johansson!”
Again, I screamed bloody murder and then just like that…there she was. Clear as day.

She was charming and funny and the opening was classic SNL. ICYMI, here’s the clip:

After her opening the show went to commercial and it was like a hive of bees had been released. Backdrops were rolled in, props brought out and set up, lights and boom mics were moved all about. It was one of the most well-orchestrated and exciting things I’ve ever witnesses and it happened during every break.

BTW, Lorne Michaels was there the entire time. Sharply dressed and looking so fine, he walked around and mostly just observed without much interaction with anyone. The man’s a living legend. He can do whatever the hell he wants and it was clear that the respect for this man was without end.

More sketches followed and of course the now famous “Complicit”commercial starring Johansson as Ivanka Trump.  It just doesn’t get much funnier than this.

Behold:

Weekend Update was, as always, completely on point with anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che. The SNL writers are some of the most brilliant, hilarious, sharp-witted and creative minds on this planet.

AND THEN IT WAS TIME FOR LORDE! (damn right I’m using bolded caps for this)

At 20-years-old New Zealand singer Lorde is a force of nature. Her voice is so unique and her songs are , and I have to use profanity here, fucking brilliant. But you already know this. As I write this, her new single “Green Light” has racked up more than 25 million YouTube plays in less than two weeks. I love the song and was SO EXCITED to hear her play it live. But I wondered, how would it sound in the studio? I’ll tell you how it sounded and again, sorry for the profanity, it sounded fucking awesome! I was beside myself. Jaw dropped, ears and eyes as open as they could possibly be. The song was co-written by Lorde, Joel Little and a fella named Jack Antonoff. (um, hello, Jack’s in Bleachers (they’re awesome, saw ’em in 2014 at Boston Calling and also he’s also in a tiny little band called fun.) More on Jack in a minute.

I still can’t believe I was THERE FOR THIS:

Right before Lorde was introduced, after 50ish people were brought in. Likely some cast members but also some others who were granted access for the performance. This happened with both songs. Although I didn’t see her, I suspect St. Vincent was among them. It was actually great to have the extra people in there for the songs. It added to the excitement.

So the show continued, some sketches were funnier than others and the entire show sensational.

THEN LORDE DID HER SECOND SONG. “Liability” is even newer and what a heart-breaker. In other words, I LOVE IT. Gorgeous, sad, emotional. All the things. And that voice..

AND…Jack Antanoff accompanied Lorde on piano. 

“So I guess I’ll go home
Into the arms of the girl that I love
The only love I haven’t screwed up
She’s so hard to please
But she’s a forest fire
I do my best to meet her demands
Play at romance, we slow dance
In the living room, but all that a stranger would see
Is one girl swaying alone
Stroking her cheek”

I mention these lyrics because they come up later. Hold that thought and watch this!

The show ended on its usual note with Scarlett, Lorde and the entire cast on the main stage waving and hugging and we were soon told it was time to vamoose.

We were brought back to the elevators and taken back from whence we came. At one point I looked at Tracy and said something to the effect of “Did that all just really happen?”

Unsure of which door to go out, we made our way through the 30 Rock maze and emerged at apparently the door the cast uses because once we got outside there were barriers with excited fans behind them (about 50 or so on each side of the entrance) along with a row of running cars and limos. Michael Che had mentioned that some of the cast would come out afterwards to meet people. But it was bitter cold out there and we knew he had somewhere to be which brings me to the third and final act of this story…

PART III: The After-Party

The Saturday Night Live after-parties have been happening pretty much since the show began in 1975. They’re the stuff of legends. Just read this New York Times story and you’ll get an idea.

They’re in a different secret location every week and getting into them is apparently harder then breaking into Fort Knox. You have to know where they’re happening, but more importantly, your name HAS TO BE ON THE LIST. Well I mean that’s not entirely true, I don’t think Scarlett Johannson’s name was on the list. But for anyone not directly involved with the show, if you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in. It’s that simple.

Here’s where my friend Dinah Minot comes in. Dinah and I met about a year and a half ago. She and her husband Whip Hubley (super deluxe fun fact: Whip played “Hollywood” in “Top Gun” moved to Maine a couple of years ago and she’s now the Executive Director of Creative Portland. More on that here.

