In her first U.S. show in three years Amanda Palmer took us to church (in an actual church)

Sometimes the universe comes through just when you need it to.

Saturday, August 13, 2022, was one of those times.

Amanda Palmer is HIGH on my list of favorite musicians and I hadn’t seen her perform live since April of 2019 (or as many of us like to call it, the before times).

I saw her last weekend at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, New York.

It was there that I laughed, cried, applauded, cheered and felt each note to my core.

I did all the things. This was a full-service show.

I mean for Christ sake, I even got a chiropractic treatment during the pre-show reception by a gentleman who was entirely kind to me and understood that my body, heart and mind needed help. It was part one of the healing experience that happened that night.

This show was an emotional booster shot. I’m stronger for it and I’m so thankful for that.

Despite a creepy hotel debacle and despite the fact that my car broke down in Massachusetts on the way back to Maine from New York on Sunday it was worth driving more than 600 miles.

Permit me to tell you why.

The performance was a benefit for 0+ based in Kingston. Their mission is to empower communities to take control of their collective well being through the exchange of art, music and wellness.

From their site:

“Underinsured artists and musicians create and perform in exchange for a variety of services donated by doctors, dentists and complementary care providers. O+ (pronounced O Positive) calls this exchange the art of medicine for the medicine of art.”

So yeah, O+ is the bomb and I was happy to support them.

Actor, MC and creater of the non-profit arts organization Chris Wells played host for the evening and rallied the audience to shout out their suggestions to make the world a better place. A poem might surface from him from the notes he took. He also led us all in a massive primal scream session. Those church walls absorbed a lot that night, that’s for shit sure.

Chamber pop piano-violin duo Gracie and Rachel were also there. They’re lovely. I was fortunate to have seem them a few times lately opening for both Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco.

Poet, essayist and neo-troubador animist Sophie Strand graced us with her presence and read a stunning piece. She’s new to me. I love her!

Svitlana Zavialova is a Ukrainian martial artist, painter and performance artist. Her performance resulted in a painting that fetched $750. She also wielded a sword when Amanda played “Drowning in the Sound” later in the evening. We’ll get to that. Trust me.

I didn’t get to catch more than a few moments of PowLo b-O.M.B. but he’s a super cool NYC subway foot drummer and guitar busker who was doing his thing outside the church.

Check out all of these people. They’re out there doing AMAZING THINGS.

Now about that Amanda performance…

After an enthusiastic introduction from Chris Wells, Amanda stood in the church’s pulpit and sang a song a cappella. But not just ANY SONG. She sang Tracy Chapman’s “Behind the Wall.” Raise your hand if you still have your original vinyl copy of Chapman’s absolutely brilliant debut album , home to “Fast Car,” Baby Can I Hold You” and the bone-chilling account of domestic violence that is “Behind the Wall.”

Amanda Palmer. 08.13.22. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Turns out Chapman and Palmer both put in countless hours in different decades busking at the same exact spot in Harvard Square. BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY DID.

Hearing Amanda sing a song like “Behind the Wall” in a CHURCH was, well shit, it was a near religious experience.

And she was just getting started…

Still in the pulpit, Amanda picked up her ukulele to play a song near and dear to many hearts. From 2011’s “Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under” we heard “In My Mind.” Right from the start the words resonate.

“In my mind, in a future five years from now/I’m a hundred and twenty pounds/And I never get hungover, because I will be the picture of discipline/Never minding what state I’m in/And I will be someone I admire.”

When it came time for the “Fuck Yes” line from the song, she let us handle it and we damn well did.

Amanda’s 2019 album “There Will Be No Intermission” kills me in a way that few albums do. Every goddamn second of every track, including the musical interludes.

One of those songs that hits particularly hard is “The Thing About Things.” Amanda sings about loaning things out and not getting them back which then moves into singing about a complicated grandfather relationship and a stolen ring that gets lost -and then found -in a bar. The anguish is palpable and I could hear tears in Amanda’s voice during the lines “He wasn’t the type to give tokens of affection so I stole the ring when he died/And then twenty years on when I lost it in a bar, I thought that’s fine, I don’t want it him my life.” It was like when someone’s speaking at a funeral trying to hold it together and then realizing, fuck this, I don’t need to. Nor should I.

Amanda moved to the grand piano and played what she referred to as a “church song.”

Amanda Palmer at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, New York. 8.13.22. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

It was “Jump (For Jeremy Geidt)” with the lines “We are miserable sinners/filthy fuckers.” This was of course glorious and she segued directly into one of my (many) favorite songs. From 2008’s “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” Amanda played “Ampersand” and here’s where I take a moment to shine a big, bright spotlight on something I don’t think gets talked about nearly enough: Amanda’s piano playing. It’s tremendous. I feel so strongly about this that I’m entirely ready for her to pull an Annie Lennox and release an instrumental album. (Lennox did this in 2019 with the magnificent 4-song piano EP “Ledidoptera.”)

But back to “Ampersand.” This is a truly classic Palmer song.

“And I may be romantic
And I may risk my life for it
But I ain’t gonna die for you
You know I ain’t no Juliet”

Am I really going to talk about every song Amanda played at this show? YEP. Sure am. I can’t help it.

But before I launch into gushing about the next song, it’s worth mentioning that Amanda played this entire show with her father Jack, who had been visiting for the past several days, in the ICU unit of a local hospital. She shared this with us adding that because she had been spending so much time in the hospital, her rehearsal time for this show had been minimal and the songs might suffer for it.

They didn’t.

And she proved it by playing the frantic, fraught with drama “Runs in the Family,” which requires a flurry of piano not for the faint of heart.

Then it was back to “There Will Be No Intermission” for “Voicemail for Jill,” a song about abortion.

Before playing it, Amanda said this: “I wanted to play this song for really sad, obvious reasons. But I also was thinking backstage about what I wanted to say about the song. The tour that took me to New Zealand which is why I wound up away from America for over two years by accident was fundamentally a show about abortion rights. A lot of people did not really care for my show, including people close to me who didn’t understand why I had to get up on stage and talk about this stuff because it should be personal.” Everything feels terrible right now. But also I am seeing and finding people willing to fight the good fight in a way I never have before and this is what we have to fucking do.”

Damn right we do.

Amanda played “Voicemail for Jill” and the earth stood still for several minutes. And the piano was extra lovely on this one and brought tears to my eyes.

Leave it to Amanda to know the EXACT RIGHT SONG to play next. This woman knows how to read a room which is why “Coin Operated Boy” was the only song that could have come next.

From the 2004 self-titled Dresden Dolls album, “Coin Operated Boy” is pure delight. Yeah fine, Billy Joel’s piano sounds like a carnival, but Amanda’s sounds like a punk cabaret one. And while I’m thinking about it, hey Amanda, hey Brian, time to start thinking about a 20th anniversary re-issue of the album as it’s coming up fairly soon. Don’t ask me where the fucking time goes but here we are…

Amanda told us about recently seeing her longtime friend Regina Spektor perform at Carnegie Hall. Then she covered “Ode to Divorce,” the first track from Spektor’s EPIC 2004 album “Soviet Kitsch.” On Feb. 6, 2005 I saw Regina OPEN for Dresden Dolls in Portland, Maine. The Dolls’ set was professionally filmed and you can watch it here.

Amanda’s version of “Ode to Divorce” was sublime. Jesus.

It was time for us to experience Svitlana again. This time,wielding a huge sword and dancing/moving while Amanda played “Drowning in the Sound,” yet another jewel from “Intermission.” What’s more, Gracie and Rachel positioned themselves on opposite sides of the balcony to sing backing vocals during the song. I mean what in the actual fuck? It was transcendent.

Rehearsal shot. Amanda Palmer and Svitlana Zavialova. 08.13.22. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Svitlana’s jerky, twitchy movements behind Amanda during the beginning of the song was stunning. Then she picked up that motherfucking sword and swirled around the stage and into the center aisle.

The piano came crashing down while Amanda sang and Svitlana wielded the sword like she was going into battle against dark forces that are both sinister and desperate for love.

The culmination was when Amanda’s arm stretched across one side of the piano and Svetlana’s the other as they reached for connection as Amanda sang the line “I’m watching everyone I love” over and over, holding the last note for several seconds as their hands reached for one other but never touched. It was a moment I won’t soon forget.

The show could have ended then and it would have been enough.

But it didn’t end.

Amanda wasn’t nearly done with us and in fact played a new song for us, an homage to her adopted home of New Zealand. She explained that she wrote very little during her time there and the one she played for us was written right before she left. “I gave myself a job. I needed to write a good love letter to this country that has taken care of me for two years.”

Jamie McFale is a fifth generation Kiwi that Amanda befriended during her time there and from whom she learned so much. She also talked about the loneliness she felt there. All of this and a ton more went into the song which mentions Jamie by name and captures pieces of conversations they had and the deeply personal things he shared with her. I hope she ends up recording and releasing it. It speaks to the complicated history of both the U.S. and New Zealand while also celebrating her love for the island country which kept she and her son Ash safe.

Poet Sophie Strand was introduced. Gracie sat next to Amanda at the piano and the two played together while Rachel played violin and Sophie read the piece “I Will Not Be Purified.” Holy shit. Now I want to ready everything she’s ever written. Again I say: Holy shit.

Now comes the part where I cried really hard.

The last song of “There Will Be No Intermission” is called “Death Thing.” I’ve always struggled with this song but not for the reasons you think. It’s not because I don’t like it. Quite the opposite is true. I just can’t casually listen to it while doing random stuff like the dishes or running errands in the car. “Death Thing” is a song that needs to be saved for when I can be quiet and feel safe.

