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

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

Why?

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

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

For real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Big Yellow Taxi” got it done.

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

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

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

Here’s the set-list:

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

INTERMISSION

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

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

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

Ponti out.

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

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

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Coping Mechanisms: A 50 song playlist of women artists

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

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

I listened to music.

A ton of it.

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

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

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

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

“Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos

“This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush

“Talkin’Bout A Revolution” by Tracy Chapman

“Nameless, Faceless” by Courtney Barnett

“Not Ready to Make Nice” by Dixie Chicks

I Don’t Need a Hero” by Concrete Blonde

“You Are The Problem Here” by First Aid Kit

“Hold Out Your Hand” by Brandi Carlile

“Sing” by The Dresden Dolls

“Hit The Road, Jack” by Shirley Horn

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

But can 50 of them help?

I believe they can.

Ponti out.

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST LINK

https://open.spotify.com/user/eastcoastaimsel/playlist/6ELrA6L40faWZMkM0021qJ


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

10.6.18  9:46 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where I’m at:

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

I am woman hear me roar and watch me revolt.

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

What else? So much. Too much.

What next? Everything.

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

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

Now about that video…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponti out


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Transformative show from Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks 8.12.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO SEE A SHOW AT RED ROCKS

Ponti out.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponti out.

Katie Herzig on her latest album ‘Moment of Bliss’

I’ve been waiting for a while to say these seven perfect words and since it’s been about four years since any of us got to say them, permit me to bust out in all caps:

KATIE HERZIG HAS A NEW RECORD OUT!!!!

And trust me when I say it’s been worth the wait.

Say hello to “Moment Bliss!”

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So how good is this record?

EXHIBIT A:

Oh and then there’s “Feel Alive.” The single was released toward the end of 2017 and I love it so much it made it onto my Best of 2017 list.

Oh and let’s not forget “Beat of Your Own.”

Point being, Herzig’s made an extraordinarily album with “Moment of Bliss” and along with its release came the glorious news of a tour which includes a date in Boston in July.

I’ve only seen Herzig twice before, both at venues here in Portland, Maine. The first time was at Empire in 2012. In fact, I interviewed Herzig for the Portland Press Herald in advance of that show.

The second time was when she came to Port City Music Hall  during the tour for her 2014 album “Walk Through Walls.”  {Sidebar, go buy this album if you don’t already have it.} On the day of that show Herzig was kind enough to swing by my office at the Portland Press Herald for a Newsroom Session and as long as you promise to picture me with better hair, fashion  and about 30 pounds trimmer you can see that session HERE. and I strongly encourage you to do so because during the session Herzig performs two acoustic songs which thankfully is the focus of it rather than the dopey interviewer. (yours truly.)

Want to know if Herzig is coming to your city? OF COURSE YOU DO! Find that HERE.

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Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist

Herzig is originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and has been in Nashville for the past several years. Her  solo discography dates back to 2004’s “Watch Them Fall” and several have followed. Make it a point to go deep down the rabbit hole of her music because her stuff is really different.

I reached out to Herzig and asked if she’d be up for a conversation about “Moment of Bliss” and other stuff she’s been working on these past couple of years.  With fingers crossed I waited and indeed she responded and a week later we were on the phone chatting up  a storm. Here’s that conversation in which we covered not only “The Moment of Bliss” but also delved into the inner-workings of how Herzig makes a living with music.

AP: Congrats. Your record’s been out a little over a month. How are you feeling about it?

 KH: It has been such a long time coming that mostly there’s only relief. This record took a long time to get out; my records take a long time to get out anyway so for some reason this felt longer. Just a lot of life happened in there so it just kind of drew out the process. And now in this day and age with releasing singles upon singles leading up to the album it just really stretches it out so by the time the album was here I was just like ‘thank god, let’s just do this.’ So yeah, I felt much relief.

AP: Can you walk me through the chronology of singles? What was the first one?

KH: “Strangers” then it was “Feel Alive” then I think we did “Me Without You,” that was around the holidays and then we started off January with “Beat of Your Own” and then we totally threw in “Weightlifting” on a whim two weeks before the record came out.

 AP: You must be getting some decent radio play? Is that a safe assumption?

KH:  I had a lot of support at AAA and different singles along the way at different stations There was no AAA-sounding obvious radio song so I didn’t put money into it. A lot of that turns out to be trying to get on playlists.  There are stores playing it.

 AP: I would imagine every little bit helps like if you’re added to one of those Spotify fresh tracks playlists.

KH: To be honest there’s always this huge decision and it happens with all my friends who are independent, who are putting out music and trying to make smart moves about how to spend money and how to promote it. Do you put money into the playlist thing? Into the radio thing? In the last album I did, we put a lot of money into a lot of things and this time I’m gonna try to not do that again. It’s all kind of random.

 AP: How much difference does radio airplay make with getting people in the door on a tour?