But Dinah had another really great job. She worked for Lorne Michaels for a dozen years. She started as a talent coordinator than associate producer then co-producer at Saturday Night Live and was a co-producer at Paramount Pictures. She  worked on “Wayne’s World” and “Wayne’s World II” for pete’s sake. She and Michaels are still close friends.

Here’s how awesome Dinah is. When she was my Facebook post telling everyone that I had won tickets to the show, she reached out to Lorne’s assistant. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?

The day before we left, I had pulled into the CVS parking lot to grab a few last minute things for the trip when my phone chirped with a text. It was a text from Dinah with word from Lorne’s assistant that Tracy and I were on the after-party list. It also told me the location of the restaurant with instructions not to share it with anyone.

Back to post-show out in the freezing cold. We walked to the corner, hailed a cab, gave the driver the name and cross streets of the place and were off.

There was part of me that fully expected our names not to be on the list. These things happen. And I knew I was going to be totally OK with this because I just been at THE SHOW and that was enough. It really was. But sure enough, we were on the list.

The restaurant, a Mexican place, was classy. The lighting (low) was perfect and the music was more or less blaring. We did a quick walk through. Reserved signs were on many of the tables. Some were labelled “Cast” others “Writers” and others “Producers” and many just straight-up “reserved.”

We ponied up the bar and I ordered the rare margarita and we devoured some chips and salsa (it was 1:30 a.m. or so at this point and we were starving). That’s when Beck Bennett showed up. He’s the cast member who portrays the bare-chested Putin so very well. He’s super handsome and very friendly, though I didn’t talk to him. He was with people he knew. It was all good.

Then a parade of stars started. Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Bobby Moynihan were there. They all landed at their own big, round tables in the back part of the restaurant. A few other SNLers were there as well. I knew I wasn’t going to talk to them unless something random like running into one of them in the bathroom happened.

Then Scarlett Johansson arrived. She’s drop-dead gorgeous. There are no two ways about it. She headed to the back part as well and sat with a small group of friends. I also knew I wasn’t going to talk to her. I didn’t need to. Do I adore her as actor? Hell yes. But I just didn’t need to have a conversation with her. It wouldn’t have meant anything and that would have felt weird to me.

There was really one person there that night that I truly hoped to chat with and that was Lorde. She showed up in a funky red dress with Jack Antanoff and a few other people. By then Tra and I had found a perch , I had downed another margarita and with the spring forward time thing, it was suddenly an hour later.
I sat there and just observed. It was, and  I know I’ve used this word already, surreal in an almost unprecedented way.

Finally I decided to just walk over to Lorde’s table and say hello. Was I nervous? Of course. But music’s my favorite thing and her music is fucking spectacular and I was so moved by her performance and  I just wanted to tell her that. I didn’t want or need a selfie, I certainly didn’t need or want an autograph, I just wanted to say “hey.”

And so I did. Jack was off somewhere else but she was sitting with two other guys. I walked over, careful to not interrupt anyone mid-sentence and said “Hi.” She said Hi back with a smile and  I explained (calmly, y’all would have been proud of me) that despite my presence at this party that I was not any kind of VIP. I told her I was a music writer from Maine who had very nerdily replied to an SNL Tweet and then had been re-Tweeted and by some bizarre lightning bolt of luck, had  won tickets to the show. And then wound up at the party thanks to a friend with connections. I told her that “Green Light” was spectacular, that I had seen her incredible performance at Boston Calling in 2014 and was so thankful that her slot hadn’t been cancelled because of the monsoon-esque storm that had caused a two-hour evacuation of the festival. She remembered that as well. Then I said to she and one of the guys she was with (the other guy was talking to someone else) that I would soon be out of their hair. I shook her friend’s hand and asked his name then I shook her hand and told her my name. She told me she loved it. (!!!) Then I asked her about “Liability.”  I said something like “the girl’s totally alone isn’t she, there’s no one in that room?” Lorde said yes she was indeed all by her lonesome. I told her the song was devastating and gorgeous (or something to that effect). Then I said my goodbyes, she said bye as well and that was that. I can’t say enough how INCREDIBLY kind and humble she was. I didn’t feel humored or patronized to,  I felt genuinely heard. I can’t wait to hear the rest of her “Melodrama” album when it comes out later this year.

After the Lorde chat, I knew it was time to go. I was just a visitor on this strange after-party planet. The planet was fun and weird and magical but I was happy to go back to my own little corner of it.