And the song took on new meaning for me on May 29 of this year. This is the day my mother Louise died. Five weeks after a brain tumor diagnosis. I had been there for all of it. Driving the 90 minutes (it could have been 900 and it wouldn’t have mattered) back and forth to the hospital and then the wonderful spot where she spent about the last ten days of her life. I was there when she started to slip away, first by ending talking, then eating and drinking. I was there on the last day when I walked into her room and knew from the shift in her breathing that this was it.

I am, as you can imagine, still processing all of this. I let myself feel the pain in measured doses. Although I’m starting to believe and trust in the fact that my grief will not swallow me whole, even as tears stream down my face as I write this and I think about how much I miss my mother.

Amanda dedicated the song to Sophie who she had spent time with at the hospital in the days leading up the show.

Three notes in I knew what song it was. I was seated in the balcony of that church snapping photos. I put my camera down and held onto the Celtic cross that belonged to my mother that I now wear every day.

I told myself to just be present. To go full on Beatles and just let it goddamn be for once.

My shoulders shook as I quietly sobbed. But a few minutes later, as the song ended with Amanda singing the Sanskrit mantra “Jai guru deva, om” (which most of us know from The Beatles’ “Across the Universe.”) it occurred to me that I was still there, grief and all.

The show continued with the song “I Love You So Much” which is on the album Amanda made with her dad Jack a few years ago. He was going to be a surprise guest at the show. At this moment I’m not sure on how Jack is going but I sure hope he’s OK or at the very least, not in pain. Gracie graciously stepped in and sang his part.

The evening ended with a cover of the song “Another World” by Antony and The Johnsons. It’s from the 2009 album “The Crying Light.” I know next to nothing about this band but sure am curious. Head here to get yourself started at least.

I don’t know the original but figured out what it was by some old school lyrics googling. I have since listened to it and am of course wondering where the song has been my whole life.

Here’s a chunk of the lyrics:

I need another world
A place where I can go
I’m gonna miss the sea
I’m gonna miss the snow
I’m gonna miss the bees
I miss the things that grow
I’m gonna miss the trees

A lot happened during Amanda’s performance of the quite frankly sacred song. She moved from the piano back to where it all began; the pulpit. Rachel was below playing violin, Gracie was at the piano. Amanda wore a crown of small red flowers.

Father Nathan Monk walked up one of the side aisles, holding a small statue of Jesus. Svitlana walked up the center one holding a globe over her head. Sophie Strand rang bells. The four of them stood on that pulpit, then Chris Wells joined them and covered the glove with cloth and embraced it, as is in mourning. The church grew dark and the last strand of violin was heard. It was breathtaking. Truly breathtaking.

I’ve missed you terribly, Amanda.

Welcome home.

Ponti out.

Brandi Carlile reaches supernatural high with ‘Blue’ performance at Carnegie Hall

It’s been a handful of days since I walked out of New York City’s historic Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall after seeing Brandi Carlile and her stellar band play Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album along with a handful of other songs.

Maybe I finally do know clouds after all because my head has certainly been in them ever since. I am riding a wave of not knowing what to do with the rest of my life but I’m doing so smiling.

By the way, this all happened on the eve of Mitchell’s 78th birthday and I was one of many voices that sang Happy Birthday to her at the end of the night. Joni herself wasn’t there, but I am certain she heard a recording of us later that evening from her California home.

Before I dive into what went down that night in Manhattan, a quick backstory:

Three years ago, I ventured to California for the Joni 75 birthday celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles where I saw an all-star assemblage of musicians, including Carlile, play Joni songs all night long. I was there on the first night. On the second, Mitchell herself was there as it was her birthday. That’s the closest I’ll ever likely come to being in the same room as Joni.

Back in the 90s I had tickets to see Joni perform in Massachusetts but for reasons I can’t recall, the show was canceled. I’ve never seen her perform live but I am now, finally, OK with this having witnessed what I did at Carnegie Hall. Carlile reminded us to be thankful for the fact that we are indeed living in the time of Mitchell and she’s right. Boy is she right.

I scribbled notes like a woman possessed while also taking in every sacred second of the performance from my entirely righteous seat about a dozen rows from the stage to the left. I can read most of my handwriting but even if I didn’t jot down a single word the show is permanently imprinted on me because YES, SONGS ARE LIKE TATTOOS. At least these songs are. Good god almighty.

The show, sermon, celebration, homage, jubilee, event, ceremony (etc.) started at about 8:15 p.m. with a short film featuring footage from Carlile’s initial Blue show that happened in Los Angeles two years ago. It ends with a champagne toast and Brandi saying out loud that she’s determined to perform the show at Carnegie Hall. In other words, she manifested the hell out of this and let it be a giant life lesson for us all.

And then my friends…the show began and there was our queen, decked out in the sharpest blue velvet suit I ever hope to be in the same room as.

Carlile played “Blue” as the sequencing gods intended which of course means in order. This means the first song was “All I Want” and the second I heard the first few dulcimer notes played by Tim Hanseroth I knew that I was witnessing something truly special. Carlile’s vocals, which have never disappointed in the bazillion times I’ve seen her live, were, somehow, all the more glorious as they sang Mitchell’s words.

“Do you want, do you want, do you wanna dance with me baby? Do you wanna take a chance on maybe finding some sweet romance with me baby, well come on.” I mean HOLY SHIT. What’s more, Carlile did indeed dance a bit around the stage during the interlude. Automatic standing ovation.

Then all the musicians except for pianist and musical director Jon Cowherd left the stage and Carlile proudly proclaimed “Welcome to Blue at Carnegie Hall, my heart is pounding!” Hers wasn’t the only one, that’s for damn sure.

Carlile wondered aloud why in the hell she decided to do this to herself then answered her own question. “Blue is such an important album to all of us. I want to give people a chance to see Blue live. I had no interest in re-inventing the wheel,” she explained. Her goal was to perform the album the way Joni would have back in 1971, the year it was released. (Happy 50th Blue!)

“Blue has been a portal or gateway drug into the music of Joni Mitchell,” said Carlile and I concur. Once I heard “Blue” I became ravenous for the rest of Mitchell’s iconic catalog.

Carlile sang “My Old Man” with Cowherd on the grand piano. And how grand it was. “We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall, keeping us tied and true, no my old man, keeping away my blues.” Look, I know we all overuse the word “epic” but GODDAMN IT THIS WAS EPIC. It really was.

This was the moment that I realized if the show ended right then and there I would have been satisfied.

But there were eight more “Blue” songs to come including some serious heavy hitters so I collected myself, and sat transfixed, ready, or so I thought, for “Little Green.”

Carlile has told the tale several times of how she and her wife Catherine Shepherd had their first disagreement when Brandi shunned “Blue” much to Catherine’s dismay. Apparently, Carlile didn’t think Mitchell was tough enough as a songwriter, especially because of the “I wanna shampoo you” line in “All I Want.” Shepherd then told Carlile that the song “Little Green” was about a very young Mitchell giving up her daughter for adoption in 1965. Then Shepherd played the track for her wife. Carlile told us, before singing it herself, that the song changed her life and changed what femininity meant to her. “I think this is the toughest song in the history of rock and roll that I’m about to play.” And play it she did. How any of us held it together that night I’ll never know.

Next up was “Carey” and Carlile’s words of “All right, we need to party now!” With a full band that included guest singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius. There were, of course, The Twins (Carlile’s career-long bandmates and songwriting parners Tim and Phil Hanseroth) and a string section that included her longtime cellist Josh Neumann. All told, the ensemble was 13 musicians strong. Oh and hi there, Matt Chamberlain, rock star drummer!

Carlile invited us to sing along with “Carey” though not all that many did, at least in my area. We were, after all, to hear her golden pipes and there was no need to drown them out with our own. “Carey” was phenomenal.

It was just the piano and string section of two violins and two cellos for “Blue’s” title track. It was breathtaking. To hear Brandi Carlile sing these lines damn near levitated me straight through the ceiling of a hall that was built in the late 1800s. Part of me is still floating in the ether above Seventh Avenue.

‘Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go well
I don’t think so, but I’m
Gonna take a look around it though Blue
I love you’


It was back to the full band for “California” and Carlile declared “I think we’re all in Laurel Canyon tonight.” Tim Hanseroth’s dulcimer made sure of that. As did the pedal steel guitar I heard.

I think my favorite song of the night was “This Flight Tonight.” Holly and Jess joined Carlile who played an acoustic guitar. Looking at my notes, I see I scribbled five big stars on the page about this song. The sound was, well shit it was almost three-dimensional. This version went well beyond the album’s less than three minutes and every moment was glorious and jaw-dropping.

But there was no time to recover or bask in the afterglow because it was time to pull out one of the big guns. It was time for “River.” This one Carlile handled on her own at the piano. “I got drunk at Joni’s house one night and I tried to play this. It did not go over well. Herbie Hancock was there. It was fucked up,” shared Carlile to much laughter. She went on to say she thinks “River” redefined the way people look at Christmas music. “At some point in every person’s life it’ll be a holiday filled with loneliness or grief. There needed to be a song that embraces it,” said Carlile who is absolutely correct. Then she said the best thing she could have possibly said at that moment before playing the song: “So, Merry Fucking Christmas!”

Carlile destroyed me and everyone else in that hall that night with her rendition of “River.” Her vocals. I don’t think I’ll ever land on quite the right words to describe them.

Now then. I have a declaration. There will NEVER be a stronger one-two punch of an album that “River” into “A Case of You.” It’s just not possible. How these songs exist at all, let alone written by the SAME person on the SAME album right after each other. I can’t even… I know you can’t either. I imagine it’s just one of the reasons why Carlile considers “Blue” to be the greatest album ever made.