KH: I think if a radio station is playing you a significant amount and at good times it does make a difference. I think the difference is, and I feel like I got a taste of this, in certain towns where -and this was back when “Free My Mind” was happening because that got to Top 20 or something like that so there were certain markets that were getting a lot of spins and I would show up and more people would come. But it was a much more fickle crowd, it was a ‘people there to hear one song’ kind of feeling. So you feel the difference between what radio does. There’s always gonna be people who dig in further and listen to your whole catalog but it feels a little more seasonal, the radio thing.

 AP: Have you worked with Cason Cooley before as a producer and what did he bring to the table? How would you described his contribution to “Moment of Bliss?

KH: This will be the third full length record we’ve done together and then he did half of “Apple Tree” with me. We’ve also been co-producing some other stuff together.  I’m a  very hands-on in production artist so a lot of times, an example would be, I would pretty much have a pretty fully-formed song and I just need help getting across the finish line. So a lot of times that’s where he steps in. And then at other times he’ll have a musical idea and I’ll take it and run with it, write lyrics and then we’ll come back to it and he’ll help me finish it. So it can be from the beginning we’re writing and recording together and then other times it’s kind of more fully-formed and I bring it to him.

 AP: Did I see that you posted that “Feel Alive” was on “American Idol” or something like that?

KH: I think so. I work with a licensing company, Secret Road, and those things, a lot of times they tell you the day of. Then I turned it on but I never heard it so I don’t know for sure.

 AP: You’ve had a robust history of TV placements. It’s a bit of a mystery how that all works behind the scenes. You hire somebody who specifically does that right? Licensing to TV and film?

KH: Yeah. That’s been a huge part of my career; working with a licensing company that is essentially representing me and pitching me to TV, film and commercials and some of that stuff means me writing for those things.  Some of it is just them using music that I’ve already created. Some of my music has started as writing something for them and then it became my own thing.

 AP: As a fan my process is -when I’m watching a show -like the recent reboot of “Twin Peaks,” I hear a song I like, rewind it, open the SoundHound app and then I immediately follow the artist on every platform so that I don’t forget. My point is, it’s awesome and I’ve become fans of artists because of one little TV placement so I think it’s a very powerful tool.

KH: It is. That’s kind of what my career has been built on. That and me opening for other artists mixed with a little bit of radio. It’s kind of a hodgepodge and I think the licensing stuff can be a really powerful thing because especially if these are TV shows that people care about and songs become the backdrop in these emotional moments. It can form this instant connection.

AP: I can’t imagine “Me Without You” isn’t  going to get a placement. You’ll get off this call from me and will get another one telling you that- I’m manifesting it for you.

AP: So today, my favorite song  from the album is “All This Time.” What’s your favorite right now?

 KH:  Right now I would say. Wait did you say “All This Time?”

AP: Yeah.

KH: That’s the one I would say because it took on a whole new meaning for me recently.

AP: How long have you lived in Nashville for?

KH: I moved here in 2006 so 12 years.

AP: What do you like about Nashville and what’s hard?

KH: The music community here is super supportive and collaborative. It’s such an easy and inviting town to make music in from writing to recording to putting music out. And because the talent and quality level is so high, it just ups your game at every level. I find it to be an energy like nowhere else, where music is a part of the fabric of this town. It’s so normal to be a musician here and to have  a career in it. If I moved from here I would greatly miss that. What’s challenging for me is that I miss the West and I miss being  closer to my family and I miss bike lanes.

AP: I know this record was a long time coming but you’re also someone who gets involved with a lot of other projects so what else has been going on?

KH: I have been collaborating with Ingrid Michaelson on her new project. Cason and I are co-producing that project with her. Now that the record’s out I’m starting to prepare for a tour. There’s so much work in getting this thing out now I’m getting back to music. It becomes so much about content and deadlines and artwork and all that stuff. I’m just kind of in the process of figuring it all out.

 AP: It seems like a new album has about a two-year trajectory as you release singles and videos and such so “Moment of Bliss” is still kind of a newborn.

KH: It’s just a weird thing too because to me these songs and this thing, it doesn’t feel that way and so I have to keep reminding myself of that. Especially with the little I put out, this doesn’t happen very often for me.

 AP: Speaking of things you put out, I’ve never really been much of a Cold Play fan but I sure love your take on “Viva La Vida.” I had forgotten you had done it and it’s gorgeous.

KH: Have you ever heard their song “Midnight?”

AP: I only know the radio hits so if you tell me listen to “Midnight” I totally will. I liked them when they first came out, I don’t know what happened. I’m just a terrible person. {note, 3 days after this interview with Katie I did indeed listen to “Midnight” with an open heard and mind. What can I say? It’s a goddamn beautiful song. Like REALLY beautiful.)

AP: As I think about “Moment of Bliss” as a whole, there’s just so much going on and I extract a lot of hope and positivity and also acknowledging  things that are kind of a struggle. But say you’ve just gotten on  an elevator with some random person and are asked to describe your record to someone who hasn’t heard it. What would you say?

