I got back from Mexico a week ago and by now the trip laundry is all done, my suitcase is back up in the garage rafters and I’ve acclimated to being back in the cold Maine winter.
But what I haven’t yet been able to do is unpack in my heart, soul and mind as to just how extraordinary the experience was of attending Brandi Carlile’s Just Wanna Weekend concert extravaganza at the Hard Rock Hotel in Mexico’s Maya Riviera.
First, a little back story in case the concept of GJWW is unfamiliar to you. Several months ago musician Brandi Carlile had something of an epiphany inspired in part by the social media account Book More Women. Book More Women took it upon themselves (and I’m so glad they did) to post two versions of music festival posters. The first version was the original and the second one is with all of the male acts removed. The end result in just about every case including heavy hitter festivals like Bonnaroo, Bottlerock, Tumbleweed, Coachella and Firefly are sobering and frankly depressing. According to Book More Women’s Twitter account, in 2017 only 26% of acts playing major US music festivals featured at least one female or non-binary act. Pardon my French but what in the actual fuck? The numbers only improved marginally in 2018.
Brandi Carlile, who attended all three years of Lilith Fair in the 90s as a teenager, got an idea. What if she threw a festival of all female acts and what if she threw it at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico? Would this send a message to the world that an all-female lineup is not only a viable thing but one that people would travel from far and wide to attend and pay a good chuck of money to be able to do so? Could the success of an event like this maybe move the needle a little bit and serve as an agent of change in a music industry that, god damn it, is still dominated (especially in country music, don’t even get me started…) by men?
In a word: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
About three nights ago I was flopped on the couch channel surfing and landed on a old favorite film of mine, “Field of Dreams.” This led me to picturing Brandi Carlile four-wheeling through the Seattle area woods where she lives and hearing the trees whisper to her in the voice of say, Meryl Streep “If you book it, they will come.” Well we came alright, more than 2,000 of us. And I’m a million percent sure that everyone who was there is now wandering around the planet not knowing what in the hell to do with the rest of our lives, such was the impact of this MAGICAL EVENT.
Now then. Shall we get down to brass tacks?
First off, giant shout-out to event organizers Cloud Nine and to the entire staff at the Hard Rock Hotel. This place is GLORIOUS are our needs as attendees were well taken care of at every turn.
Girls Just Wanna Weekend began on Wednesday, January 30 and we said our goodbyes to Mexico on Sunday, Feb. 3. All told there were 15 performances over the course of FOUR PERFECT DAYS AND NIGHTS.
Here’s a list of what happened when:
Shawn Colvin: Main Stage
Brandi Carlile: Main Stage
Thursday 1/31 The Secret Sisters: Heaven Beach Stage KT Tunstall: Main Stage Brandi & Friends: Songs in the Round (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, KT Tunstall and Shawn Colvin): Main Stage Indigo Girls: Main Stage
Friday 2/1 Indigo Girls Songwriting Workshop: Heaven Beach Stage (this ended up being more of a performance with some Q&A moments. It ruled!) Brandi-Oke (Brandi and her band backing up several fans singing BC songs and a surprise appearance from Lucius who played “The Story”): Heaven Beach Stage Lucius: Main Stage Maren Morris: Main Stage
Saturday 2/2 Sam Rae: Heaven Beach Stage. Sam plays cello in Brandi’s band and is also a solo artist who sings and plays acoustic and electric guitar and cello. She’s the bomb! Ruby Amanfu: Heaven Beach Stage
Mavis Staples: Main Stage
Brandi Carlile: Main Stage Ladies of the 80s: Main Stage (Brandi Carlile and band, KT Tunstall, Ruby Amanfu, Lucius, The Secret Sisters, Katie Herzig, Butterfly Boucher).
Without hesitation, I can report that every single one of these performances was tremendous and it seemed abundantly evident that every single musician who was on those two stages was damn happy to be there.
Here are some highlights:
Sam Rae made us all cry when she proposed to her girlfriend from the Heaven Beach stage.
Mavis Staples just about ripped a hole in the sky with her performance.
