Transformative show from Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks 8.12.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO SEE A SHOW AT RED ROCKS

Ponti out.


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

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

REVIEW: Brandi Carlile’s “By The Way, I Forgive You”

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”

Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile performing at Ryman Auditorium. 4.25.17
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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.

Ready?

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.

SEVEN: “Sugartooth”

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.

Ponti out.

P.S. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Carlile on three occasions for the Portland Press Herald/MaineTodaycom. 2012  , 2015 and 2018.