KH:  As I was making this album it felt like a completion of an idea. It felt like the completion of this season of making the last three albums and somebody even pointed it out to me saying this feels like the third in a trilogy.  This is the third I’ve done with Cason and just kind of the evolution of where this vision and these influences and these seasons of life back to back kind of have gone where they’ve ended up. I do feel like this is a reflection of…there was kind of like this acknowledgment of a beginning and this world of possibility and it started with “The Waking Sleep” and these new sounds also this way of me taking in life and then this second “Walk Through Walls”  was  very much me working through this very difficult reason and then this one kind of feels a little bit like the aftermath of that and the arrival of some reflective maturity and some experiences and the resignation. It feels like resignation to these things I do as an artist. This is a very natural progression of what I’ve done and I am kind of indulging in these things that I have done in music in these landscapes and these tendencies and layers of sound, themes. And that doesn’t mean I’m gonna necessarily never do any of that again but it did feel like getting it out of my system in  a way. Whatever comes next is gonna feel really different but who knows?

 AP: I’m looking out this super cool cover. Buttefly (Boucher) did all the art and layout right?

KH: Yes she did.

AP: The yellow squares over your eyes. Are those symbolic of something? The whole thing looks amazing I’m just wondering if there’s any symbolism in there? What went into the decision with that?

KH: There’s a really interesting story behind this album of that almost like art and life getting so tied up, talk about manifesting stuff. You write these songs and you explore these ideas and then the album is done and you’re doing the artwork and you’re realizing some of these themes are coming to life in your own life. For me, “Moment of Bliss,” what was like, that, you know, and even coming up with an album title, that whole journey can be very difficult and once “Moment of “Bliss” revealed itself it like really revealed itself. If I talk too much you’re gonna have to ask me more questions.

 AP: Dream collaboration. With anyone? Dead or alive. Who comes to mind?

KH: One that comes to mind is the composer Gustavo Santaolalla.

AP: (after lightning fast Googling) Wow, he did “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel.”

KH:  I first heard him on “Friday Night Lights” and there’s one song in “Babel” what was in “Friday Night Lights” and it was like ‘oh my god what is this?” so I tracked him down. Artists like him or like Bon Iver, there’s something I identify with in how I make music that is almost like it doesn’t have to be the most put together, clean thing. There’s just those layers of things happening that move in a certain way that just gets you. So I want to do something where we put this guy, Justin Vernon and me in a room and see what happens.

AP: I don’t think that that’s that unrealistic of a request.

KH: Dreamboard?

AP: That’s amazing.

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Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist

PONTI OUT

p.s. Don’t forget to SUPPORT INDEPENDENT ARTISTS. YEAH!

Rickie Lee Jones delivers in Portland, Maine

When I walked into the Rickie Lee Jones show the other night at AURA in Portland, Maine and plunked myself down in my front row (to the left a bit) seat I had no intentions of writing about it. I was there strictly as a fan.  I had bought the tickets months ago the moment they went on sale and had been quietly feeling the slow burn of anticipation for the show. But 47 seconds into “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” I couldn’t help myself, I pulled out my notebook and pen and started scribbling notes because my jaw was on the floor by how fantastic Jones and her two band-mates sounded.

Rickie Lee Jones is a national treasure as far as I’m concerned. She’s one of our songwriting greats and her vocals are unique in that no one sounds quite like RLJ. Her voice is clear and bright but also jazzy and moody, depending on the song.

Some people think of Jones simply in terms of the  1979 track “Chuck E’s in Love” from her debut self-titled album. OK. Fine. The song’s terrific and all. But man alive, there’s SO MUCH more to her career than that.  In fact, on that very same album is where you’ll find the song she closed out her show with in Portland the other night called “Coolsville.”

“And now a hungry night you want more and more/And you chip in your little kiss/Well I jumped all his jokers/But he trumped all my tricks” is just a tiny bit of the spellbinding lyrics. At times her vocals sink so low you swear she’s shaking hands with the devil.

Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones performing at AURA in Portland, Maine on 3.27.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Jones played acoustic guitar most of the night but did sit at a baby grand piano for a couple of songs. She was  accompanied by a terrific electric guitarist named Cliff Hines  and a sensational percussionist named Mike Dillon.

She did hit us with “Chuck E.’s In Love” early on but no complaints because, again, it’s a damn good song and this was version was a stripped down chilled out one.

Jones’ third song of the night is one of her finest lyrical moments and it’s another one from that famous first album that is just shy of celebrating its 40th anniversary.

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Warner Bros. Records

“Last Chance Texaco” is straight-up one of the best songs out there by anyone. When Jones started playing I  for real got the chills and came damn close to having to pinch myself.

“A long stretch of headlights bends into I-9/Tiptoe into truck stops/And sleepy diesel eyes/Volcanoes rumble in the taxi and glow in the dark/Camels in the driver’s seat/A slow, easy mark.”

Jones sounded as good -if not better- on this night in Portland than perhaps I’ve ever heard her before. This was about my 5th time seeing her live.

The show continued along its riveting course with “Love Is Gonna Bring Us Back Alive.” It’s from the 1989 Jones album “Flying Cowboys” which is nothing less than sacred to me.  The album was my gateway into knowing and loving the music of Jones.

