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.

ANYWAY….

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

PONTI OUT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now then. Shall we get down to brass tacks?

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

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

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

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

Here’s a list of what happened when:

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

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

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

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

Maren Morris
Maren Morris Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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

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

Mavis Staples: Main Stage

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

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

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

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

Here are some highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. I recorded it. Voila!

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

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

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

Want a few more? Of course you do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KT Tunstall night two 1
KT Tunstall Photo by Aimsel Ponti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucius
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.

Shawn Colvin performs “A Few Small Repairs” 20 years later in fantastic show

Shawn Colvin  first knocked my socks off in 1992 upon releasing “Fat City.” It’s an album I still consider to be perfect in every sense of the word. It also made me an instant; committed Colvin fan. From there I  went backwards into her debut album from 1989 , the dare I say iconic “Steady On.”

In 1994 Colvin released Cover Girl” and the “Live in ’88” album the following year.  Sometime around then was when I first saw her perform live and this further made me realize what an extraordinary talent she is because along with being so damn good with her guitar and vocals, she’s a hilarious and witty storyteller with stage presence to spare.

Since then I’ve seen Colvin three or four more times and most recently was Friday night at The Cabot in Beverly, MA. The show was originally scheduled to happen at City Winery in Boston however construction delays (they hope to be open very soon) made a venue change necessary.  My disappointment was short-lived because the Cabot is a classic old theater and it won me over the second I saw the retro marquis.

Cabot
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Between the downstairs and balcony, the Cabot has a capacity of about 800 and it was probably 2/3 of the way full.  I call this a win for both The Cabot and City Winery because it was a bit of a schlep for people to get there who had originally planned on Boston but based on the audience responses I witnessed during the show, no one seemed to mind. And the theater itself is gorgeous and classic in that old theater way that can never quite be replicated with new buildings.

Colvin’s longtime friends and sometimes bandmates Teresa Williams and Larry Campbell opened the show with a terrific 40 minute set and retook the stage with Colvin and the rest of her band for a sensational two hour show. Michael Ramos played keys, fluegelhorn and melodica, Glenn Fukunaga was on bass and the drummer was Mike Meadows.  Campbell played guitar (and violin on one song) and Williams was on backing vocals. All five of them are longtime pros who have played , recorded  and toured with an encyclopedic list of big-time musicians.  It was only fitting that these five were the musicians in Colvin’s band on this tour.

The reason for the tour was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “A Few Small Repairs.” The album technically came out in ’96 but “Sunny Came Home” wasn’t released as a single until the summer of ’97 and became a very big damn deal winning a Grammy for Record of the Year and Song of the Year along with a nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

A Few Small Repairs.jpg

I love it when acts do these kind of album anniversary tours and play entire albums. I saw Peter Gabriel do this a few years ago with “So” and Paula Cole last year with “This Fire.” Earlier this year I saw Brandi Carlile perform the entire “The Story” album at The Ryman as part of a handful of shows marking that record’s decade mark. It’s “a thing” to do these tours and I for one think the concept is great. Plus the artists always play more than just the album and it makes for a very engaging show.  “A Few Small Repairs” is a tremendous album and I think it was a damn fine idea for Colvin to take it on the road two decades later.

At 9 p.m. the show began not with something from “A Few Small Repairs” but rather a sublime tribute to Tom Petty (I still can’t believe he’s gone, can you?) in the form of “Wildflowers.” Well done, Colvin and company, very well done.

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Shawn Colvin at The Cabot in Beverly, MA on 11/3/17. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

And then it was off to the “A Few Small Repairs” races, in sequential order, beginning with the aforementioned hit “Sunny Came Home.”  Colvin’s voice sounded clear, strong and captivating and the sound in The Cabot was spot on.  The blistering “Get Out Of This House” came next and although she told us the story about writing the song later in the show, I’ll share it now. Colvin said it was born out of frustration  of not being able to actually write in the writing room she had created in the first house she had ever bought. “I couldn’t think of a damn thing in that room and I looked out the window and I said ‘go jump in the lake, go ride up the hill, get out of this house.” A song was born. She also told us that an earlier draft had included “Go piss up a rope” and something about the Pope.

“The Facts About Jimmy,” Colvin explained,  was based on a true story with names changed. “He would not have me. I was not happy about that at all,” she said to much laughter adding that “it goes to show you how little you have to do to get into one of my songs.”

“I Want It Back,”  was another product of the “dreaded writing room,” adding that she was wrote it at a time that she was frustrated with certain 90s celebrities including the likes of OJ Simpson and Tori Spelling.

About halfway though the album the band left the stage and Colvin took a seat at a piano for what I consider to be the saddest, most poignant song from “A Few Small Repairs.” Said another way; it’s my favorite.  The song is “If I Were Brave”  and this was the first time I had heard her play it live.

“How could it be that I was born without a clue to carry on
And still it is the same now I am older
Armed with just a will and then this love for singing songs
And minding less and less if I am colder”

The song’s been killing me for 20 years. I love it.

Now here’s the part of the review where I pause for the briefest moment to do something I don’t normally do; call out a member of the audience member for something.

Colvin was in the middle of playing the songs from “A Few Small Repairs,” which is the reason she was on tour in the first place and some guy yelled out “Fat City” in between songs. Let me be clear, “Fat City” is sacred to me,  so sacred that my next tattoo is likely going to be a lyric from one of its songs. But I thought it was profoundly disrespectful to yell that out, especially since Colvin had already told us she’d be playing some other stuff later in the show. Rant over. Now where was I?

Ah yes, the poetic perfection of “Wichita Skyline.” Colvin told us she had hoped to use a place in her home state of South Dakota but “no town sang as well as Wichita.”  She makes a good point, the town does indeed “sing well,” especially when sung by her.

After “Wichita,” Colvin took a moment to tell us that “A Few Small Repairs” is now available on vinyl. “It’s fucking amazing if you play it on double speed backwards with the DVD of The Wizard of Oz.”  She’s a riot without even trying.  I love that about her.

“A Few Small Repairs” ends with another sad one, “New Thing Now” and then the hopeful and bright “Nothin on Me” after which Colvin and the band took their bows and left the stage to a standing ovation.

They came back out for a four song encore starting with “I’ll Be Back,” the Beatles tune on the “Cover Girl” album. Colvin’s version is slow and moody AF.

From there it was onto one of Colvin’s most beloved tunes, the title track to “Steady On.” This is the kind of song that is always fresh, always meaningful and always so damn good. “I’m gonna keep my head on straight” is a line I’ll be singing for the rest of my life.

Next was the Jackson Browne/Warren Zevon penned “Tenderness on the Block” which Colvin recorded for “Fat City.” The “find true love” backing vocals from Campell, Williams a couple of the other guys in the band were perfect.

Shawn Colvin ended the show two hours after it started with another “Steady On” track. “Diamond in the Rough” is another Colvin classic and it was the ideal bookend to an excellent night.

Ponti out.

Colvin 5
Photo by Aimsel Ponti