The 43 Best Songs of 2018


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

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

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

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

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

So we’re good on the disclaimers front right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there you have it.

Ponti out

p.s. Because I love you here’s a Spotify Playlist of all the songs!

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


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

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.

SHEL absolutely dazzles on UNDERCOVER.

Being a fan of the band SHEL is like being Alice in Wonderland. I just hope the rabbit hole is without end because it keeps getting better and better. I should probably just rename this entire blog The SHEL report because just when I think my fandom has gotten as big as it can get, they do something spectacular and I’m at a loss for words with my jaw on the floor as my ears fill with wonder.

Left to right: Liza, Hannah, Eva and Sara Holbrook of SHELPhoto by Joe Dudeck
Left to right: Liza (drums, beatbox) Hannah (keys, accordion) Eva (vocals, mandolin) and Sarah (violin, guitar) Holbrook of SHEL Photo by Joe Dudeck

Lest there be any doubt about how much I love this band, you can see my declarations here, here, here and here. Now where was I? Ah yes, Friday the 13th! As in 10.13.17. This is the day the new EP from SHEL called ‘Undercover’ was released and on it are seven covers. But not just ANY covers. These are seven covers that clearly were chosen when the clouds parted and the angels appeared and spoke to these four women and said “these are the songs you should do.” Actually, what really happened was that they have incredible taste in music and chose incredibly well what songs they wanted to re-imagine.  In fact,  Eva Holbrook wrote in an email that went out to fans the other day. (And you can and should sign up for said mailing list by clicking here.) that during a visit with her mentor Paul Kennerley, an important conversation took place during which he asked if she knew any covers which at the time, she didn’t. He advised her to “study the masters. The artist spends half their time in the library.” He sent her home with some of his favorite obscure and essential country and blues artists of early American music and encouraged her to learn great songs when she heard them. And guess what? She and her sisters did just that. The songs on ‘Undercover’ are Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” “Blue on Black” by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, the traditional spiritual “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane and Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” If that’s not an eclectic collection of songs than I don’t know what is.

But before I get into the actual review part of this let me just say for the record, SHEL doesn’t need to do covers. Their originals kill me. Gorgeous, flowing, mesmerizing, impassioned, inspiring, haunting, emotional, catchy,  musically arresting, breathtakingly arrangedhopeful, playful, vocally rich and have an overall sound that has had me spellbound since I first heard them in July  of 2016.

They do however have two covers in their previous discography. The first is Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore” on their self-titled 2012 album and the second is Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” from last year’s “Just Crazy Enough.” I especially love this live version of “The Battle of Evermore.” As for “Enter Sandman,” check out this video they made last year in Alaska. It has racked up more than a million plays because it’s that good. And now hold that thought on the song because there’s a second chapter to that story.

And with no further ado, here are my thoughts on the UNDERCOVER EP which, as of a few moments ago, is out in the world. Do right by them and do what I did; buy it from iTunes. It’s a digital only release for the moment. Supporting independent artists is SO IMPORTANT.

UNDERCOVER image courtesy of the band

OK. Ready?

  1. “Crazy.” This is the song penned by Willie Nelson in 1961. Patsy Cline took the song to no. 2 on the country music charts in 1962. Her version is a classic. You already know this. I knew before I even heard it that SHEL was going to do two things: keep the song recognizable because the melody is so perfect but also cast their spell over it. And indeed this is what they’ve done. Hannah’s stark piano pulls you into a kind of trance and Eva’s vocals have never sounded so lovely. If it had stayed along this path I would not have minded, for this path was indeed lovely and the sentiment of the song remains timeless. But then at about 52 seconds in, Eva’s mandolin is heard, softly and surely, giving the song texture. Further in, Sarah’s violin comes into the song and then some percussion from Liza and a whole bunch of hushed vocals and the song takes an exquisite, sinister turn. It slips into madness. And then it lands softly like a daisy petal on the grass. It’s nothing like the original. This is an entirely new thing. I listened to it five times in a row and each time it grew a bit darker and all the more gratifying.

2. “Blue on Black”  by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. This song is 20 years old and is from Shepherd’s “Trouble Is.” I remember hearing it on the radio a whole bunch back then and still hear it from time to time. Vocals are by Noah Hunt. Entirely solid bluesy rock song. I just gave it a fresh listen and was reminded of what a good song this it and realized, perhaps for the first time, how good the lyrics are. SHEL put the song in their cauldron and stirred it slowly. They added a heartbeat of backing vocals and when Eva sings the lines “whisper on a scream doesn’t change a thing/It won’t bring you back/blue on black,” they take on a mood of their own. The song is a smoldering slow burn with Sarah’s violin stabbing into it. Liza’s drums are like another set of fists swinging at the song. Read= they’re perfect. And don’t quote me on this, but I *think* I’m hearing Hannah’s accordion in there; another accuser, another match on the fire.