With an easy smile, sparkling eyes, blue dress and black beret, Rickie Lee Jones looked genuinely happy up on that stage  and although I wish the show had been maybe two or three songs longer, every second was captivating and it reminded me SO MUCH of why I love her music.

Other holy-bananas-this-is-so-great moments from the show included “We Belong Together” and “Living It Up” from her 1981 “Pirates” album,  her interpretation of the  Arthur Hamilton penned standard “Cry Me A River” which Jones told us was made famous by Julie London in the 50s,  “Mink Coat at the Bus Stop” from 2003’s “The Evening of My Best Day” and “Cloud of Unknowing” from 2003’s “Ghostyhead.” Oh and  especially “Eucalyptus Trail” from 2009’s “Balm in Gilead” with the lines “All my old friends have gone underground/They fall so hard, I am the last of my kind in this town.” This seems like the perfect line to end with because Rickie Lee Jones has always felt like an old friend and I’m glad  sure glad she resurfaced to put on such an extraordinary mid-week show in Maine.

Here’s a clip someone shot in Paris, France last month of Jones playing “We Belong Together” which I’m sharing so you can hear for yourself how goddamn glorious Jones still is live.

Ponti out

K.D. Lang revisits Ingenue in stunning Boston performance

Orpheum Theatre, K.D. Lang
The Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA marquee Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Let me say this right out of the gate: K.D. Lang is one of the greatest singers on the planet as far as I’m concerned. I put her vocals right up there with Judy Garland in terms of sheer excellence. Her version of  Cohen’s “Hallelujah” from her 2004 album “Hymns of the 49th Parallel” is the only one I care about.  And her take on “Black Coffee” from 1988’s “Shadowland” and  Cole Porter’s “So in Love” from the 1990 benefit album “Red Hot + Blue” will forever kill me. I love this woman’s voice SO MUCH. Oh and right, then there’s her take on Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Good God in heaven.

I hadn’t seen Lang live in years. Like since the 90s if memory serves. And so I found myself  filled with a sense of longing and joy when I heard she was on the road celebrating the 25th anniversary of her 1992 “Ingenue” album. (the tour started last year for those of you doing math out there.)

Fast forward to last Thursday night in Boston where I sat about 15 rows back in a not sold-out but damn close crowd entirely enraptured with Lang and her STELLAR seven-piece band as they served up all ten tracks of “Ingenue” like a fine wine.

Before I spill my heart out about how much I loved this show, let me quickly say that I LOVE it when artists mark anniversaries of albums by taking them out on the road and playing them in their entirety. I’m looking at you, Brandi Carlile and Shawn Colvin and U2 as a few recent examples.  We live in a shuffle play world but I immensely appreciate hearing an album performed in the order in which it was originally sequenced. And this is especially true with “Ingenue” because this album is like a fantastic voyage of climbing a ladder that leads straight to the core of the human heart beginning with “Save Me” and ending with one of the 90s’ finest musical moments: “Constant Craving.”

After a scintillating opening set from Australian guitar duo the Grigoryan Brothers the house lights dimmed and the stage lights lit up to the sounds of “Save Me” and then Lang’s vocals started and it was downright spiritual because, and I can’t emphasize this enough, SHE SOUNDED AMAZING. I looked at my friend Jen with my jaw dropped and settled in for what proved to be a luxurious and musically spellbinding performance of a divine album which, by the way, Nonesuch Records has released a 25th Anniversary edition of which includes a second disc of “MTV Unplugged Tracks.”

After the first three tracks of “Save Me,” “The Mind of Love” and “Miss Chatelaine” Lang told us they were going to play the rest of the album pretty much without stopping and this proved to be an excellent decision because the album flows so well and banter between songs wasn’t needed.

“Outside Myself” with the lines “I have been in a storm of the sun/Basking, senseless to what I’ve become/A fool to worship just light/When after all it, follows night” is my favorite track on the album and I will forever bow to Lang and Benjamin Mink for writing it.

But for sure the rightful moment when we all lost our minds (in a subdued but none-the-less thrilled manner) was then Lang and company closed out  “Ingenue” with the Grammy-winning tune ““Constant Craving.”  What a way to end an album.

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K.D. Lang at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on March 22, 2018. Mediocre but enthusiastic iPhone photo by Aimsel Ponti

When “Ingenue” ended the show was far from over and Lang’s next tune was “Honey and Smoke” from the 2016 album “case/lang/veirs” that she made with Neko Case and Laura Veirs. If you don’t have the album GET IT. Trust me on this.

K.D. Lang
K.D. Lang in Boston. 3.22.18 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Then we heard “I Dream of Spring” from Lang’s 2008 “Watershed” album during which she played an acoustic guitar. The song is slow and moody and like everything else we heard in Boston at this show, it sounded goddamn glorious.

This brings me to what I’m calling the “H3” part of the show. Lang sang three covers all starting with the letter H and all written by her fellow Canadians.

First was Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”, next was Neil Young’s “Helpless” and finally Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which you already know how I feel about.

