The transcendent experience of Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend in Mexico

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.

Girls Just Wanna Weekend
Yours truly. Photo on left in front of the main stage by Laurel Goode. Girls Just Wanna Weekend sand sculpture and nerdy selfie snapped by me.

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

brandi oke friday two smile
Brandi Carlile is all smiles on the Heaven Beach Stage during Girls Just Wanna Weekend.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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.

GJWW METAL SIGN LIT
The happiest lit sign a gal could ever hope to see in the concert courtyard of Girls Just Wanna Weekend.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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.

Hard Rock Hotel
The Hard Rock Hotel at Maya Riviera, Mexico.
Photos by Aimsel Ponti

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.

crowd shot 1
A happy crowd cheers, sings and feels all the things.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Here’s a list of what happened when:

Wednesday 1/30
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

Indigo Girls friday heaven beach stage
Indigo Girls Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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

Maren Morris
Maren Morris Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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

Ruby Amanfu
Ruby Amanfu (left) backed by Katie Herzig and Butterfly Boucher.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Mavis Staples: Main Stage

Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples on the main stage during Girls Just Wanna Weekend.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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).

ruby brandi keytar ladies 80s
Ruby Amanfu with Brandi Guitar and her bitchin’ keytar.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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.

mavis and brandi saturday 1
Mavis Staples was joined by Brandi Carlile for The Band’s classic tune “The Weight”.

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.

Brandi Carllile Ruby Amanfu
Brandi Carlile and Ruby Amanfu
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Want a few more? Of course you do!

BC and Shawn night one angels
Brandi Carlile and Shawn Colvin.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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.

KT Tunstall night two 1
KT Tunstall Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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!

pete souza fun meter
(super famous and incredible) Photographer Pete Souza’s fun meter button made by two clever and awesome women named Erin & Becca. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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.

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Holly and Jess from Lucius on the main stage during Girls Just Wanna Weekend.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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.

Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile bathed in light during the final night of Girls Just Wanna Weekend.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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.

Ponti out.

The 43 Best Songs of 2018

Hi.

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

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

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

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

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

So we’re good on the disclaimers front right?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


And there you have it.

Ponti out

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


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

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

Indigo Girls redefine perfection with live symphony album

Indigo_Girls_351-Retouched_HIGHRES_2 by Jeremy Cowart
Emily Saliers and Amy Ray
Photo by Jeremy Cowart

Indigo Girls have a live album coming out at the end of the month! Hold that thought for a quick second.

Truth be told, I’m experiencing a significant Indigo Girls high at the moment having recently seem them at the incredible Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, ME and the lovely Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH. The first show was Amy Ray and Emily Saliers as a duo and the second one featured the phenomenal violinist Lyris Hung (who also produced Salier’s debut solo album “Murmuration Nation”) and had the sensational opening act of Michelle Malone.

If I stopped and thought about it, or better yet dumped out my giant ticket stub jar, I’m certain I could report that I’ve seen Indigo Girls live likely more than most other acts I’m a fan of. Since seeing them open for R.E.M. on the “Green” tour I’ve been all about them. Oh and hell yes, Michael Stipe came out onto the stage and sang “Kid Fears” with them. Indigo Girls were one of the first acts I ever interviewed. I was a nervous wreck  as they were both on the phone and I’m pretty sure I have the cassette of that phoner recorded when the “Nomads” album came out in a box somewhere.

Lyrics. Harmonies. Vocals. Musicality. Passion. Indigo Girls have so much of this going on and with each new album favorite songs are established. And as for the live experiences-from huge venues to tiny ones- I have never walked out of a show feeling anything less than joyful.

And hey, super quick, lest there be any doubt, Indigo Girls are STILL MAKING GREAT STUDIO ALBUMS. If you don’t have a copy of 2015’s “One Lost Day” march yourself to your favorite independent record store or hop online and get it. Two reasons are this and this.

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter. The new album is coming out on June 29. And not just any album. It’s a LIVE album recorded with the University Of Colorado Symphony Orchestra and I’ve had at least 22 (one for each track) heart attacks while listening to the entire thing through at least a dozen times over the past two weeks.

Here’s what I can tell you about it: 

The album was recorded in front of a sold-out audience last year in Boulder, Colorado and was mixed by Grammy winner Trina Shoemaker (Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, Nancy Griffith.) I was surprised to learn that Indigo Girls, have played more than 50 shows with symphonies across the US and am thrilled that a recording of one of these shows is being shared with the world.