Shawn Colvin delivered one of the best performances from her I’ve ever seen and she got the call to come to Mexico about 48 hours before she took the stage after her good friend and fellow musician Patty Griffin had to cancel because her appendix decided it needed to go.
Lucius just about gave us all a heart attack when they took the stage during Brandi-Oke and sang “The Story.”
Yep. I recorded it. Voila!
Special guest Katie Herzig belted out The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” during Ladies of the 80s. Herzig also gave us a dazzling rendition of Belinda Carlisle’s “Heave Is A Place on Earth.”
These are but five examples off the top of my head.
Want a few more? Of course you do!
Shawn Colvin joined Brandi Carlile to sing Jane Siberry’s “Calling All Angels”.
Shawn Colvin also destroyed me with her take on the Tom Waits tune “Ol 55.”
Brandi joined Marren Morris and they dueted on a brand new song called “Common” on Morris’s upcoming album “Girl.”
Indigo Girls started their main stage set off with “Fugitive” and I damn near died such is my love for that song.
There’s not a better cover out there of Talking Heads’ “Slippery People” than the one that Mavis Staples and her band delivered.
I also can’t forget when KT Tunstall sang Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” with Carlile.
There was also that moment when surprise guest Jeff Tweedy joined Mavis Staples on a song he wrote for her.
Another surprise guest in the person of Anderson East was brought on stage by Carlile during the Ladies of the 80s show and he sang his ass off during Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.”
Then there was Ruby Amanfu’s jaw-dropping version of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.”
Also, Barack Obama’s White House photographer and good friend of Brandi Carlile Pete Souza was there all weekend snapping photos. He let me snap this pic of his Fun Meter button which was turned up to MAX!
And for the love of all that is epic on this planet, the festival ending take on Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” sung by Brandi with Phil Hanseroth’s earth-shaking “Turn around” backing vocals was something I’ll never forget. I am euphoric and dizzy thinking about all of this stuff.
And let me be clear, these are just SOME of GJWW’s countless moments.
For a music fan, Girls Just Wanna Weekend was like a trip to Fantasy Island. Except rather than an island, we were at a GORGEOUS resort on the ocean with more pools than I could count and endless close encounters with huge iguanas who are pre-historic creatures who love the resort as much as we all did and seemed entirely fine posing for all of our photos. If you were looking for a party with a swim-up bar it was yours for the taking. And if you were looking to find a more quiet spot to chill with your book, that too was available, such was the expansiveness of the resort grounds.
Another facet of Girls Just Wanna Weekend that was so refreshing was that I can honestly say that over the five days I was there, I didn’t encounter a single person who wasn’t friendly. “Hola!” and “Hey where are you from?” were two catch phrases uttered by pretty much all of us, all of the time.
Imagine being in paradise and then imagine that said paradise also featured performances from a bunch of your favorite bands. This was what Girls Just Wanna Weekend was all about.
On the last day of the festival I heard that Brandi was sitting by one of the pools with her daughter Evangeline. My first thought was to run over there and say Hi. Then I dialed myself down and said “nah, leave them be.” About ten minutes later I put my music journalist hat on – sort of – and decided to walk over there with the goal of asking one simple question.
Here’s the thing, it’s one thing to interview an artist on the phone (I’ve been fortunate enough to have done this on three occasions with Carlile) but it’s something entirely different to approach them “in the wild.”
Being the brilliant journalist that I am, I left my bag with friends and therefore had NOTHING TO WRITE WITH when I walked over to her. This is actually hilarious to me because I ALWAYS have pen and paper with me. Always. To make matters worse my memory isn’t what it used to be. But still I persisted and made my way over to her. I led with “hi, just so you know I won’t be asking for a photograph or autograph.”
Carlile was super nice and she is ALWAYS super nice. I told her briefly who I was and that I would be writing about the entire festival and asked if she wouldn’t mind summing it up for me, what it meant to her, in a sentence or two.
She did just that and in an epic journalist fail, I don’t have a direct quote for you. But I can tell you that she lit up when speaking about how thankful she was that we were all there and how proud she of Girls Just Wanna Weekend. And she most certainly should be.