Needing to catch a bus back home I had to dash after “Hallelujah” but from what I gather, Lang and her band closed out the show with “Sing it Loud,” the title track from the 2011 album “K.D. Lang and the Siss Boom Bang: Sing it Loud” album. It’s a breezy, charming tune and next time I won’t miss it. The last song of the night is one that Lang’s never recorded but has sung a number of times through the years. It’s called “Sleeping Alone” and the song is honey sweet, sexy and a perfect way to say goodnight with. Damn me for not being there for it. Sleep is, after all, over-rated.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? I’ll repeat my opening sentence:

K.D. Lang is one of the greatest singers on the planet as far as I’m concerned.

Ponti out.

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 two occasions for the Portland Press Herald. Once in 2012 and again in 2015.

Concert Review: Healing powers of First Aid Kit shine brightly in Boston. 2.7.18

When you’ve been waiting far too long to see a band you love, I say go all in! Which is exactly what my friend Kathryn and I did at the First Aid Kit show at the House of Blues in Boston.

When tickets went on sale last October we bought general admission floor seats and also kicked in an extra $20 each for pre-show access to The Foundation Room which is attached to the House of Blues. This was a damn good decision because I never wanted to leave said room because it was like being in a far flung corner of heaven that looked like a Zen lounge with Buddhas and couches and little rooms and built-into the wall tables and incredible art and an all around calming vibe. And proper, low lighting too!

What’s more, we got to enter the venue when the doors opened through a special entrance. When the clock struck seven we were able to make the proverbial “mad dash” and snagged a spot right up front.  And when I say right up front I mean RIGHT up front. My arms were draped over the barrier between the photo pit and stage. I thought to myself “why not?” and it ended up being the right decision because the show was a thousand perfect spectacular and although sometimes the sound can be not as good when right up front, such was not the case at this show; it was PERFECT.

First Aid Kit
Klara Söderberg
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

After an outstanding opening set from Van William, Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg  took the stage at 9 p.m. sharp along with a keys player/trombonist, drummer and pedal steel player/guitarist/mandolinist; all of whom were first-rate players.  Johanna plays bass and Klara plays guitar and together they’re a force of nature; especially when the vocals start.

From my spot  Klara was right in front of me and her sister Johanna was about a dozen feet away. They opened the show with “Rebel Heart,” the first track from their latest album “Ruins.” Side note; If you haven’t listened to “Ruins” yet, for the love of all that is holy, make that a priority. The album’s a damn masterpiece. “Rebel Heart” is moody and emotional and I can’t think of a better one to set the tone for the entire show.  Vocally, the song is like Jack climbing the beanstalk in that it goes higher and higher and ultimately reaches high into the heavens. Hearing it live also brought with it a sigh of relief for me. I was FINALLY seeing First Aid Kit live and holy shit, it was amazing. “It’s a Shame” came next and it’s another favorite  “Ruins” track.

First Aid Kit
Johanna Söderberg
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Rather than give you a blow by blow of the entire setlist I’ll instead tell a few of the standout moments as long as you promise to believe me when I say that every nano second of this show was spot-on perfect. First Aid Kit really is THAT GOOD. A few times I turned around to look at the thousand people behind and above me and knew that we were all witnessing something special.

One of these special moments was the title track to their “Stay Gold” album. Hearing it live gave me happy chills that I’m still feeling days later.

This brings me to perhaps the most potent song of the night and it’s one they released as a single last year on International Women’s Day.  The song was written in response to hearing about a lenient sentence of a convicted rapist. Klara and Johanna were fucking pissed and wrote a fierce, truth-bomby song about it. And this was months before the #metoo and #timesup movement. “You Are The Problem Here” has these lyrics: (and I’m including several lines because this is important.)

“I am so sick and tired of this world
All these women with their dreams shattered
From some man’s sweaty, desperate touch
God damn it, I’ve had enough
When did you come to think refusal was sexy?
Can’t you see the tears in her eyes?
How did you ever think you had the right to
Put your entitled hands up her thighs?

You are the problem here
You are the problem here
No one made you do anything
You are the problem here
You are the problem here
No one made you do anything

And I
And I hope you fucking suffer”

Suffice to say it brought the house down.  When it ended Klara and Johanna told us “Ladies, we have your backs and we love you.”

I had barely caught my breath when First Aid Kid played my favorite song from “Ruins” called “To Live a Life.” Sharing lyrics again because I love them SO VERY MUCH.

“I wrote you a letter
To make myself feel better
To redeem some part of me
I thought I had lost
And we were a lost cause
Long before we fell apart
‘Cause honey, I was too eager
And you were too smart
Yet I look for you
In these empty rooms
You’re a phone call away
I’m on the interstate
And I’ve been drinking cheap wine
Just to pass the time
I’m falling behind
And it doesn’t matter
Who you are to me”

The song is slow and the pedal steel guitar was played  just enough along with acoustic guitar. When Klara and Johanna’s voices collided it was like music was showing me the face of God.