So I sit here not really knowing what to even say about Carlile singing “A Case of You.” And I think that’s everything you need to know.

“Blue” closes out with “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” When Carlile and company played it, the song seemed to get bigger as it went along. More cinematic and huge. It was like a cauldron of sounds was being stirred before us. A wild tempest. That finally glided down like a butterfly. I’ve never heard anything like it.

And although that was the final song from “Blue,” the show wasn’t over. Oh hell no.

For the first encore, Carlile visited “Ladies of the Canyon” for “Woodstock.” With Holly and Jess by her side we didn’t just go back to the garden. We were transported there via magic carpet and rocket ship. Jesus Christ. Carlile played her electric guitar and there was a wall of sound that filled every inch of that auditorium. This take on “Woodstock” had fangs. It was spectacular.

Carlile with a Twin on either side of her, took to the edge of the stage without microphones to pay homage to the building itself and the stories it holds. The three of them sang “Cannonball” from Carlile’s breakthrough album “The Story.” I’ve heard them play if this way a few times before but this, this was something entirely different.

On October 1, Carlile released her seventh studio album “In These Silent Days.” She told us that she allowed herself to go full-on Joni for one song, “You and Me on the Rock.” When she played it for Mitchell, Joni told her it “Sounded like a hit.” I”m pretty sure it’s well on its way to being just that. As with on the album, the Carnegie version featured Holly and Jess and wow, they sang the hell out of it.

The last studio album Joni Mitchell released was 2007’s “Shine” and the title track is how Carlile chose to end her unforgettable night in Manhattan. It was she, Holly and Jess and pianist Jon Cowherd. I’d heard the song before but it wouldn’t have mattered. This was the perfect choice to go out on because it’s pure Joni and is a plea to heal the planet and every human and animal on it. Nobody write a song quite like Joni Mitchell and this was no exception. This is why I’m gonna share a bunch of the “Shine” lyrics.

“Oh, let your little light shine
Shine, shine, shine
Let your little light shine
Shine on good humor
Shine on good will
Shine on lousy leadership
Licensed to kill
Shine on dying soldiers
In patriotic pain
Shine on mass destruction
In some God’s name
Shine on the pioneers
Those seekers of mental health
Craving simplicity
They traveled inward
Past themselves
Let their little lights shine
May all their little lights shine”

So there it is. Brandi Carlile performing “Blue” at Carnegie Hall. It just doesn’t get any better.

But I am gonna share one more little story from the night because it speaks directly to the kind of person Carlile is.

My friends and I were out at a bar post-show when we got tipped off where the after party was. Still on a high from the performance and with no other particular place to go, ten of us hot-stepped it back a half mile or so to a joint across the street from Carnegie. It was well after midnight at this point but we were having a blast trying to catch a glimpse of Carlile and her celebrity packed party through the curtains. We knew we were silly but we didn’t care. When in Rome, right?

Sure enough, the evening winded down and Carlile came out and chatted, signed autographs and took photos with ALL OF US and by then our numbers had doubled. My selfie is mortifying so I won’t be sharing that here but I did ask Carlile how she was feeling and said she was relieved it was over but was feeling really good. Carlile certainly did not need to take the time to visit with us after one of the longest days of her life but she did it anyway because she loves her fans. This will never be lost on me. She’s a real-deal kind human. She’s also one of the most tremendous artists I’ve ever had the honor of interviewing several times through the years, writing about a whole bunch, seeing live more times that I can remember and most of all, just being a fan of.



Mural on Stanton Street in New York City. 11/6/21. Photo by Aimsel Ponti
Yours truly outside Carnegie Hall. Photo by Marian Starkey

Ponti out.

Kathleen Edwards is back with ‘Total Freedom’

Let me start by saying I have my therapist to thank for this review. I was complaining, literally the day before the album was dropping about my writing procrastination . I told her that  one my favorite artists has an album coming out and I’d like to write something about it.

Then I told her I had already read a handful of reviews by other writers and mine would surely suck by comparison. From there I trotted down my usual path of imposter  syndrome and self-doubt. Ya know, the usual spiel.

She told me to write it anyway. She told me, in kind therapist speech, to get the hell out of my own way.

And so,  here I am. And with goddamn good reason.

Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is on my top ten list of all-time favorite artists. She’s been on this list for several years and will never be knocked off it.

Even when she put a pin in her music career to open Quitter’s Coffee in Ottawa  back in 2014 and I wasn’t sure if she’d ever add to her four album catalog, it didn’t matter. That’s how much love I have for her music. That’s how much the four albums “Failer” (2003), “Back to Me” (2005), “Asking for Flowers (2008) and “Voyageur” (2012) mean to me.

Like many others, my first exposure to Edwards was by way of the “Failer” radio single “Six O”clock News” and I’ve never looked back. The voice, the songwriting, all of it. Fucking spectacular.

Through the years I’ve been fortunate to have seen Edwards a total of six times at shows here in Portland, Maine. At various size venues she captivated those in attendance and was always keen to chat with fans afterwards. The last time I saw Edwards live was in May of 2012. I also interviewed Edwards in 2005 and reviewed one of her shows in 2005 for the Portland Press Herald newspaper and you’ll find those at the end of this review.

From those four previous albums  are so many favorite songs. These songs are part of my DNA at this point. These songs get me. I need these songs in my life.

Some of them are “Hockey Skates, “Mercury,” “Sweet Lil’ Duck,” “In State,” “Pink Emerson Radio,” “Old Time Sake,” “Away” “Alicia Ross, ” “Sure As Shit” “Goodnight, California,” “Empty Threat, “A Soft Place To Land,” “House Full Of Empty Rooms,” and “For the Record.”

And I might add , Edwards released a holiday song for the ages last December called “It’s Christmastime “Let’s Just Survive.” 

And while I’m at it, I’ll also mention that in 2015 she covered Roxette’s “It’s Must Have Been Love” and it takes an already sad song and adds a Edwardsian layer of quiet, lovely angst to it. I mean Jesus. H. Christ take two seconds and take a quick listen.

If you’re not familiar with Kathleen Edwards, I encourage you with every cell in my body to do some exploration and join in the celebration that is her new album “Total Freedom,” releasing on August 14, 2020. Or as I like to call it: Kathleen Edwards day.

I started getting inklings that Edwards was back in music-making mode several months ago when quick clips of her clearly in a recording studio started showing up in her Instagram stories. She also hopped onto Instagram for a few live performances and I was beside myself watching them.

Then I heard that Edwards had been in Nashville having been invited to co-write a tune with Maren Morris.  The song “Good Woman,”penned by Morris, Edwards and Ian Fitchuk landed on Morris’ “Girl”album, released last year. Edwards also sings backing vocals on it. Turns out, that invitation by Morris was how Edwards found her way back into wanting to make another record. Hey Maren, THANK YOU.

Edwards has gracefully shared via several interviews some of what’s gone down since she was last in the public eye and I don’t feel the need to rehash that all here. But I’ll say this: There was huge relationship and mental health issues that needed dealing with and healing from and I’m beyond thankful that Edwards was able to navigate through them.

Now I’ll go back to nerding out about “Total Freedom.”

On May 19th a press release arrived and I’m pretty sure I frightened my dog Odie (he’s often down by my feet when I’m working) with my excited shriek.  The release shared the TRIUMPHANT news that, holy god, Kathleen Edwards was BACK and that “Total Freedom” was due out on August 14 and holy shit, the new single “Options Open” was out!

Here’s an excerpt from the release:

Edwards is back with a refreshed creative outlook and a new sense of freedom. Across the album’s eleven songs, Edwards revisits past relationships with a new perspective, explores her own resilience and optimism and for the first time pursues what she feels is right rather than what is expected. 

I clumsily threw my headphones on and the earth stood still for those few minutes while I gave “Options Open” a first listen. Make fun of me if you want, but I was ALL ABOUT this song from the first second, the first guitar lick.  About 15 seconds later, Edwards, voice was in my ears singing these lines:

I love you so much
everything you do you say you speak it just works for me
I blame it on the weekly flyer
that took me down to Crappy Tire
you were smiling when I looked up
I guess we’ll always have a parking lot
for 39 years I’ve been keeping my options open

By the end of that day, I had listened to “Options Open” about nine times and it was like getting caught up with an old friend over coffee on the deck that eventually segues into whiskey in the living room because so much has happened to get filled in on.

In the coming weeks, three more songs were set free. “Hard on Everyone,” “Birds On A Feeder” and “Fools Ride.” They’re all quintessential Edwards. Smart. Sound. Lyrically brilliant, per usual. Here’s a few lines from the moody af “Fools Ride.”

here comes the red flag flying in the shit parade a warning sign that I ignored
signed my good name to a house
you can’t afford
there’s a run in the rug
a pull in my sweater
something true was in that letter
loose ends you never tied
now I know it was all a lie


Somewhere in there I started getting emails from her new label, Dualtone Records telling me all about super groovy pre-order options. Wearing my HARDCORE fan hat, I immediately ordered the limited edition gold vinyl edition of the album. As I write this, tracking info is telling me it’s arriving on Aug. 17. Can I blame Trump for messing with the postal system for the delay? I’d sure like to. Anyway, that’s not the only thing I ordered. My birthday was on July 2 so I decided to splurge. After all, artists aren’t able to tour right now and I sure try to do my part to support them financially so I pulled the trigger and bought myself a 10-minute “coffee'” Zoom chat with Edwards. This was a 100% fan  geek moment which I have zero regrets about.