Album cover art courtesy of Rounder Records
Album cover art courtesy of Rounder Records

And here are five specific reasons why I’m losing my mind over this album and why , if you’re even a casual Indigo Girls fan, you should hop online and pre-order it. They’ve got some REALLY cool bundles available including signed vinyl, Kleen Kanteens and the winter cap  and socks you didn’t know you needed until right this moment among other cool stuff.

ONE:  “Fugitive.” I started crying for real when I heard this version version of the Amy-penned tune on this record. It’s one of absolute favorite Indigo Girls songs and when the horns started followed by a crash of symbols and a whole bunch of strings it was almost too much for my fragile heart to handle. I’m listening to it now as I write this and it’s huge. It’s tremendous.  It’s overwhelming. If music was a shaft of light racing down from heaven in the form of a lightning bolt it would sound like  this symphony of version of “Fugitive.”  “I’m harboring a fugitive, a defector of a kind/She lives in my soul drinks of my wine/And I’d give my last breath to keep us alive.”

I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Hey University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra, BRAVO!!!

TWO: “Mystery,” written by Emily,  is another favorite IG song. The studio version, which like “Fugitive” is on the 1994 album “Swamp Ophelia” features backing vocals from Jane Siberry  and it STILL kills me all these years later. I mean my god, these words: “Oh you set up your place in my thoughts/Moved in and made my thinking crowded/Now we’re out in the back with the barking dogs/My heart the red sun your heart the moon clouded.” I’m hearing a flute and the horns sound like a sunrise. Cellos and violins and whatever other strings I’m hearing are rising and falling like waves. It’s striking hearing Emily and Amy’s vocals and guitars against a backdrop of what has to be a 50 member symphony.

Photo by Evan Carter
Photo by Evan Carter

THREE: “Sugar Tongue,” written by Amy is from the 2009 album “Poseidon and the Bitter Bug.” Amy’s vocals are at their zenith of range, power and emotion. The energy builds upon itself with the symphony making its presence known in a gentle way for about the first 45 seconds and then, boom, it’s like the song was struck by a a bolt of lightning. With each listen I pick up on more subtleties and try in vain to identify the instruments. “Bring me lullabies

FOUR: “Ghost,” written by Emily is from 1992’s “Rites of Passage” and the song has been splitting hearts wide open -including mine – since the day it was released.  “And you kiss me like a lover/Then you sting me like a viper/I go follow to the river/Play your memory like a piper.” Now imagine this song tricked out with a symphony behind it and it becomes a cinematic ride propelled by Emily and Amy’s soaring voices with a wall of sound behind it that only a symphony orchestra could provide.

FIVE: “Go” written by Amy is from the 1999 album “Come On Now Social” and holy hell when the refrain of “Raise your hands/raise your hands high” comes around I want to not only raise them but somehow hurl myself into outer space. There’s what I’m calling a “horn break” in this symphony version and I hear a tuba (or maybe a few of them) and a bunch of other brass throwing notes like punches and the song reaches a fever pitch that is goddamn larger than life. Are you feeling me right now because I can’t handle how good this song is and when you hear it I hope you’re as blown away as I am by it because for the love of all that is holy in this world, it’s tremendous. Seriously, I’m hanging on for dear life with “Go” in my ears right now. I’m smitten with this version. Oh and hey there, Emily, FANTASTIC electric guitar.

So those are my five current favorites. The other thing about this symphony album is the set list. The deep album cuts like “Damo,” “Yoke,” “Compromise,” “War Rugs” and ‘Come on Home” all get a new lease on life in this format and I imagine some fans will be nudged to revisit some of the IG more recent albums that are home to these tunes.

Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the symphony version of “Closer to Fine” that closes out the album. Complete with xylophone and the strings singing right along with the “I went to the doctor/I went to mountains/I looked to the children/I drank from the fountains.”

Oh and by the way…here’s “Galileo” from the symphony album.

I can’t wait for this album to drop because I hope you all experience some semblance of the musical and emotional fulfillment that I’ve been feeling these past couple of weeks.

Are you on fire from the years? (yep, “Kid Fears” is on it too). I can tell you that my heart and soul are on fire because of this album.

Indigo Girls Live with the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Out 6/29/18 on Rounder Records.

Ponti out.

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

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

happiness-is-a-sad-song-book

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

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

Ready? Set? Heartbreak!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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