And there there was the dreamy “Fireworks” and the oh-my-god-are-you-kidding-me cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You,” that I pretty much lost my mind during. And there was “EmmyLou” and, well, you get the idea.

During the encore, Van William came out and sang his song “Revolution” with First Aid Kit. I found myself singing along as it’s something of a radio hit and since Klara and Johanna are on the album with William it made sense for them to sing it with him during the live show. Damn fine song.  After “Master Pretender” from the 2014 album “Stay Gold” it was time to close out the show with another song from that album. “Silver Lining” is the first song I ever heard from First Aid Kit and it’s been a personal anthem for me and I suspects thousands upon thousands of other fans. It’s a song that never grows old and one that always does its job of inspiring me, lifting me out of a dark space and helping me to do just what it tells me to do; keep on keepin’ on. Hearing it live by a band that stood just a few feet away from me in a room of other adoring fans was a moment I won’t soon forget.  Klara and Johanna are still in their mid 20s and I can’t wait to see what comes next for them.  “Ruins” is their 5th album and in three weeks since it’s been out has received high praise and understandably so. They’ve struck a nerve with their lyrics, their harmonies, their playing and their message. I absolutely bow to them.

First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit live at The House of Blues in Boston on 2.7.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Here’s a few quick segments I shot from my to-die-for spot. With huge appreciation as always to my pal Shamus Alley who will always have way more technical skills and patience then I ever hope to possess.

THANK YOU First Aid Kit for making my first time seeing you so memorable and moving.

KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON…

Ponti out.

19 Best Songs of 2017

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

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

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

Before diving into the songs let me make this statement:

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

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

I am in awe of people who can sing.

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

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

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

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

fav songs of 2017 featured image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponti out.


12 Songs of Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

winter alp
Trekking to work selfie . February 2017.

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

I’m ALL ABOUT THAT.

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z778slDEsds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor : The Dream Job Q&A

To my fellow Boston Red Sox fans…this one’s for you. And to everyone else who thinks that you’ll never land your dream job, this one’s also for you.

Four  years ago I was at a Red Sox game sitting in the bleachers when I heard the organist play a riff of David Bowie’s “Starman.” I got home from that game and immediately figured out who was behind the magical moment and soon after followed Josh Kantor on Twitter.

Fast forward to April of this year when I saw a Tweet of Kantor’s saying that he’d be sitting in with The Jayhawks for a few songs playing accordion at Port City Music Hall.

So I of course showed up at the show and Kantor himself overheard me saying his name out loud. We said hello and having already established a rapport a few years back when I blogged about the “Starman” moment, I wasn’t a complete stranger to him. I was however a determined one so I asked him right at that moment if he’d be up for an interview. Bless his heart, he said yes and up we went to the dressing room where, much to my delight, a few Jayhawks popped in here and there  during our conversation (they’re awesome).

I busted out my digital recorder and it was off to the races for the next 20 minutes. We talked about how he got the job, how long he’s had it for and what it’s like going to work at Fenway Park 82 times a year (more if we make the playoffs!). And I’m going to share this interview momentarily.

But first just a few words about my love for the Boston Red Sox. It all began in my Papa’s backyard. Papa was my grandfather and when I was a kid I used to help him with yard work. He’d mow the lawn and pick up clippings with his ride-on mower and would dump the clippings in front of me and then I’d fling them over a rock wall. The yard was huge so this took a while. Atop a rock sat his big, heavy transistor radio and that was my first introduction to the Boston Red Sox and to this day, I still adore listening to them on the radio. When I get to Fenway (which is not nearly enough) I’m the nerd with the old school Sony mini radio and headphones so I can listen to the radio broadcast while watching the game. For real.

I survived the 1986 World Series because I was just young enough to not be as invested as I would later be in the team. Fun fact, at the time of that fateful series, Bill Buckner lived not only in my hometown of Andover, MA, but less than a mile form my house. I never ran into him but If I had I would have been nice.

The 2003 American League Championship Series was brutal. For all of us. I can close my eyes and still feel that pain. I know you can too.

Conversely, the joy of 2004 is something I’ll never forget. I know you agree.

I watch this clip at least once a year. It never gets old.

I’m telling you all of this so that you understand that I’m not some casual fan. I’m hardcore.

Photographic evidence: (and yes, that Big Papi in the upper right hand corner that I have my hand on and yeah, he signed my freaking baseball).

ALP Red Sox Collage photo
The top two pics were taken by my friend Jen on the day we got to go on the field before a game in 2005. The bottom left was when I got to run the bases circa 2007 and the lower righthand corner, thanks to my generous friend Anne, is me at the 2013 World Series. We lost that game but Papi homered and you know how it all turned out.

So back to Josh. He’s a hell of nice guy. Humble and kind and also a huge Sox fan. It was SO COOL to chat with him.

Boston Red Sox organist John KantorPhoto courtesy of Josh Kantor
Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor living the dream at Fenway Park.