Girls Just Wanna Weekend was truly one of the most monumental experiences of my life. For a handful of days, many miles from home, I took it all in as best I could.
I’m already thinking about next year’s Festival because rumor has it, it will happen! Save your pennies, friends. It’s sooooooo worth it.
Here’s a few lines from a Carlile song that seem to be an appropriate way to capture some of the spirit of Girls Just Wanna Weekend:
Hold out your hand
Take hold of mine now
Round and round we go
Don’t you wanna dance
And now for the video recap with gratitude as always to my tech savvy pal Shamus Alley for letting me send him a shit-ton of clips and creating something truly special.
THANK YOU, Brandi Carlile and everyone involved with making Girls Just Wanna Weekend one of the most enthralling and memorable experiences any music fan can ever hope to have.
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…
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
Aimsel on the Record in sponsored in part by LB Kitchenin Portland, Maine.
Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities.
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!!!
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:
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
If you’re going to attend this festival here are my four pieces of advice:
Be ready when tickets go on sale in the fall. I mean REALLY ready.
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.
Don’t try to see everything. It’s not possible. See what you can and enjoy every moment.
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)
Aimsel on the Record is sponsored in part by LB Kitchenin Portland, Maine.
Please contact me if you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities!
I’ve been trying to write this Brandi Carlile album review for a few weeks now and I’m still struggling with what exactly I want to say. The album (produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings) has such an emotional hold on me that I’m a bit of a mess. I wasn’t sure if I could string my thoughts together enough to even attempt a review. Then it came to me; Conventional album review wisdom (if it even exists) be damned! This is what I’m going to do instead:
AN OPEN LETTER TO BRANDI CARLILE & ‘BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU”
Dear Brandi Carlile and your album “By The Way, I Forgive You,”
Holy hell, what have you done?
You’ve made an album that has called open season on my heart. You’ve torn it out and put it back together nine ways to Sunday. You’ve made an album that has made me take a LONG look at the notion of forgiveness. You’ve made an album that, with each listening, permeates my bone marrow, my soul and everything I thought I knew about music.
You and the Twins and everyone else involved have made an album that is nothing less than brilliant.
So to simply say THANK YOU doesn’t seem enough. It doesn’t seem nearly enough.
Permit me to unpack “By The Way, I Forgive You” song by song, so as to tell you the impact each song continues to have on me. Know that I’ve sung these songs at the top of my lungs on the highway. I’ve listened to them while walking my dog. I’ve listened to them at work. I’ve listened to them at home on my turntable (hell yeah, I have it on vinyl too.” I discover something new each time.
I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like hearing these songs live in the coming months.
ONE: “Every Time I Hear That Song.” I don’t keep a journal. I wish I could. But I don’t because I’m too afraid of it being read by anyone. And I’m too afraid, I’ve realized, of documenting my deepest secrets. This is one of the reasons why music is so important to me. Certain songs I adopt as journal entries and no matter how much time has passed, every time I hear that a certain song, there’s an emotional charge. This makes “Every Time I Hear That Song” something of a song within a song. This song gives me permission to revisit past experiences, past relationships, past moments of connection, past pain, sorrow and all the rest of it. And you’ve packaged this all in a gorgeous song. And when you and Tim and Phil sing the lines “By The Way, I Forgive You/I never will forget you for giving me what I found/Without you around I’ve been doing just fine/’Cept for anytime I hear that song,” it’s profound. And speaking of forgiveness, you’ve asked us to look at forgiveness under a microscope. Goddamn it. I have found myself budging on things I never thought I’d budge on. I have found myself slowly starting to forgive myself for past mistakes. You have made a song into something of a movement. And you’ve asked your fans to document moments of forgiveness with a contest you ran and I saw some of the entries and people are baring their souls and it’s beautiful. Dear Brandi and ‘By the Way, I Forgive You,” this song is everything. It really is.