So about that Zoom chat! It happened on the afternoon of July 3, the day after my birthday and was supposed to be a ten minute convo. I simply can’t ever fully get out of journalist mode so I had a few key questions prepared and with permission, I was hopefully going to record audio of the chat to reference for whatever I knew I’d eventually end up writing. But, I’m a total loser when it comes to technology so the recording didn’t happen and to make matters worse, Kathleen had to see a giant, silly pic of my pooch in the background because, under pressure, I didn’t know how to switch off  the goddamn virtual background during the Zoom session. But, she was cool about it and remembered me from all those years ago. We ended up Zooming for more than a half hour and it was a knife in my heart that I don’t have a recording of it because it quite honestly ended up being one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. We chatted up a storm about everything from the album to her depression. All of it. But yeah, I know, I gotta let go of the technology glitch. Plus, I’m hoping I’ll get another chance for a chat soon and you’ll all be the first to know if that happens as it’ll wind up here most certainly.

A few weeks later I reached out to her publicist and asked (read begged) them to send, for the love of all that’s holy on this planet, an advance  copy of “Total Freedom.”  A response, with a link, arrived soon after. I’ve been savoring the tracks, listening at different times of the day and night. Favorite songs rise to the top  (I’m looking at you “Glenfern”) and then another one hip checks me (hi there, “Feelings Fade”) and I’m absolutely leveled by what Edwards does best: Deconstruct conflicts, relationship bullshit and any number of shitty things that comes with being an occupant of this planet. But she doesn’t do it in a way that’s depressing. Edwards’ brand of realness is its own category of documenting what it means to be a flawed human who hopscotches around the path of personal growth. Said another way, it is some of the finest songwriting you can ever hope to hear. And her singing voice has a quality to it that I’ve long struggled to find just the right words to describe and I’ll likely fail here as well. There’s a warmth to her voice yet it’s infused with  a put ’em up ember. Can something be soft and yet ready to stab you at a moment’s notice? Can a voice hold your heart in its hand but also sink it’s teeth in and vampire out some blood from your veins? Can a voice wash over you like a summer sunset and then have you fighting back tears? Hers can.

Welcome back, Kathleen Edwards. I’ve missed you terribly but “Total Freedom” has been worth the wait. I love the hell out if. “Ashes to Ashes,” “Who Rescued Who” and “Take It With You When You Go.” ALL OF THEM. On a scale of one to five, I’m giving this album a 42.

Go here and order a copy along with a bunch of other swag.

P.S. My therapist will be proud. I’m publishing this thing the day BEFORE the album drops. I just banged this whole thing one in one fell swoop and I can’t wait until midnight when the world can experience “Total Freedom.”

album cover


As a music journalist, I interviewed Edwards way back when for the paper I write for, the Portland Press Herald. The conversation dates back to 2008 and sadly it’s not online anymore but I was able to at least access the text in the paper’s archives and so, what the heck, here it is:

Portland Press Herald 3/27/08

Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is back with the new record ”Asking for Flowers” (Zoe), and she’s kicking off her American tour in Portland at the Big Easy. I caught up with Edwards a few days ago, and we talked about the new record and how she really digs Portland.

”I love coming to Portland and stuffing my face with every part of shellfish I can get my hands on. It’s a lot better than getting it in Saskatchewan,”Edwards   said.

She’s pleased with the new album. ”I’m feeling really good about it,” she said, ”and I feel like I took a lot of risks in making this record. Until the first couple of reviews came out, I really didn’t know if I’d even made a good record.

”It’s not like your opinion of yourself is so securely based in what other people say, but good reviews and bad reviews sometimes determine whether you’re going to have 100 people at your show or 500 people at your show, and you always hope that you can move forward in what you do.”

Of the album’s title track, Edwards said, ”I think ‘Asking for Flowers’ is the best song I’ve ever written, but that’s because I feel I invested a lot and I was telling a story of a friend who is really close to me, and I wanted to do it justice and worked really hard to do that.”

Another song she likes, and it’s one of my favorites too, is ”Goodnight California.” ”I always wanted to record a song like that,” she said. ”It just took me three records to find the courage to do it. I remember being in the studio trying to describe what I wanted to do, and everybody kind of looks at you like, ‘What? A seven-minute song?”’

As it turns out, Edwards has struck gold, and it closes out the record divinely. It includes a string quartet in which Edwards plays the violin, but you’ll also hear her on vibraphone. A Hammond organ, electric guitar and harmonica bleed throughout the song; the percussion and bass are its heartbeat.

The first-person song ”Alicia Ross” is arresting in its intensity: ”Mamma, can you hear me?/ As I dragged on the day’s last cigarette/ He pulled me so hard off my very own back steps/ And he laid me in his garden/ All the years I’ve watched him tend.”

Alicia Ross was a real person. She was 25 years old when she was killed by a neighbor in Ontario. Her body went undiscovered for five weeks. It reminded me of the story of Amy St. Laurent, the young Biddeford woman who was murdered in 2001. What happened to St. Laurent hit me in the gut with the same force that the Alicia Ross slaying must have hit Edwards.

”I still don’t know why that story in particular – because there are so many stories all over the world of families losing daughters or mothers or children. It’s tragic every time, and I think this one was a very public display of agony,” aid.

The thought-provoking power of music is something that Edwards zeros in on, and ”Asking for Flowers” documents this repeatedly.

Wait. What? There’s more! I found another gem in the Press Herald archives. I reviewed Edwards show at the long defunct Big Easy in Portland (Maine!) in May of 2005 and get this, Mary Gauthier opened the show.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram 5/8/05

Kathleen Edwards began her North American tour in support of the record “Back to Me” on Friday night. The pressure was on when she released the record in March because 2003’s “Failer” was such a critical success.

However, she packed the house and is riding the wave of the title track, which is in heavy rotation on stations nationwide, including Portland’s WCLZ.

Indeed “Back to Me,” gets high marks as both a single and a record as a whole. With poignant songs like “Pink Emerson Radio,” “Away” and “Independent Thief,” Edwards continues to effectively express human conflict.

She was in fine form accompanied by a four-piece band. Blending a mix of songs from both records, Edwards owned the room.

“Don’t say you’ll change after the next time, you wouldn’t even be yourself if you were telling a lie. Maybe 20 years in state will change your mind,” sang Edwards in “In State.” Another standout was “Lone Wolf,” with Jim Bryson on xylophone.

Edwards graced us with two encores: the devastatingly beautiful “Away” and “Hockey Skates,” one of the finest examples of songwriting in the last few years. “I am so sick of consequence and the look on your face. I am tired of playing defense; I don’t even own hockey skates.”

Edwards truly loves Portland so don’t be surprised if she returns this year.

Opening acts don’t usually get much ink, but I’ve never seen The Big Easy more quiet and attentive than when Mary Gauthier played her 45-minute set. She was utterly captivating from the moment she and guitarist Thom Jutz took the stage.

People paid attention and hung on every word and with good reason. Her 2002 release “Filth & Fire” was named best independent record by The New York Times. “Mercy Now,” her debut with Lost Highway Records, was just released and has received almost unanimous rave reviews. It’s a sparse record with songs that rise from their own ashes and put an arresting chokehold on you despite its slow pace.

While she certainly has a Southern twang, there’s a whole other layer to her voice as she often is speaking, as much as singing, into the microphone ala Robbie Robertson. Her songs take aim at her struggles, her pain and her take on life’s journey and they hit the mark every time. The live performance took this to the next level and the audience didn’t know what hit them.

Gauthier was intense but accessible. Between her and Edwards it was a distinguished night of singing and songwriting artistry.

Sarah Harmer is back with “Are You Gone” and shines brightly at Boston show

Two decades ago one of my all-time favorite albums was released: “You Were Here” by Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer.  It’s home to the single “Basement Apt.” which I still hear on the radio. There are 11 other tracks on the record, all of them damn near perfect, especially “The Hideout,” “Don’t Get Your Back Up” and “Lodestar.”

Four years later came “All of Our Names” with the tracks “Almost,” “Greeting Card Aisle,” and “Silver Road.” Another stellar release if ever there was one.  “I’m a Mountain” was released in 2005 and then “Oh Little Fire” in 2010. It’s also worth noting her debut album “Songs for Clem” from 1999.  Harmer also started the band Weeping Tile in the early 90s and that’s a rabbit hole well worth your time.

After “Oh Little Fire,” all was quiet on the Harmer front, at least in terms of putting out new music other than a few rogue singles. That ended on February 21 with the release of her first album in a decade “Are You Gone.” The album is stupendous but hold that thought for a second as I fill in a few blanks.

A press release revealed that Harmer has been quite busy over the past decade as a grassroots organizer. She co-founded the citizen’s organization PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) and led the coalition’s successful efforts to prevent a quarry from being built on the Niagara escarpment while also becoming a fixture in local politics and advocacy. In other words, she became a different kind of rock star and is a huge environmentalist. Like I needed another reason to love her!

Sarah Harmer's new album
Sarah Harmer’s new album “Are You Gone”
Image courtesy of Arts & Crafts

I also learned that Harmer considers “Are You Gone” to be a “spiritual successor of sorts” to “You Were Here” and that the album’s title is a “meditation on the idea idea of presence, and a bookend to the questions posed on ‘You Were Here.” Harmer wrote the tracks for “Are You Gone” over the past ten years.

But I will say I’ve missed Harmer, despite the deep appreciation for her previous albums. I’ve wondered on and off for the past decade if she’d head back into the studio but knew that even if she never recorded another thing she’d always be a favorite artist and that I’d always be thankful that I got to see her play live a few times, with the last time being  in the fall of 2010 when she played a show at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. Heck I even interviewed her back then for the Portland Press Herald. And I reviewed her show at The Big Easy, also in Portland, way back in April of 2004 when she was touring for “All of our Names”. That review is longer online but I found an old copy and it included these lines:

“Her voice is as crisp as line-dried sheets and clear as a dinner bell calling people into the interior of her thoughts: “Intensity of stars reflected in the water silently ignite, the oar dips in to oil like water and we are away,” from “Lodestar,” is but one example from “You were Here.”