And so there you have it. As I sit here and write this all down less than 48-hours later it still all seems like a dream.

Thanks, NBC for the tickets. Thanks, Dinah for the after-party access and thanks Tracy for remaining 100 % calm 100% of the time during my many moments of freaking the fuck out.

We had to turn in the tickets but that wristband is now in my ticket stub jar where it will swirl around with all of the other souvenirs of experiences that I’m so thankful for.

Live from New York it’s Saturday Night!

And live from my kitchen table, it’s a still sleep-deprived but still smiling Aimsel Ponti.

LORDE is back with “Green Light” single; new album “Melodrama” drops this summer

Lorde _PressPhoto_OTR.jpgThat’s right, LORDE is back and back in glorious fashion.

The new single “Green Light” met the world today at 2 p.m. e.s.t. and I’ve since listened to it no less than 20 times.

Every Lorde fan on the planet, and possibly other ones given NASA’s recent discoveries, has been waiting to the follow up to her 2013 masterpiece debut “Pure Heroine” and that wait ended today with the arrival of “Green Light,” the first single off of Lorde’s forthcoming “Melodrama” album which is slated for a summer release.

The song is absolutely mesmerizing – and danceable- and the video has been viewed more than half a million in the first THREE HOURS of its release.

More on my love for Lorde in a minute, it’s time to hear and see “Green Light”
READY?
SET!
LORDE!!!!

RIGHT? I can’t wait to run to this, dance to this and see her perform it on March 11 on Saturday Night Live. (Speaking of which, believe it or not, I’ll BE THERE in the audience at SNL having just won a pair of tickets via a Twitter contest. I had to email them and tell them why I’m SNL’s biggest fan and I freaking own! This will be a whole other post after I catch my breath).

The only other time I’ve seen Lorde perform -and it almost didn’t happen due to monsoon like conditions- was at the September 2014 Boston Calling festival. She was spectacular in every sense of the word and this nerd got a photo pass. To be 100% clear, I don’t really know how to use my not very good camera but I did my best and managed to snag this one decent shot.

Lorde _BostonCalling_OTR.jpg

Lorde hasn’t been entirely out of the spotlight these past few years and here are two STELLAR examples.

In 2014 she gave us  “Yellow Flicker” from “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.1”

And last year she paid BRILLIANT tribute to David Bowie in jaw-dropping, tear-inducing fashion at the 2016 Brit Awards with “Life on Mars.” This performance is truly everything. Intro by none other than Annie Lennox and then Gary Oldman. This still makes me cry but I also love it dearly.

Welcome back, Lorde. I can’t wait to hear the rest of “Melodrama” and for the news of a tour to break. Which it surely will. HOORAH!

Walk. Run. Conquer. And do these things with the proper soundtrack.

Where to start? Well how about on a supremely poetic note? One random day, while I was living in Massachusetts my friend Sue, her then boyfriend-now husband Robert and I ventured to Walden Pond in Concord, MA. Walden Pond isn’t just ANY pond, it’s THE Walden Pond. The one  that poet Henry David Thoreau made famous with his book “Walden.” about his time living in a simple cabin near the pond.

It’s a truly  lovely spot and Sue and I walked around it while Robert swam across it. But this isn’t the important part of the story. The important part of the story is what happened the next day. The next day, yours truly, who had been something of a sedentary soul went for another walk. This time around an outdoor track near my apartment.

And so it began. My first foray into some semblance of fitness. Soon I joined the Y.M.C.A. and started getting semi-serious about things.

Fast forward to 2000 in Portland, Maine. I started to run.
Then in 2001 I dropped a bunch of weight and started to run more and more.

By the fall of 2001 I was running my first of five half-marathons. I also started doing the famous Beach to Beacon 10K here in Maine and ran that about a half dozen times. It’s a brutal race with a bunch of hills and I get anxious even thinking about it.

Time marched on. As it does. I put weight back on. A lot even. I stopped exercising and slipped into a bit of an apathetic funk.

But in January of 2016 I rose from the ashes like a wanna-be phoenix and started eating a whole lot better. Six months later I had lost some eight. A lot even. But I still hadn’t gotten my exercise groove back.

Then one random day around the end of last August I decided to walk to work. It’s three miles each way and includes a scenic passage over Casco Bay Bridge.