And now for the Aimsel on the Record 2017 John Kantor interview:

Where you do live?
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Where are you from?
All around but I’ve been in the Boston area since 1990

How did you end up playing with The Jayhawks?
We were on a bill together in Mexico maybe two or three winters ago and I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time and we just kind of hit it off and the next thing I knew they were asking me to jump up and play with them and we stayed in touch and so when they were swinging back through the northeast they asked me to jump up and play with them again.

What was your first instrument?
I started playing piano when I was about five or six and then got serious about organ shortly after I finished college and have kind of dabbled with some other instruments; accordion in recent years.

Where did you go to school?
I went to Brandeis in Waltham, Massachusetts

What kind or organ is there at Fenway Park?
It’s a Yamaha. The model is called Electone AR-100. It’s a mid 1990s model. I’ve been very happy with it. It’s one of those things you know no two models  are exactly alike so I spent a lot of time kind of getting to know the ins and outs of this one so it feels very comfortable and familiar to me, I’m really happy with it. I have a similar model at home that I use to do a lot of the practicing that I do for the stuff that I play at the ballgames.

How long have you been the Red Sox organist and how did you get the job?
This is my 15th year. I auditioned before the start of the 2003 season. I knew someone who was working for the team at the time. He and I had written songs together previously and he knew that I was a baseball nut and he knew that I was an organ player and he recommended me to the audition committee and I went in for a couple or rounds of auditions. I had played in a lot of different bands and I had done a lot of musical theater. I had done a lot of live piano and organ accompaniment for improvisational theater which I found to be sort of the most transferable skill for the baseball job because  you’re watching players on a stage and you don’t know what’s gonna happen next and you have to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice with the appropriate musical idea.

Do you sit near other?
We used to but I’ve moved around. We used to be in the same location. My location has since changed but we are in constant communication with each other via a headset.  Before the game, during the game, after the game, we give each other cues, suggestions, feedback and keep each other on our toes and make sure we both don’t play at the same time. He also comes from a background of doing that kind of thing for improvisational theater so we have a really cool, unique kind of verbal shorthand with each other which helps us keep things quick and sharp.

How long has TJ been doing his thing for?
He’s been there full-time since the start of ’08 I think and for maybe three or four years prior to that was the backup so he’d substitute occasionally.

Do you remember what your first thought you had when you were offered the job?
I was thrilled. This really is a dream job. It’s something that I remember as a kid thinking ‘that must be the coolest job in the world to play the organ at a baseball stadium.’ I kind of always wanted to do that. But I think I had probably mentioned that to enough people that the friend who recommended me for the audition probably remembered or heard me say it at some point and was able to connect me with the audition committee. I remember thinking that the first audition went OK but not great. And then some time passed and they called me back.

Did they have you audition right at Fenway Park?
I auditioned in the park. In fact the first audition was over the loud speakers in the ballpark which was not the plan but one of the people on the audition committee was stuck in a meeting in a conference room with a window that faced out into the park and couldn’t leave so he just opened the window and asked the audio engineer to just turn on all the speakers. That was a little nerve-wracking for me to have my audition be in an empty stadium for the whole neighborhood to hear. Then I remember the second audition, I felt maybe because they called me back that was a sign that they liked me. I remember going into the second audition feeling comfortable and confident and I remember feeling like it was really long. It was at the end of that audition that they offered it to me and they said “Can you do every home game?”

What’s 162 divided by two?
81 games plus playoffs if you’re lucky.

So your first season was 2003 right?
That was the year they lost to The Yankees.

Were you playing during those American League Championship Division games?
Yes. And especially since that was my first season I really rode the rollercoaster everyday the way that so many of us did.

Then the 2004 ALDS again against the Yankees did you play during all of those crazy extra-inning late games that felt like they lasted until the middle of the night?
Yes. I remember they were down 0-3 and I remember walking into the gate for game 4 and just telling myself I have to believe we are going to win tonight in order to walk through that gate.  I remember leaving that game thinking “that’s the most exciting baseball game I’ve ever seen in my whole life” whether I was working it or not.

That was the famous Dave Roberts steal game.
Yeah so they won that game in 12 innings on the Ortiz  home run. The next night, game five, they won in 14 innings.

Right. When Big Papi muscled out that game-winning single.
Yeah. I remember leaving game give thinking “that one was even more exciting that game four” and then they went to Yankee Stadium and won two more and then they came back and beat the Cardinals.

Did you play at the World Series?
Yes.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch is you playing live right?
Yes. That’s the one thing that’s scripted as far as live playing.

When did you join Twitter and when did you start having fan interactions because I get a big kick out of seeing that stuff.
I joined Twitter fairly early on but I didn’t understand it and I didn’t see the utility of it. I was sort of instructed by the boss at the library where I was working my day job to get on it and I was skeptical. TJ Connelly and the organist for the Atlanta Braves, I saw them starting to use it in interesting, clever, creative and interactive ways with fans at the games and I thought “I bet I can do that.” And so I just started doing it and I started just as a wild experiment offering to take people’s requests. I really had no idea how it was going to go. I didn’t think anything was gonna come of it other than it might be fun for a week . That was about five years ago and now it’s turned into a pretty self-sustaining thing. I’d say most of the songs I play during a game are fan requests that come in live via Twitter from people in the stands.