This all brings me to Sunday night, March 1, 2020. Sarah Harmer played what appeared to be a sold-out (or very close to one) show at City Winery in Boston. After an opening set from Chris Pureka (she’s fantastic, check her out and thank me later), Harmer and her band played an 18-song set which included eight  songs from “You Are Gone” along with the Weeping Tile one “In the Road,” “Greeting Card Aisle” from “All Of Our Names,” “Late Bloomer” from “Oh Little Fire” and four from “You Were Here” including “Basement Apt.” and another favorite of mine called “Don’t Get Your Back Up.”

Sarah Harmer at City Winery in Boston, MA. March 1, 2020Photo by Aimsel Ponti
Sarah Harmer at City Winery in Boston, MA on 3.1.20
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Harmer was backed by a guitarist, keys player, drummer and bassist and my attempt at scribbling down their names when she introduced them was unsuccessful. But wow, they were fantastic and it didn’t hurt one bit that there were woman on keys and drums.

Harmer’s voice is as mesmerizing as ever and the decade that has passed since I last saw her live evaporated from the second the took the stage.  Hers is a voice that exudes warmth but is also rife with feeling . You just want to keep listening to whatever she’s singing. But the vocals are only part of the story because lyrically, Harmer’s quite frankly the bomb.

Take the album’s first single “St. Peter’s Bay,” (which was the 7th song of the Boston show). Another press release offered the backstory and described the song as a “cinematic love-letter to wilderness and the depth of human feeling with a surprising backstory. “I wrote St. Peter’s Bay on the plane to Prince Edward Island for a Hockey Day in Canada theatre show, but the hockey part is only a prompt. The song is about the end of a relationship, set against the frozen shoreline of Lake Ontario. I thought what better way to start the record that with black and white pioneer era sound, and a tale of love burning down to its final ember” is what Harmer said about it.

Here’s a few lines from “St. Peter’s Bay:”

“Every little crack in the ice seemed to be enough to make you think you might go under/So stay to the shore and wander some more and reconsider every direction/The ice out is black/Only thing looking back…is my own reflection.”

Another tremendous -perhaps my favorite- track from “Are You Gone” is “The Lookout,”which was part of the Boston performance.  A piano is the first sound you hear and then Harmer starts with  “Wake up every day I wonder what you’re thinkin’ about the weather/Later in the night I wonder if it’s ever gonna clear/If it’s raining here I hope that you’re not doing any better/I heard it on the wind from place that I’ve been and won’t go back to/It rattled the lock on an old thought that I was attached to.” From that moment on, the tempo picks up, dips back down again and flourishes along a path lined with Harmer’s bittersweet words. Goddamn great song right there.

Then there’s the fire-breathing track “New Low,” which, IMHO, should for sure be the next single. Horns and drum beats land like punches and the fast-paced tune clocks in at two minutes and thirty nine seconds which were all the more ferocious and effective live.

The second to last song of the night is another “Are You Gone” track called “Little Frogs,” a free-spirited, lively tune that packs Harmer packs so much into in under three minutes of glory.

The Boston show ended on a full-circle note was Harmer reminded so many of us why we were such huge fans in the first place: “Basement Apt.”

I gotta wash the sheets on my bed
Gotta watch the things that go unsaid
God I wish we’d leave it at this
Everytime I breathe
Everytime I time I try to leave
Everytime I breathe

Pure gold my friends, pure gold.

So hey, go get yourself a copy of “Are You Gone.” I bought it on vinyl at the Boston show and when Harmer eventually makes her way back to Maine, I’ll be the nerd with the sharpie awkwardly hanging around all starry-eyed.

I’m gonna stick the landing on this thing with ALL CAPS because my excitement is real and  “Are You Gone” is certainly worthy.


sh boston
Sarah Harmer in Boston. 3.1.20 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Newport Folk Festival 2019: All about the women & one famous frog

In July of 2018 I attended the Newport Folk Festival for the very first time. When I left that festival I remember thinking to myself that the experience would never be topped. It just wasn’t possible.

Now for a little journalism 101: I am not going to bury the lede!

Instead I will shoot it into the sky like a 100 foot blazing arrow and to further embarrass myself, I’m going to do it in all caps and goddamn bold too. Ready?


I still can’t believe it. Dolly Parton AND Kermit the Frog. Both were surprises and both slayed every single person at the festival.  Parton slayed us five times and Kermit did it with one song and a little help from Jim James (My Morning Jacket).

I’ll have more on the country icon and the beloved Muppet shortly. But first, a little unpacking of the rest of the festival.

As I quickly learned at my festival debut last year,  it’s not possible to see all of the performances. There are  a total of four stages and unless I had Orphan Black-esque clones with me, there are always brutal decisions to make. For example, I missed Sheryl Crow’s entire Fort stage set. Ditto for Kacey Musgraves, save for one song. And I foolishly only hung around the Quad stage long enough to see a few songs from Our Native Daughters. I’m still kicking myself over that misstep.Those are but three examples. But I also quickly learned that it’s futile to worry about what you missed, especially when you hear about the surprise guests that jump on stage all weekend long. For example, James Taylor’s boat docked by the fort and he joined Crow on a song. I didn’t see it.

But I sure saw a lot. Some acts I caught the entire sets of, some just a song or two. But everything I saw and heard touched me one way or another. Sometimes I got teary, other times I was spellbound by the music or singing and dancing along with everybody else. Other times I thought my heart was going to beat its way right out of my chest. Like when surprise guest Linda Perry, surrounded and accompanied by an array of extraordinary, mostly female musicians, sang her early 90s anthem “What’s Up?”

I mean for the love of god WATCH THIS:

It’s been more than 25 years since that song was first released and we’re all still trying to get up that great big hill up hope for a destination.

Newport Folk Festival is like spending three days in a place that’s one part Fantasy Island, one part Candy Land and one part heaven, all with a to-die-for live soundtrack and with 10,000 people who are damn happy to be there with you.

If you’re curious and want to see the entire schedule so as to better understand the magnitude of the lineup and why decision making was so rough click HERE.

For the past several days I’ve been thinking that I have to someone qualify this next part or include several disclaimers. But doing that would actually take some of its power away.  Therefore, I’m declaring this as plainly as I can:


That is what I’m going to focus on.

Were the fellas also outstanding? Obviously. In particular J.S. Ondara (do yourself a favor and check him out!) and Jeff Tweedy.

J.S. Ondara
J.S. Ondara on the Harbor Stage of the Newport Folk Festival. 7.28.19
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Jeff Tweedy
Jeff Tweedy on the Fort Stage at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

So not only were the women the superstars of this year’s festival, one in particular led the charge. It would not be a stretch for the unofficial name of the 2019 Newport Folk Festival to be the Newport Brandi Carlile Folk Festival. She likely appeared on more stages than anyone else all weekend long (Amy Ray Band, Hozier, Sheryl Crow, etc. etc. etc) but she was also the leader on what was referred to on the festival schedule only as this:

the collaboration

In fact, it is this collaboration that I’ll spend the most time on because if I live to be 119, I don’t think I’ll ever see anything quite like it again.

It closed out Saturday night and although we had a whole other day of festival left to go, it’s the part of the festival that for me at least, was the most incredible part.

But there were many other moments of the festival that MUST be mentioned and these I’ll mention in the order that I saw them.

It all began on Friday morning.

YOLA. If you don’t know her name you likely will soon enough. Then you’ll listen to her debut album “Walk Through Fire” on repeat. She was the first act I saw at this year’s festival. YOLA is a British country soul singer and if Brandi Carlile was queen of the festival, YOLA was princess, or co-queen, or co-supreme being. She too was on several stages and for good reason, I mean listen to her sing.

YOLA on the Harbor Stage of the Newport Folk Festival. 7.26.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Friday afternoon on the Quad stage, I’m With Her performed. They’re the trio of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins. To know them is to love them and even though all three of them have well-established solo careers, what they do as I’m With Her is its own galaxy of musical perfection.

I'm With Her 1
Sara Watkins, Sara Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan of I’m With Her on the Quad Stage at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.26.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I also caught parts of sets by Adia Victoria, Liz Cooper & The Stampede and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. All outstanding.

Amy Ray Band on the Harbor Stage were also  tremendous. It didn’t suck one bit that Brandi Carlile hopped on stage for a handful of songs. Ray released the album “Holler” last year and it’s SO GOOD! 

Amy Ray and Brandi Carlile
Amy Ray with special guest Brandi Carlile during the Amy Ray Band set on the Harbor Stage. 7.26.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

This brings me to what was arguably the most highly-anticipated performance of the entire festival: The world debut performance by The Highwomen.  They’re the new country  supergroup (and I don’t give three shits if you disagree with the use of the term. It’s accurate) of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires. Not unlike I’m With Her, all four women of The Highwomen have significant solo careers. They’ve joined forces to turn country music on its ear. The album drops on Sept. 6 and the first single is “Redesigning Women,” which they played twice at Newport because why the hell not right?

When festival director Jay Sweet took the stage to introduce The Highwomen the level of excitement beneath -and well beyond- that Quad stage tent was as palpable. I could barely contain myself. You know who couldn’t either? Brandi Carlile. This is the exact moment when she took to the stage, with her fellow Highwomen right behind her. If this isn’t the world’s most genuine expression of joy, I don’t know what the eff is.