TWO: “The Joke”
When this single was dropped last fall I, like many other people, fell outta my chair. The song is HUGE and lush with strings and crescendos and Mount Everest vocals. I’ve been swooning over this song for a while now. But I’m going to share with you part of a Facebook post (with permission) by a friend of my named Ryan. He’s a new fan and this is what he posted the other day: “Sorry everybody, it’s another Brandi Carlile post. I can’t tell you how rapt I am with her. As I previously offered, I am glad I don’t have a song on the radio right now because it would sound foolish if it came on after “The Joke”. We’re all playing checkers. She’s playing chess. I haven’t liked music this much in years.” Then a few days later Ryan shared this: “As we’ve covered here previously, I recently was floored by hearing the new Brandi Carlile single on WCLZ. I finally found some solely listen- to-music time tonight, and am just now listening the whole record. This is a jaw dropping startlingly gorgeous and extremely visceral piece of art. It is astonishingly beautiful. Anyone who is not listening to her has got to stop and take a look at least. I am so mad at myself for having never given her time these past few years. This is my favorite record of the year so far, by miles.” Ryan’s discovery of Carlile reminded me of the scene at the end of “Field of Dreams” when Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law could finally see the ballplayers and was floored by it. Welcome, Ryan, to the party. Here, have a Jameson’s.
THREE: “Hold Out Your Hand”
This is is a barn burnin’ foot stompin’ feel good tune, complete with a sonic boom of a chorus. It’s an outlaw’s anthem and a redemptive, devil defying proclamation of faith all wrapped up into one gigantic song that makes me want to both dance around in a cowboy hat and go running up the stairs of the nearest church. And yet Carlile also slips in some not foolin’ around lyrics in the form of “Here is a license for killing your own native son/For a careless mistake and a fake plastic gun?”
FOUR: “The Mother”
I’ve been hearing this one live for at least a year (maybe two) and am so glad it landed on the album. “Evangeline” is the name of Carlile and her wife Catherine’s three-year-old daughter. The song is one that mothers – and parents- will surely identify with. And for non-moms like me , it let me into a world I know I’ll never fully understand. And Carlile does so in such a sweet, playful, gentle and wise way. “She’s fair and she is quiet, Lord, she doesn’t look like me/She made me love the morning, she’s a holiday at sea/The New York streets are busy as they always used to be/But I am the mother of Evangeline.” I haven’t heard such a wonderful snapshot of parenthood since Bowie’s “Kooks.”
FIVE: “Whatever You Do”
This song’s first line is everything. “If I don’t owe you a favor, you don’t know me.” God I love that. That said, this is among the most heavyhearted songs on the album. “There’s a road left behind me that I’d rather not speak of/And a hard one ahead of me, too/I love you, whatever you do/But I’ve got a life to live too.” The only things that allows me to hold it together listening to it is how resplendent the song is. The strings come in slowly then build and then Carlile’s voice floats up to the sky like a soul escaping a body it no longer needs.
SIX: “Fulton County Jane Doe”
If I’m Dolly Parton , I’m putting a version of this on my next album. Call me crazy but I can hear her singing this one in my head. And that, my friends, is very much meant as a compliment. The song seems to be about second chances. And maybe third of fourth ones too.
Not since K’s Choice released the song “Not An Addict” more than 20 years ago has a song about addiction hit me so hard. The addiction struggle is sadly very real everywhere, even here in Maine. Carlile has painted a portrait of it that explains the disease in an understandable way and with empathy rather than judgment. “He wanted to be a better man/But life kicked him down like an old tin can/He would give you the shirt on his back/If not for a sugartooth.”
EIGHT: “Most Of All”
If you’ve ever lost anyone important to you, this song is going to make you cry. “Most Of All” is heart-rending but it’s also bursting with love and hope and gratitude. It’s also full of kind-hearted inspiration. “But most of all/She taught me how to fight/How to move across the line between the wrong and the right.” Prepare to feel all the proverbial things with this one. But don’t you love songs that do that? I sure do.
NINE: “Harder to Forgive”
This is a knee slapping gem of a song that had me at the first line because it’s so true! “I love the songs I hated when I was young/Because they take me back where I come .” Word, Brandi, word. The song is upbeat and snappy but with brooding lyrics; a perfect combination in my book. Plus the electric guitar and wailing vocals toward the end are motherfuckin’ spectacular.