The view from the Casco Bay Bridge of gorgeous Casco Bay  Photo by Aimsel Ponti

And here’s the thing; I LOVE this walk. The views are gorgeous (I snapped the above pic with my phone), the coffee I stop for is always perfect and best of all, I listen to some great tunes along the way.

I’m still walking. Even when it’s minus six degrees out, I walk more often than not.

And now I’m running again at an indoor track not far from my house and I can’t wait to get outside.

The other day, I logged TEN miles. Ten freakin’ miles on that track. And just as important as my muscles and sheer determination was the music in my ears. Which brings me to the heart of the matter. Find your jams. Whatever they are. And listen to them. (Safely of course, please don’t  get squashed by a truck a la The Smiths “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” because your music was blaring and you had zero awareness of your surroundings. You have to know what’s going on around you at all times. Traffic, other people, dogs, etc. Got it? ).

I have a playlist called “A Skip In My Step” and at the moment it’s 45 songs long. I let them play in random order so it’s a surprise every time.Each song means something to me. Some I love because they motivate the hell out of me. Some I love because they’re really fun. Some I love because they touch me in a way that makes me want to take better care of myself. Some make me run faster, some allow me to catch my breath (just a little), some make me smile, some make me think, some remind me of specific things or times in my life. But they all have one thing in common: they help me. Immensely. 

Here are ten of these songs.  I’m sharing them with the hopes of motivating you to adopt a few of them and make them your own or find songs that speak to you and GET MOVING.  Some of these clips are the actual videos, but try not to focus so much on the visuals but rather try to feel these songs, maybe with your eyes closed the first time around. Ready. Set. GO!

Song: “Move”
Artist: Saint Motel
Why I dig it: Because the infectious groove lights a fire under my feet. Gotta get up, gotta get up. Move!

Song: “Strike It Up”
Artist: Black Box
Why I dig it: Because the dancing dream of the 90s is alive and well in this glorious song.

Song: “Wanna be Startin’ Something”
Artist: Michael Jackson
Why I dig it: Because it’s a masterpiece and I often tell myself that if I can make it to the end of the song’s six minutes and three seconds I’ll reward myself with a drink of water.

Song: “Run With Me”
Artist: Humming House
Why I dig it: It’s hopeful and catchy and this band put on such a great show a few months ago that included this song. Love it. Oh and there’s something kind of hypnotic about it, to me at least.

Song: “Natural Blues”
Artist: Moby
Why I dig it: Because it’s really just so cool. And great to run to.

Song: “I Love It”
Artist: Icona Pop
Why I dig it: This song is a party all by itself. Have at it.

Song: “Immigrant Song”
Artist: Karen O with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Why I dig it: Truth be told, I also run to Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” but when I hear this earth-shattering cover from the “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” soundtrack I channel my inner Lisbeth Salander and take no prisoners.

Song: “On My Way”
Artist: SHEL
Why I dig it: Because I adore this band and this two and a half minutes brings me immense joy. It truly is the skip in my step.

Song: “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”
Artist: Kylie Monogue
Why I dig it: Because la la la. la la la la la. That’s why.

Song: “Smalltown Boy”
Artist: Bronski Beat
Why I dig it: It starts off slowly and the next thing you know, you’re zipping around like a house on fire. I love the energy and feel of this song. Plus…Jimmy Somerville’s angelic vocals.

Find your jams. Get moving. You’ve got this.

ponti-runner

P.S. wanna hear my entire “A Skip in my Step” Spotify playlist?

Voila!

 

14 brutally sad – yet fantastic- songs for Valentine’s Day

Charles M. Schulz got it right with this 1967 gem of a book which, thanks to a yard sale a couple of years ago, I am the proud owner of. It’s true. Happiness IS a sad freakin’ song, especially one that is well written and sung with just the right amount of desperation and sincerity.

happiness-is-a-sad-song-book

I don’t mean songs like Erin Carmen’s “All By Myself” (with all due respect). I’m talking about ones a bit off the mainstream path that pack way more of an emotional punch for this gal.

So in honor or the 14th of February, let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day with this collection of 14 brutally sad yet outstanding songs about love, the human heart and the various forms of related suffering.

Ready? Set? Heartbreak!

ONE: “1000 Oceans” by Tori Amos. Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. But my oh my.