BC smile highwomen walk out on stage
Brandi Carlile walks onto the Quad Stage at Newport Folk Festival as The Highwomen get set to play their first-ever show. 7.26.19
iPhone Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The Highwomen played their entire new album in order, starting with “Highwomen” and ending with “Wheels of Laredo” plus a bonus replay of “Redesigning Women” and if that wasn’t enough, the set also include their take on Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” from the soundtrack of the film “The Kitchen.”  I never had any intention of breaking the chain when Fleetwood Mac sings it and I sure as hell won’t now having heard Highwomen’s take on it.  Plus they had YOLA and Sheryl Crow join them on  a few songs. I loved every single nano-second of their set. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires and their friend Chris Tompkins wrote a gay country love song called “If She Ever Leaves Me.” It’s on the album and the Highwomen played it. Holy Shit. 

In a press release I received a few weeks ago, here’s what Carlile said about The Highwomen:

“Anyone can be a Highwoman,” Carlile notes. “It’s about banding together, abandoning as much ego as humanly possible, holding one another up and amplifying other women every chance we get. Shoulder to shoulder. One push, one love.”


The Highwomen
Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby playing their first show as The Highwomen at Newport Folk Festival. 7.26.19.
Photos by Aimsel Ponti

Now onto Saturday!

Jade Bird was fantastic as was Gregory Alan Isakov and as I said above, Jeff Tweedy. I’m sad I missed Lucy Dacus, Ruston Kelly, Mountain Man and a bunch of other acts but such is festival life.

I did however catch Maggie Rogers’ set on the Fort stage and her performance was dynamic and an absolute blast to see and hear. Despite not playing my two favorite songs, “Alaska” and especially “Dog Years,” her set was fabulous and packed with tunes from “Heard It in a Past Life” along with John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” 

Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers on the Fort Stage on 7.27.19
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Soon it became time to gather for the semi-mysterious collaboration. I say semi-mysterious because it was already known that this was Brandi Carlile’s thing. And yes, the rumors about Dolly Parton were also flying around the media tent and the festival on a whole. But let me tell you, there is a HUGE difference between a rumor and actually witnessing something.

I skipped the photo pit for this performance and took up the spot secured to me by my friend and fellow Carlile fanatic Tracy Albernaz. Tracy was to my right and to her right was another friend, Marian Starkey. The three of us all went to Brandi’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend so it only made sense that we ended up together for this performance. To say we had a good spot would be an understatement. We were RIGHT UP against the railing, front and center. And the three of us, along with the other 10,000 fans around us, lost our minds. I may never quite find mine again and I’m entirely OK with that.

There were so many exceptional women on stage that night. SO MANY.  And SO MUCH HAPPENED. Here are some highlights:

Pretty much the entire time, all four Highwomen were on stage along with Tim and Phil Hanseroth (Carlile’s bandmates,)  Jason Isbell and Chris Powell (Carlile’s drummer).

Women of Bluegrass kicked things off. They’re Bonnie Payne, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull and damn it…who am I forgetting? If you know, by all means chime in via the comments. Thanks!

Amy Ray came out and busted out the Indigo Girls’ song “Go” (one of FAVORITE Ray-penned songs!!!) with Lucy Dacus and Carlile. It was a blistering storm of musical thunder. I freaked right out.

Linda Perry
Surprise guest Linda Perry on the Fort Stage at Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.19Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Linda Perry (surprise guest) as I already mentioned DESTROYED us all with “What’s Up?”

crow and rogers
Sheryl Crow and and an awestruck Maggie Rogers on the Fort Stage at Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.19
iPhone photo by Aimsel Ponti

Sheryl Crow sang “Strong Enough” with Maggie Rogers and YOLA. Oh and she also did “If It Makes You Happy” with Carlile and Maren Morris.

Courtney Marie Andrews and a few friends sang  “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Collins and Carlile USE
Judy Collins with Brandi Carlile on the Fort Stage at the Newport Folk Festival. 7.27.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Judy Collins sang “Both Sides Now” with Brandi Carlile. I know. I can’t deal either.

YOLA, Bonnie Payne, Molly Tuttle and a bunch of other fabulous females sang “Sisters are Doin’ It For Themselves.” They CRUSHED IT!

But nothing could have ever prepared any of us, including and perhaps especially Brandi Carlile for the arrival of Dolly Parton and Carlile’s the one who invited her in the first place. She wasn’t just in on the secret, she made it happen.

Here’s what Carlile said before Parton walked out onto the stage:

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Newport Folk Festival. On its 60th anniversary, I bring you one of the greatest surprises ever. The incomparable unicorn legend that is Dolly Parton…” WE ALL WENT BANANAS.

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton on the Fort Stage. 7.27.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Oh heck: WATCH THIS:

Parton sang  an astounding FIVE SONGS!!

“Eagle When She Flies” came first. I have chills even thinking about it. The Highwomen were backing her up on it along with the all-star band. Even if Parton had JUST done that one song it would have been enough.


Next was “Just Because I’m a Woman.” OMG.

AND NEXT WAS “JOLENE.” At this point I’m dead. I mean WTF? I heard Dolly Parton SING ‘JOLENE” live. I can’t even. I just can’t…

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton on the Fort Stage. 7.27.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

And it wasn’t over yet because next came a live music moment that will always live in the corner of my heart reserved for such moments. I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t believe it now. It will go down as one of the most sublime duets ever performed live.

Here’s Dolly Parton with Brandi Carlile singing Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You”:

I still have no idea how I held it together for this. Same goes for Brandi Carlile. You can tell at the end of the song that Carlile knows this is one of the most significant moments of her life. We all felt it. I still do. As I write this I’m watching the above clip with goosebumps all over. It’s that good. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of and I am sticking by that cliche because it fits.

And…say it with me: IT STILL WASN’T OVER.

Saturday night at Newport Folk Festival ended with a sing-along for the ages with “9 to 5.” Everyone joined in: Yola, Brandi, Linda, Jade, Maggie, Courtney Marie, Amy, Sheryl, Lucy, Natalie, Amanda, Rachael and Bridget (Lake Street Dive) to name some.

My friend Marion and I walked out of there in a dream-like state but also in a bit of a hurry. Despite having just experienced something that we could barely process, we hot-stepped with our festival-worn feet to her car parked a mile and a half away and experienced a Newport miracle: We found a parking spot directly across the street from the Jane Pickens Theatre. Our night wasn’t over because we had managed to snap up a pair of tickets to a festival after-show. These tickets were as hot as a ticket could get. Why?

Because they were for Mavis Staples! She and her crackerjack band put on a hell of a show and her 80th birthday which has been celebrated several times already this year was celebrated once again because of course it was.

Not only was Mavis herself spectacular, the stage was a revolving door of special guests. Lake Street Dive, Milk Carton Kids,  Jeff Tweedy, YOLA, Jason Isbell, Hozier and Brandi Carlile all graced the stage that night during a 14 song set.

After all that you would have thought I would have slept like the dead. Hardly. I was awake until almost 2 a.m. because I could not come down from the high. And yeah, it was a music one. Of course it was! With the exception of a lone whiskey,  water and watermelon seltzer was all this kid consumed all weekend long.

Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples played on Saturday night at the Jane Pickens Theater and was part of the If I Had A Song finale on the Fort Stage on Sunday. 7.28.19. Photo by Aimsel Ponti


After two BLISSFUL and long days of festival joy, not to mention the Mavis show on Saturday night, I didn’t have much gas left in the proverbial tank. As I walked into the festival (after a grueling 45 minutes in the blazing sun waiting in line) I thought to myself that I would see what I could see but may need to mostly chillax either in the media tent or in a spot far from the action.

Instead I went pretty much all in and saw as much as  I could. Yeah, I took breaks when I needed to but for the most part, I immersed myself in the music and once I reached a certain point, it didn’t matter how hot (quite) or tired (mf exhausted) I was. I was INTO IT.

I started Sunday off by catching part of Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the Fort stage.  Then I raced over to the Quad stage for part of J.S. Ondara’s riveting set.  Then I zipped back (my Fit Bit damn near exploded it got so much action) to the Fort stage for some of Lake Street Dive’s set because I adore them.

rachael 2
Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive. LSD played on the Fort Stage. 7.28.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I made it back to the Quad stage in time for the beginning of one of the most talked about sets of the weekend. As I said above, I didn’t see all of it. But I saw enough.

Our Native Daughters is Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell. Google the hell out of them and go down a YouTube rabbit hole. Follow them on every platform. Get a copy of their album. Become a superfan! Trust me on this. Their music is important. Their message is important. And they’re tremendous. Got it?

Rhiannon Giddens Our Native Daughters
Rhiannon Giddens from Our Native Daughters who played on the Quad Stage. 7.28.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

After catching the beginning of Hozier’s set (and damn it, I missed it when he brought out Brandi Carlile and sang “The Joke” with her), I ducked into the museum because on that stage is where Judy Collins was playing with Ari Hest. I was there long enough to hear Collins sing Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and the sun poured in like butterscotch all over my heart.

Then it was time for the grand finale of the 2019 Newport Folk Festival over at the Fort stage. It was called If I Had A Song and songbooks were handed out.

While the rumor mill had been buzzing about Dolly Parton, what happened next was out of nowhere. Hats off to all those involved with guarding this secret. It needed to be guarded. I am SO GLAD I had no idea what was about to happen.

And so it came to be that what kicked off If I Had A Song was Kermit the Frog leading us in a sing-along of “The Rainbow Connection.” For the second verse, Kermit brought out Jim James of My Morning Jacket. I cried real tears. This was upper level special and I stood there ( crouched down to not block peoples’ views) and took it all in, doing my best to take photos while keeping my shit together.