TEN: “Party Of One”
This was the only song the album could have ended with and it is a reminder that the best way to listen to an album is all the way through, in the order in which they were intended to be heard. In other words, this is not an album to be listened to on shuffle play. Trust me on this. “Party Of One” is one of the saddest Carlile songs I’ve ever heard but it’s also stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning. At just under six minutes, it opens with a piano that sounds like its weeping. “Waiter send this to the table, the party of one/The only other lonely soul in this place” are the opening lines. From there the song speaks of love at first sight and a love that is without end. But also of a defeated love. It doesn’t matter what is happening in your life, this song’s gonna kill you. And just when you think you’re going to survive the song, in come the strings and then the drums and you’re swept up in a whole other layer of emotion. This song is a self-contained symphony of feelings, a relief map of longing and a timeline of a love that despite all the bullshit, won’t ever really be extinguished. Amen.
The holy trinity of Brandi Carlile, Tim Hanseroth and Phil Hanseroth have collectively written ten songs that are going to touch a TON of people both as they listen to them and see and hear them performed live. “By The Way, I Forgive You” has touched me in a way I didn’t know an album could. I didn’t know I could love a Carlile album as much as “The Story” but upon hearing this one, the code was cracked and another compartment of my heart was accessed.
P.S. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Carlile on three occasions for the Portland Press Herald/MaineTodaycom. 2012 , 2015and2018.
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.
“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 convoshe 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 sessionwhile 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.
How far would you go to realize a musical dream? For me the answer was just about 1200 miles; the distance from my driveway to Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.
Until a few days ago I had never been to Tennessee, let alone Nashville, let alone the Mother Church of music that is Ryman Auditorium.
I guess I was waiting for just the right moment and that moment came in January when a friend here in Maine told me that Brandi Carlile was doing a handful of dates to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her incredible album “The Story” and The Ryman was one of those dates. The show was going to be Carlile and her band playing, in order, every song on that album and some of those tracks I’ve never heard live before.
And so I bought a ticket, booked a flight, found an Airb&b, sat back and smiled on a cold winter’s day. A few days later the smile grew larger as a second show was added and a ticket to that show was also secured.
Fast forward to Monday, April 24. I laid my head against the side of the Mother Church and had a moment of reflection and reverence for the historic building and then I had myself a whiskey in the attached Cafe Lula and waited for the doors to open for the 7:30 show.
I found my seat, about a dozen pews (yes pews, this is the Mother Church after all) back and to the left and sat in contained enthusiasm along with my fellow pew-mates and Brandi fans.
And soon after 7:30 on that Monday night in Nashville night one of two of the greatest nights of my life began as Brandi, the twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth and cellist/pianist Josh Neumann took to the stage and opened with “The Story’s” first track, “Late Morning Lullaby.”
I realized immediately the first reason why this was going to be such a special evening because I dare say the sound at Ryman Auditorium is the best I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been to at least 87 million concerts (give or take).
And there I was, in an entirely decent seat taking it all in, remembering to breathe and wearing a Nashville-sized smile.
They played the album in order and so the Phil Hanseroth penned title track was next and it was the first Brandi Carlile song I ever heard and it STILL kills me every time I hear it, whether it be live, on the radio or with headphones on walking.
“I climbed across the mountain tops. SWAM ALL ACROSS THE OCEAN BLUE.” It was all the more poignant and insane and beautiful and goddamn glorious at Ryman. Every single one of us in that audience on both nights lost our minds. I still don’t have mine back and I’m fine with that. Oh so fine.
“Turpentine” was next and again, such songwriting. This one Carlile wrote herself and it’s been an Aimsel theme song for the decade that I’ve known it.
Now’s as good a time as any to show you some video clips from these two shows. Know that I only shot short ones and did them as non-obtrusively as humanly possible. I promise, I wasn’t the annoying chick with the phone. These are from both nights and editing credit goes to my pal Shamus Alley.
The show continued on its path of “The Story” album and every song was an emotional groundswell of love, music and perfection.