TWO: “Somebody” by Depeche Mode. For no other reason than the longing in Martin Gore’s voice. This song has been making me feel all the things for decades.

THREE: “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths. Frankly, Mr. Shankly, I don’t think this one needs an explanation. And let’s be honest, this entire post could be ALL Smiths songs. God I love them. Oh well…enough said.

FOUR: “The Power of Love” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. This song slays me. It’s not specifically “sad” but just so overwhelmingly powerful and emotional. Frankie say tears! p.s. listen to the song with your eyes closed. The video’s kinda nutty. “Love is like an energy…rushing inside of me”

FIVE: “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice. There is literally nothing I can say about this. Nothing.

SIX: “Never Be Mine” by Kate Bush. She’s a goddess. This song’s insane. Meaning perfect.

SEVEN: “This Year’s Love” by David Gray. Because “when you kiss me on that midnight street, sweep me off my feet” is one of the greatest lines ever written. Oh and the entire song will rip your heart out.

EIGHT: “A Soft Place to Land” by Kathleen Edwards. Kathleen Edwards is one of my reasons for living. This song. The violin, the words. All of it. Take a whole lot of deep breaths before listening to this extra amazing live version.

NINE: “You Left It Up To Me” by Indigo Girls. Achingly sad and therefore I love it  And the harmonies are really great.

TEN: “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” by Sinead O’Connor. This one will rip you apart at the seams but will also remind you of HOW SPECTACULAR Sinead is.Extra great live version for added Sinead bliss.

ELEVEN: “That Wasn’t Me” by Brandi Carlile. If you know it then you probably already love it and if it’s your first time hearing it then get ready to have the wind knocked out of you.

TWELVE: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. Excruciating. But I’ve also heard it entirely too many times so it doesn’t kill me nearly as much as it used to.

THIRTEEN: “Crying” by KD Lang. I know, I know. It’s a Roy Orbison classic. But this one kills me more than even Roy’s version. Just listen. Especially when Lang’s vocals really get going.

FOURTEEN: “Monoply” by Shawn Colvin. I love every single song on her “Fat City”album and this one is devastating. Every single second of it. Sheer perfection.

Anna Lombard’s mesmerizing collision with OHX

Woah nelly! Ok so let me get right to it. One of Maine’s most incredible singers is the one and only Anna Lombard. You may know her from her Gypsy Tailwind days or more recently from her current project with Dave Gutter called Armies.

In 2013, Lombard released her debut full-length solo album “Head full of Bells,” a fantastic record that is home to the tremendous tune “All For You.”
Here’s the live version from her CD release show at Port City Music in August of 2013. I’ll never forget that night, including when we had to clear the building for half an hour because the restaurant next door had a small kitchen fire. When we all came back in they played this one and brought the house down in dazzling fashion. So take a few minutes and watch this and then we’ll get to the new version.

How great was that?

So fast forward to a couple of days ago when the  OHX remix of “All For You” arrived and knocked my hardcore winter wool socks off. I reached out to OHXer Andy Mead to explain the deal with OHX.

“OHX is my studio project – Ultimately, it’s a “production collective” where I work with a rotating team of key collaborators to produce tracks for other artists.”

Mead, Ryan Curless and Anna Lombard took “All For You” back into the studio to give it what Mead described as a “rework.”

And now there’s a gorgeous lyric video and, well, you’ve GOT to hear this.

“Your heart’s a machine” is my favorite refrain of the last couple of years.

Are you ready? ARE YOU REALLY READY?

OK then, I believe you.

With massive amounts of joy and appreciation, I give you the “All For You” OHX Remix. Ponti out.

New love for seven old songs via incredible covers

While I’m typically all about original music, I also have a special place in my heart for certain covers. Especially ones that make me fall in love with the song in a way that didn’t happen when I heard the original version however many years ago.  Or maybe I’ve heard the original one too many times. That said, I tip my hat to the artists that created these songs in the first place. Here’s seven times that a cover knocked my socks off in a huge way.

SONG: Enter Sandman

ORIGINAL ARTIST: Metallica from their 1991 self-titled album. This was of course a huge hit for them and I remember the video from MTV days. But it wasn’t until I heard this new version, recorded in 2016 that I came to appreciate it.