BTW, Kermit the Frog duties have been handled masterfully for the past couple of years by puppeteer and singer Matt Vogel who was assisted by puppeteer  Peter Linz at the Newport appearance.

Kermit the Frog
Kermit the Frog on the Fort Stage 7.28.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Here’s another photo of Kermit.

Kermit the Frog
Kermit the Frog on the Fort Stage 7.28.19.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The rest of the If I Had  A Song was entirely glorious. The band was guitarist Chris Funk from Decemberists (he also served as bandleader) , Benmont Tench  from the Heartbreakers on keys, John Stirrat from Wilco on bass, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes on guitar and Sleater-Kinney alumnist Janet Weiss on drums. And Mr. Jason Isbell, AKA King of Twitter, was on guitar! Can you even stand it?

So much went down. Including this:

Trey Anastastio sang “God Only Knows” with Rachael Price.

Rachael Price and Preservation Hall Jazz Band covered “We Shall Overcome.”

Our Native Daughters played “If You Miss Me at The Back of the Bus”

Alynda Segerra (from Hooray for the Riff Raff!!!!) sang “IF I Had a Hammer” with Brandi Carlile.

Hozier sang “Everyday People” with Lake Street Dive

Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), Jason Isbell and Eric D. Johnson played “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and halfway through it Judy Collins came on stage and finished it with them. I’m not making this up!

Collins stayed on stage and sang “Turn Turn Turn” with Robin Pecknold.

Colin Meloy (The Decemberists) joined Milk Carton Kids for “This Land is Your Land.”

And the evening ended, as it always does, with “Goodnight Irene” this time led by none other than Ramblin’ Jack Elliot who is still bringin’ it at 88 years old.

I drove home that night, back to Maine, with my eyes on the road and my head in the clouds.

I thought about everything I had seen and heard over the previous 72 hours.

I thought about Brandi Carlile and YOLA. I thought about Linda Perry, Amy Ray and I’m With Her. I thought about Our Native Daughters and Lake Street Dive. I thought about The Highwomen.

I thought about, as you can imagine, a lot of things.

But what I thought about the most was Kermit sang “Rainbow Connection” and that moment when Dolly Parton walked out onto that stage.

The world needs more moments like these. May we all continue to find them.

Thank you, Newport Folk Festival.


Ponti out.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

two pics combined


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

I got back from Mexico a week ago and by now the trip laundry is all done, my suitcase is back up in the garage rafters and I’ve acclimated to being back in the cold Maine winter.

But what I haven’t yet been able to do is  unpack in my heart, soul and mind as to just how extraordinary the experience was of attending Brandi Carlile’s Just Wanna Weekend concert extravaganza at the Hard Rock Hotel in Mexico’s Maya Riviera.

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

First, a little back story in case the concept of GJWW is unfamiliar to you. Several months ago musician Brandi Carlile had something of an epiphany inspired in part by the social media account Book More Women. Book More Women took it upon themselves (and I’m so glad they did) to post two versions of music festival posters. The first version was the original and the second one is with all of the male acts removed. The end result in just about every case including heavy hitter festivals like Bonnaroo, Bottlerock, Tumbleweed, Coachella and Firefly are sobering and frankly depressing. According to Book More Women’s Twitter account, in 2017 only 26% of acts playing major US music festivals featured at least one female or non-binary act. Pardon my French but what in the actual fuck? The numbers only improved marginally in 2018.

Brandi Carlile, who attended all three  years of Lilith Fair in the 90s as a teenager, got an idea. What if she threw a festival of all female acts and what if she threw it at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico? Would this send a message to the world that an all-female lineup is not only a viable thing but one that people would travel from far and wide to attend and pay a good chuck of money to be able to do so? Could the success of an event like this maybe move the needle a little bit and serve as an agent of change in a music industry that, god damn it, is still dominated (especially  in country music, don’t even get me started…) by men?

In a word: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

About three nights ago I was flopped on the couch channel surfing and landed on a old favorite film of mine, “Field of Dreams.” This led me to picturing Brandi Carlile four-wheeling through the Seattle area woods where she lives and hearing the trees whisper to her in the voice of say, Meryl Streep “If you book it, they will come.”  Well we came alright, more than 2,000 of us. And I’m a million percent sure that everyone who was there is now wandering around the planet not knowing what in the hell to do with the rest of our lives, such was the impact of this MAGICAL EVENT.

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

Now then. Shall we get down to brass tacks?

First off, giant shout-out to event organizers Cloud Nine and to the entire staff at the Hard Rock Hotel. This place is GLORIOUS and our needs as attendees were well taken care of at every turn.

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

Girls Just Wanna Weekend began on Wednesday, January 30 and we said our goodbyes to Mexico on Sunday, Feb. 3. All told there were 15 performances over the course of FOUR PERFECT DAYS AND NIGHTS.

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

Here’s a list of what happened when:

Wednesday 1/30
Shawn Colvin: Main Stage
Brandi Carlile: Main Stage

Thursday 1/31
The Secret Sisters: Heaven Beach Stage
KT Tunstall: Main Stage
Brandi & Friends: Songs in the Round (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, KT Tunstall and Shawn Colvin): Main Stage
Indigo Girls: Main Stage

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

Friday 2/1
Indigo Girls Songwriting Workshop: Heaven Beach Stage (this ended up being more of a performance with some Q&A moments. It ruled!)
Brandi-Oke (Brandi and her band backing up several fans singing BC songs and a surprise appearance from Holly and Jess from Lucius who sang “The Story”): Heaven Beach Stage
Lucius: Main Stage
Maren Morris: Main Stage

Maren Morris
Maren Morris Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Saturday 2/2
Sam Rae: Heaven Beach Stage. Sam plays cello in Brandi’s band and is also a solo artist who sings and plays acoustic and electric guitar and cello. She’s the bomb!
Ruby Amanfu: Heaven Beach Stage

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

Mavis Staples: Main Stage

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

Brandi Carlile: Main Stage
Ladies of the 80s: Main Stage (Brandi Carlile and band, KT Tunstall, Ruby Amanfu, Lucius, The Secret Sisters, Katie Herzig, Butterfly Boucher).

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

Without hesitation, I can report that every single one of these performances was tremendous and it seemed abundantly evident that every single musician who was on those two stages was damn happy to be there.

Here are some highlights:

Sam Rae made us all cry when she proposed to her girlfriend from the Heaven Beach stage.

Mavis Staples just about ripped a hole in the sky with her performance.

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

Shawn Colvin delivered one of the best performances from her I’ve ever seen and she got the call to come to Mexico about 48 hours before she took the stage after her good friend and fellow musician Patty Griffin had to cancel because her appendix decided it needed to go.

Lucius just about gave us all a heart attack when they took the stage during Brandi-Oke and sang “The Story.”

Yep. I recorded it. Voila!

Special guest Katie Herzig belted out The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” during Ladies of the 80s. Herzig also gave us a dazzling rendition of Belinda Carlisle’s “Heave Is A Place on Earth.”

These are but five examples off the top of my head.

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

Want a few more? Of course you do!

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

Shawn Colvin joined Brandi Carlile to sing Jane Siberry’s “Calling All Angels”.

Shawn Colvin also destroyed me with her take on the Tom Waits tune “Ol 55.”

Brandi joined Marren Morris and they dueted on a brand new song called “Common” on Morris’s upcoming album “Girl.”

Indigo Girls started their main stage set off with “Fugitive” and I damn near died such is my love for that song.

There’s not a better cover out there of Talking Heads’ “Slippery People” than the one that Mavis Staples and her  band delivered.

I also  can’t forget when KT Tunstall sang Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” with Carlile.

KT Tunstall night two 1
KT Tunstall Photo by Aimsel Ponti

There was also that moment when surprise guest Jeff Tweedy joined Mavis Staples on a song he wrote for her.

Another surprise guest in the person of  Anderson East was brought on stage by Carlile during the Ladies of the 80s show and he sang his ass off during Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.”

Then there was Ruby Amanfu’s jaw-dropping version of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.”

Also, Barack Obama’s White House photographer and good friend of Brandi Carlile Pete Souza was there all weekend snapping photos. He let me snap this pic of his Fun Meter button which was turned up to MAX!

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

And for the love of all that is epic on this planet, the festival ending take on Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” sung by Brandi with Phil Hanseroth’s earth-shaking “Turn around” backing vocals was something I’ll never forget. I am euphoric and dizzy thinking about all of this stuff.

And let me be clear, these are just SOME of GJWW’s countless moments.

For a music fan, Girls Just Wanna Weekend was like a trip to Fantasy Island. Except rather than an island, we were at a GORGEOUS resort on the ocean with more pools than I could  count and endless close encounters with huge iguanas who are pre-historic creatures who love the resort as much as we all did and seemed entirely fine posing for all of our photos. If you were looking for  a party with a swim-up bar it was yours for the taking. And if you were looking to find a more quiet spot to chill with your book, that too was available, such was the expansiveness of the resort grounds.

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

Another facet of Girls Just Wanna Weekend that was so refreshing was that I can honestly say that over the five days I was there, I didn’t encounter a single person who wasn’t friendly. “Hola!” and “Hey where are you from?” were two catch phrases uttered by pretty much all of us, all of the time.

Imagine being in paradise and then imagine that said paradise also featured performances from a bunch of your favorite bands. This was what Girls Just Wanna Weekend was all about.

On the last day of the festival I heard that Brandi was sitting by one of the pools with her daughter Evangeline. My first thought was to run over there and say Hi. Then I dialed myself down and said “nah, leave them be.” About ten minutes later I put my music journalist hat on – sort of – and decided to walk over there with the goal of asking one simple question.