I see that you do get heckled sometimes.
I do. People tell me what they don’t like. People also tell me what they do like and it’s fun. I tell people what I like and don’t like too. I’m not there to play what I want to hear, I’m there to play what other people want to hear. But I will tell people “I think that’s a dumb song.” I’ll gladly play it, let’s have fun with it. I also make fun of my own musical taste constantly.

Do you feel pressure to keep up with all the popular, hit songs?
Not a ton of pressure. I think part of the job means keeping to some extent your finger on the pulse of what’s popular. I’m 44 so that charts are not aimed at me. I’m not paying a ton of direct attention to it other than for occasional work related purposes but I can take a peek at it every once in a while. I kind of know who some of the big names are. The other thing is, people will tell me. I have young colleagues who are newly minted communications graduates from Boston University and Emerson and they’ll tell me what’s hip. Or fans will come to the games and they’ll tell me what’s hip or what’s new.

So if Beyoncé had some scorching hot single that the entire planet was singing, it’s not like you have to learn the whole song right?
It depends. Sometimes you’re just looking for the one little hook or the chorus and it can be ten seconds, fifteen, thirty. Sometimes I’ll play the full song if it’s before or after the game.

But you’re not going out buying sheet music right?
I don’t read music. I knew how to as a kid but I just haven’t practiced it.

So if there’s a popular new song, you’ll just kind of figure it out?
Yes, if it’s simple enough. I do this every night. Now if it’s a straight-forward tune , then usually one listen and I’m good to go.  But sometimes it takes a second or third listen to get the nuances of it, especially if you’re really trying to nail the hook or an extended chunk of the song.

I know you play a lot of requests but you also have a keen appreciation for some 80s alternative music.  I think I heard you play a Plimsouls song once. Do you ever get to work in some of your own snippets?
I play whatever people ask me to play so if people ask to me to play a Plimsouls song, I will play it. Now I happen to be in my  sort of freelance music “career” I’m kind of connected with a lot of the sort of 80s and 90s indie rock world because those are the bands I end up meeting and playing at festivals with and connecting with. I’m in a band with Eddie Muñoz who was the guitar player in The Plimsouls.

What’s that band called?
It’s called The Split Squad. So it’s Eddie Muñoz, Clem Burke the drummer from Blondie and Keith Streng the guitar player from The Fleshtones. So those kind of people.

How often do you play shows?
Everybody lives all over the country and everybody’s in lots of bands so I would two or three times a year we get together for like a week.

How long has this been going on for?
This band formed about four of five years ago.

So it’s a cold, rainy night in say June and the game sucks and we’re getting our asses handed to us. Is that when you really try to lift people up?
That’s when you have to earn it. Because if they’re in first place and they’re kicking ass and everyone’s in great spirt and the place is packed and it’s the weekend and everyone is in an awesome mood, it’s not difficult for me to wind people up because they’re already pretty wound up. But when the weather is miserable and the team is having a bad night and people are in a bad mood… I mean we’ve had a couple of seasons recently where they were in last place it’s tricky because you want to be light-hearted, you want it to be buoyant, you want to keep people optimistic. At the same time, Red Sox fans are really savvy by and large and if you whitewash it they feel like you’re insulting their intelligence and you kind of are insulting their intelligence so I don’t want to do that. So it’s  bit of balancing act. If the team’s not playing as well then maybe there’s a little more pressure on me to at least make it so people are having fun.

Remind me of what happens between innings? Are you and TJ both playing songs?
Yes. Sometimes it’s him, sometimes it’s me. We trade off. During a commercial break there’s almost always music being played at the ballpark by the DJ or by me.

Do you play songs for players as they’re coming up to bat?
Every park does it differently. Each player has a song that is associated with them and a lot of times it’s personally selected by the player and so when they get introduced and they come up to bat or it’s a relief pitcher and they’re coming into the game than that song will be played at that time. 99% of the time that’s a DJ thing cause that’s what the players tend to prefer. Then as far as incidental music that happens in response to plays or lulls in the action or anything like that, that’s a combination of me and the DJ. By and large the DJ and I have the leeway to make those decisions.  Sometimes we get input from colleagues, bosses and we take that all into consideration.

Do you ever get to interact with the players?
Occasionally it’s a quick “hi, how are you you? but I kind of observe them much in the way that fans do. Do you get to interact with the players ever?

Where is the organ? 
We’ve had  a few different locations over the years but right now it’s directly beneath the press box where writers sit. It’s level four in that’s called the State Street Pavilion Club with is a restaurant/bar area.

Even after all these years and all of the times you’ve walked into Fenway Park to go to work, do you still have moments of “this is so cool!”?
Oh yeah. Everyday. At least one, usually several times every day I kind of stop and soak it in and pinch myself. Even on days I’m not there sometimes, throughout the off-season I think “I can’t believe I get to go there and do that?”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ponti-runner

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

Voila!