COVER VERSION: SHEL recorded the song on their 2016 “Just Crazy Enough” album. They’ve taken a metal song and made it into something you’d hear in say a Tim Burton film or in a dream. They’ve made it into something other-worldly. SHEL is four sisters  (Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza) and they’re all insanely talented musicians and I adore pretty much everything they do, including their take on Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore”  but we’ll go with this one for now. Hit play and get ready.

 

SONG: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)

ORIGINAL ARTIST: Phil Collins. Theme song for the film “Against All Odds” which is actually a great  80s film with Jeff Bridges, James Woods and the red hot Rachel Ward. I’ve sung along to the Collins version more times than I care to admit and yeah, it’s a fairly epic love ballad. But I’ve always thought there was a bit of a cheese factor.

COVER VERSION: The Postal Service. They’re a Seattle-based indie-band and I’ve been meaning to take a deeper dive into their music for many years. It’s on my ever-growing list. We all have those lists. Anyway…they recorded “Against All Odds” in 2004 and its on the soundtrack to “Wicker Park,” a film I really love that you should see at some point. Their version kills me. In a good way.

 

SONG: Eye in the Sky

ORIGINAL ARTIST: The Alan Parsons Project (I simply cannot hear that band name without immediately thinking of Austin Powers. Right?)  The song is the title track of their 1982 album of the same name and it tore up the charts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song, it just doesn’t “move” me in a way I like to be moved. Though there’s a certain moodiness to it that I can appreciate for sure.

COVER VERSION: Jonatha Brooke. For real, JB is one of my absolute favorite singer-songwriters. She can do no wrong and you should check out her original stuff. She recorded “Eye in the Sky” for her 2004 album “Back in the Circus.”  Her version pulls at my heart strings in a way the original doesn’t. There’s something about her voice that makes me, as the saying goes, feel all the things.

 

SONG: It Must Have Been Love

ARTIST: Roxette. This dramatic love  song is of course best known for its inclusion on the “Pretty Woman” soundtrack back in 1990. I won’t trash talk the song because that’s not how I roll and also, I very much appreciate that -as I said above- if we didn’t have the original, there could be no cool cover for me to flip my lid over.

COVER VERSION: Kathleen Edwards. Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is one of my reasons for living. Her catalog, at the moment, consists of four perfect studio albums and a few odds and ends, including her rendition of It Must Have Been Love. Her version, recorded in 2013, is devastating and gorgeous and bit edgy.

 

SONG: I Melt With You

ARTIST: Modern English, recorded in 1982 for their “After the Snow” album. Though I came to appreciate it around the time of the 80s classic film “Valley Girl.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song. I’ll always love it. I just grew weary of it. It sometimes happens.  So when I came across this cover, I was able to wrap my arms around the song all over again.

COVER VERSION: Nouvelle Vague. They’re a French cover band and I could write half of this post about their work. Dive in when you get a chance and thank me later. Their “I Melt With You” is from their 2004 debut record. Every track on that thing kills me. especially this one.

 

SONG: Rich Girl

ARTIST: Hall & Oates. I have nothing negative to say about Hall & Oates because they’re freakin’ Hall & Oates. The fellas recorded “Rich Girl” in 1977 for their “Bigger Than Both of Us.” And who doesn’t love their “Rich Girl?” But I’ve heard it twelve billion times and was ready for it to get a new lease on life.

COVER VERSION: The Bird and the Bee. They’re a California duo and”Rich Girl” is from their 2010 tribute album “Interpreting the Masters Volume I: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. It’s dynamite.

 

SONG: Shut it Down

ARTIST: Drake. Canadian rapper superstar. Mega famous. Yet I know very little of his work and will even admit I didn’t know this song until I heard the cover. I’m lame. I’m sorry. Anyway….Drake recorded “Shut it Down” in 2010 for his debut album “Thank Me Later”

COVER VERSION: Sarah Jaffe. She’s a singer-songwriter out of Texas and I just about lost my mind when I heard her take on this song. I wrote about Jaffe a few years ago when she came to Portland.

Maggie Rogers “Dog Years” video filmed at Camp Wohelo in Raymond,Maine

Man alive I love this song. “We will be all right.”  What’s more, Rogers just played a sold-out show at Port City Music Hall and everyone lost their mind when she played this and “Alaska.”  Here’s my preview of that show. Rogers also stopped by WCLZ for a 3-song performance and yours truly had the pleasure of interviewing her.

Listen to the performance and interview HERE.