Here’s the thing, it’s one thing to interview an artist on the phone (I’ve been fortunate enough to have done this on three occasions with Carlile) but it’s something entirely different to approach them “in the wild.”

Being the brilliant journalist that I am, I left my bag with friends and therefore had NOTHING TO WRITE WITH when I walked over to her. This is actually hilarious to me because I ALWAYS have pen and paper with me. Always. To make matters worse my memory isn’t what it used to be. But still I persisted and made my way over to her. I led with “hi, just so you know I won’t be asking for a photograph or autograph.”

Carlile was super nice and she is ALWAYS super nice. I told her briefly who I was and that I would be writing about the entire festival and asked if she wouldn’t mind summing it up for me, what it meant to her, in a sentence or two.

She did just that and in an epic journalist fail, I don’t have a direct quote for you. But I can tell you that she lit up when speaking about how thankful she was that we were all there and how proud she of  Girls Just Wanna Weekend. And she most certainly should be.

Girls Just Wanna Weekend was truly one of the most monumental experiences of my life.  For a handful of days, many miles from home, I took it all in as best I could.

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

I’m  already thinking about next year’s Festival because rumor has it, it will happen! Save your pennies, friends. It’s sooooooo worth it.

Here’s a few lines from a Carlile song that seem to be an appropriate way to capture some of the spirit of Girls Just Wanna Weekend:

Hold out your hand
Take hold of mine now
Round and round we go
Don’t you wanna dance

And now for the video recap with gratitude as always to my tech savvy pal Shamus Alley for letting me send him a shit-ton of clips and creating something truly special.

THANK YOU, Brandi Carlile and everyone involved with making Girls Just Wanna Weekend one of the most enthralling and memorable experiences any music fan can ever hope to have.

Ponti out.

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.


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


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!

Ponti out.

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

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

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

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Coping Mechanisms: A 50 song playlist of women artists

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

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

I listened to music.

A ton of it.

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

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

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

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

“Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos

“This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush

“Talkin’Bout A Revolution” by Tracy Chapman

“Nameless, Faceless” by Courtney Barnett

“Not Ready to Make Nice” by Dixie Chicks

“I’m An Animal” by Neko Case

“You Are The Problem Here” by First Aid Kit

“Hold Out Your Hand” by Brandi Carlile

“Sing” by The Dresden Dolls

“Hit The Road, Jack” by Shirley Horn

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

But can 50 of them help?

I believe they can.

Ponti out.


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

10.6.18  9:46 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where I’m at:

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

I am woman hear me roar and watch me revolt.

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

What else? So much. Too much.

What next? Everything.

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

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

Now about that video…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponti out

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Transformative show from Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks 8.12.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ponti out.

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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:

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:


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

Say hello to “Moment Bliss!”


So how good is this record?


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.

katie herzig 2
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



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.

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:


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.


ONE: “Every Time I Hear That Song.” I don’t keep a journal. I wish I could. But I don’t because I’m too afraid of it being read by anyone. And I’m too afraid, I’ve realized, of documenting my deepest secrets.  This is one of the reasons why music is so important to me. Certain songs I adopt as journal entries and no matter how much time has passed, every time I hear that  a certain song, there’s an emotional charge. This makes “Every Time I Hear That Song” something of a song within a song. This song gives me permission to revisit past experiences, past relationships, past moments of connection, past pain, sorrow and all the rest of it. And you’ve packaged this all in a gorgeous song. And when you and Tim and Phil sing the lines “By The Way, I Forgive You/I never will forget you for giving me what I found/Without you around I’ve been doing just fine/’Cept for anytime I hear that song,” it’s profound. And speaking of forgiveness, you’ve asked us to look at forgiveness under a microscope. Goddamn it. I have found myself budging on things I never thought I’d budge on. I have found myself slowly starting to forgive myself for past mistakes. You have made a song into something of a movement. And you’ve asked your fans to document moments of forgiveness with a contest you ran and I saw some of the entries and people are baring their souls and it’s beautiful. Dear Brandi and ‘By the Way, I Forgive You,” this song is everything. It really is.

TWO: “The Joke”

When this single was dropped last fall I, like many other people, fell outta my chair. The song is HUGE and lush with strings and crescendos and Mount Everest vocals. I’ve been swooning over this song for a while now. But I’m going to share with you part of a Facebook post (with permission) by a friend of my named Ryan. He’s a new fan and this is what he posted the other day: “Sorry everybody, it’s another Brandi Carlile post. I can’t tell you how rapt I am with her. As I previously offered, I am glad I don’t have a song on the radio right now because it would sound foolish if it came on after “The Joke”. We’re all playing checkers. She’s playing chess. I haven’t liked music this much in years.” Then a few days later Ryan shared this: “As we’ve covered here previously, I recently was floored by hearing the new Brandi Carlile single on WCLZ. I finally found some solely listen- to-music time tonight, and am just now listening the whole record. This is a jaw dropping startlingly gorgeous and extremely visceral piece of art. It is astonishingly beautiful. Anyone who is not listening to her has got to stop and take a look at least. I am so mad at myself for having never given her time these past few years. This is my favorite record of the year so far, by miles.” Ryan’s discovery of Carlile reminded me of the scene at the end of “Field of Dreams” when Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law could finally see the ballplayers and was floored by it. Welcome, Ryan, to the party. Here, have a Jameson’s.

THREE: “Hold Out Your Hand”

This is is a barn burnin’ foot stompin’ feel good tune, complete with a sonic boom of a chorus. It’s an outlaw’s anthem and a redemptive, devil defying proclamation of faith all wrapped up into one gigantic song that makes me want to both dance around in a cowboy hat and go running up the stairs of the nearest church. And yet Carlile also slips in some not foolin’ around lyrics in the form of “Here is a license for killing your own native son/For a careless mistake and a fake plastic gun?”

FOUR: “The Mother”

I’ve been hearing  this one live for at least a year (maybe two) and am so glad it landed on the album. “Evangeline” is the name of Carlile and her wife Catherine’s three-year-old daughter. The song is one that mothers – and parents- will surely identify with. And for non-moms like me , it let me into a world I know I’ll never fully understand. And Carlile does  so in such a sweet, playful,  gentle and wise way.  “She’s fair and she is quiet, Lord, she doesn’t look like me/She made me love the morning, she’s a holiday at sea/The New York streets are busy as they always used to be/But I am the mother of Evangeline.”  I haven’t heard such a wonderful snapshot of parenthood since Bowie’s “Kooks.”

FIVE: “Whatever You Do”

This song’s first line is everything. “If I don’t owe you a favor, you don’t know me.” God I love that.  That said, this is among the most heavyhearted songs on the album. “There’s a road left behind me that I’d rather not speak of/And a hard one ahead of me, too/I love you, whatever you do/But I’ve got a life to live too.”  The only things that allows me to hold it together listening to it is how resplendent the song is. The strings come in slowly then build and then Carlile’s voice floats up to the sky like a soul escaping a body it no longer needs.

SIX: “Fulton County Jane Doe”

If I’m Dolly Parton , I’m putting a version of this on my next album. Call me crazy but I can hear her singing this one  in my head. And that, my friends, is very much meant as a compliment.  The song seems to be about second chances. And maybe third of fourth ones too.

SEVEN: “Sugartooth”

Not since K’s Choice  released the song “Not An Addict” more than 20 years ago has a song about addiction hit me so hard.  The addiction struggle is sadly very real everywhere, even here in  Maine. Carlile has painted a portrait of it that explains the disease in an understandable way and with empathy rather than judgment. “He wanted to be a better man/But life kicked him down like an old tin can/He would give you the shirt on his back/If not for a sugartooth.”

EIGHT: “Most Of All”

If you’ve ever lost anyone important to you, this song is going to make you cry.  “Most Of All” is heart-rending but it’s also bursting with love and hope and gratitude. It’s also full of kind-hearted inspiration.  “But most of all/She taught me how to fight/How to move across the line between the wrong and the right.”  Prepare to feel all the proverbial things with this one. But don’t you love songs that do that? I sure do.

NINE: “Harder to Forgive”

This is a  knee slapping gem of a song that had me at the first line because it’s so true! “I love the songs I hated when I was young/Because they take me back where I come .” Word, Brandi, word. The song is upbeat and snappy but with brooding lyrics; a perfect combination in my book. Plus the electric guitar and wailing vocals toward the end are motherfuckin’ spectacular.

TEN: “Party Of One”

This was the only song the album could have ended with and it is a reminder that the best way to listen to an album is all the way through, in the order in which they were intended to be heard. In other words, this is not an album to be listened to on shuffle play. Trust me on this. “Party Of One” is one of the saddest Carlile songs I’ve ever heard but it’s also stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning. At just under six minutes, it opens with a piano that sounds like its weeping. “Waiter send this to the table, the party of one/The only other lonely soul in this place” are the opening lines. From there the song speaks of love at first sight and a love that is without end. But also of a defeated love. It doesn’t matter what is happening in your life, this song’s gonna kill you. And just when you think you’re going to survive the song, in come the strings and then the drums and you’re swept up in a whole other layer of emotion. This song is a self-contained symphony of feelings, a relief map of longing and a timeline of a love that despite all the bullshit, won’t ever really be extinguished. Amen.

The holy trinity of Brandi Carlile, Tim Hanseroth and Phil Hanseroth have collectively written ten songs that are going to touch a TON of people both as they listen to them and see and hear them performed live.  “By The Way, I Forgive You” has touched me in a way I didn’t know an album could. I didn’t know  I could love a Carlile album as much as “The Story” but upon hearing this one, the code was cracked and another compartment of my heart was accessed.

Ponti out.

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

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.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

“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.


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