About halfway through “The Story” tracks, Carlile shared with us the existential crisis-of-sorts she experienced three years ago when her daughter Evangeline was born. Carlile started thinking about the global refugee crisis, especially when it came to children. It was during this time that her wife Catherine Shepherd told her about War Child, based in the UK. Their mission is to protect, educate and stand up for the rights of children caught up in war. That’s when an idea was born…a big one. “The Story is the biggest rock we’ve got to launch at Goliath,” said Carlile and the end result is “Cover Stories.” All proceeds go to War Child UK. The album is all 14 songs of “The Story” covered by other artists including Dolly Parton, Indigo Girls, Pearl Jam, The Avett Brothers, Kris Kristofferson and even Adele. It’s available on May 5th but this fan pre-ordered it a while back and can’t wait for it to arrive.
Carlile surprised everyone by announcing that the album would be for sale during intermission and by the looks of it afterward, they sold just about every single copy they brought with them on CD and vinyl. WHICH IS AWESOME. She told us that they have a goal of raising a million dollars for War Child. I have every confidence they’ll do this…and then some.
A few more notes on “The Story” songs live at Ryman on both nights:
“Have you Ever” was a foot-stompin’, hand-clapping party with exceptional cello from Josh Neumann
“Cannonball” was performed at the front edge of the stage without microphones or amps and it further demonstrated how incredible the sound is at Ryman. “The Ryman is one of a kind,” explained Carlile and she proved the point quite well.
“Losing Heart” had only ever been played two or three times before this run of shows. It was awesome.
“Again Today” was my favorite of “The Story” tracks on both nights because Carlile sang it with a level of unfettered abandonment it just about made me cry.
Carlile, the Hanseroth Twins and Neumann closed out the set with “Hiding My Heart” and if the show had ended there I would have been more than OK because spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe what I had just seen and heard.
BUT THE SHOW WAS ONLY HALF OVER!
We got about another TEN songs on both nights, including several audience requests that got voted on by cheering.
Night one’s second set looked like this:
The Things I Regret
That Wasn’t Me (by request)
Jolene (hell yes, the Dolly Parton song)
Most Of All (brand new, absolutely gorgeous, heartbreaking song)
Beginning to Feel the Years (Brandi and the Twins performed this from the corner of the balcony. Amazing!)
Goin to California’ ( as in Led Zeppelin. I’ve heard Brandi sing this before but to hear it at Ryman. All words fail…)
Amazing Grace (with special guest The Secret Sisters!!!) We were all invited to sing along and many did. As for me, I stood there spellbound.
Night two’s requests were Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which I’ve long said too many people have covered but I ate my words when I heard Carlile sing it. She also hit us with “Keep Your Heart Young” and “The Mother,” another new one and three-year-old sweet-as-pie little Evangeline wandered over to Brandi for a visit before the song. Priceless.
Night two was also closed out with “Amazing Grace” sans Secret Sisters but no less wondrous.
Sidebar: During the day on Tuesday I decided to take the self-guided tour of Ryman Auditorium which was really great as it included a multi-media presentation explaining the building’s jaw-dropping musical history. During this tour I plunked down in the balcony and decided I wanted to sit there for night two instead of the first floor towards the back seat I had. As luck would have it, I scored a front-row almost center balcony seat and after snapping my first-three songs photos on that second night, and yeah, OK after sitting for another three songs in a temporarily unclaimed second row seat I took my balcony seat and it was like sitting on the edge of heaven. The sound was even better from there and the view pristine. Yeah for spontaneity!
And there you have it, the story of “The Story” and this fan and writer’s trip, or better yet, pilgrimage to the Mother Church that is Ryman Auditorium in Music City, USA.
It has been almost 72 hours since that second show ended but part of my heart and soul are still there. As they should be.
Thank you, Brandi, Tim, Phil and Josh.
Thank you, Nashville for welcoming me with open arms.
Thank you, readers of this post for letting me share an experience that will always be part of me.
“But these stories don’t mean anything. When you’ve got no one to tell them to”
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.
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.