3. “Enter Sandman.” SHEL decided to re-visit this one for UNDERCOVER. Their first cover was already from another planet and I wondered why they chose to mess with it. And then I heard it and understood. The first version walked to the edge of the cliff. This version jumps off into the abyss. It’s bigger, bolder, darker. By the time it’s over you’ll be looking over your shoulder to make sure that shadow in the corner didn’t just move.  I hear bass. I hear echoes. I hear three minutes and twenty seven seconds of insanity that’s chained to a bed but has just found the key and is coming for you. Holy hell this is brilliant.

4. Wayfaring Stranger. Only SHEL could go from a Metallica song to a traditional folk song that dates back to somewhere around the beginning of the 19th century. Actually, it makes perfect sense because both songs have haunting themes. “I know dark clouds will gather round me/I know my way is rough and steep.”  At times there’s a bit of a quiver in Eva’s voice adding to the depth of the song’s spirituality. There’s an authenticity to a song this old. You have to wonder that was happening in the life of the person who wrote it so, so long ago. SHEL’s take on it sure has me wondering. With acoustic guitar and violin, they’ve served this song up in enthralling fashion. Update, SHEL released this AMAZING video in March. Behold:

5. Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane. This song is from Keane’s 2004 album “Hopes and Fears.” I went through a pretty big Keane phase back then and even saw them perform this live several years ago here in Maine. I love this song. I was so excited when I saw it on the list of songs on UNDERCOVER. I’m glad SHEL loves this song too.  It deserved the SHEL treatment and they did right by it. There’s a lot going on; a sea of sounds and vocals;  it’s a lush interpretation. Hannah’s keys, Eva’s mandolin, Sarah’s violin and Liza’s percussion (I think she’s playing a few different things on this one) come in and out the song seamlessly and it rises and falls like a summer storm deciding how strong it’s going to become. But it’s also a sunrise that gets brighter and more beautiful by the second.

6. “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin. UNDERCOVER ends with this optimistic gem. I just learned it’s from a 1926 musical called “Betsy” which was something of a flop but the song b more than survived, it became a classic in a hurry. At a few seconds over two minutes, SHEL’s take on the song is  playful, cheery, bursting with their signature harmonies and is THE EXACT SONG THE WORLD NEEDS RIGHT NOW.  It’s a sweet-as-pie love song and if you ever see me skipping down the street whistling it’s because I’m listening to it. The song also shows off SHEL’s versatility. They can pretty much take any song and make it into something unique and dazzling.

SHEL has made an exceptional record with UNDERCOVER. With a collection of songs hitting so many eras and genres, they’ve proven that they’re an unstoppable force. They’ve made a real thing of beauty.  It will take you on a journey with many stops along away and many emotional crossroads. Their musicianship is first-rate. The music business is a strange one these days and the competition is brutal. So many acts vying for our time; our ears. SHEL is worth it, I promise you. UNDERCOVER is yet another example.

UNDERCOVER was recorded at The Blue Room in Nashville. It was produced by Brent Maher, Charles Yingling and SHEL.

Ponti out.

Review: 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival

The 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival ended a week ago and part of my head, heart and soul are still at the glorious Planet Bluegrass site along  the St. Vrain River. My toes are still feeling the water of this river run over them, my ears are still hearing the sounds of Elephant Revival, SHEL, Lake Street Dive, Dave Rawlings Machine and so many other incredible acts and my heart is still skipping beats when I think about how breathtaking my first trip to Colorado was and how just about every moment of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival was damn near perfect.

festival crowd collage
Various shots of the Planet Bluegrass grounds at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photos by Aimsel Ponti

This is a festival that cares about the environment (incredible recycling efforts) cares about people’s bellies (incredible food vendors…omg the dumplings!) and cares SO MUCH about an incredible line up.

Here’s that beautiful river that festival folks were hanging out in all weekend long.

River good
The lovely, mellow, chilly and absolutely perfect St. Vrain River.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

This is what me and about 5,000 other music lovers  took in over the course of three magical days:

The pocket schedule perked on the knees of yours truly in my happy spot.

For the first few hours on Friday I flitted about checking out everything, stood in the river a few times and paid a visit to the General Store (merch tent) where I promptly bought an official festival t-shirt and a super cool Rhiannon Giddens one.

The first order of business for me started Friday afternoon with Mary Gauthier in the Wildwood Pavilion. It’s a barn-like structure on the festival grounds that was a beehive of music all weekend long. I’ve seen Gauthier a few times through the years and she’s one heck of a compelling songwriter, to say the very least. She played the tender, hopeful, compassionate and frankly important song “Mercy Now” and led us in a sing-along of a freshly-written satirical take on “Na Na Na Na Na…Hey Hey Goodbye,” during which she name-dropped the likes of Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer and several other former yahoos of the Trump administration. It was awesome.

Mary Gauthier
Mary Gauthier in the Wildwood Pavilion during the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Gauthier also brought sixteen-year old Bella Betts from the songwriting school (this happens in the week before festival kick-off) on stage along with several other students and teachers to sing the song Betts wrote called “We Are All The Same.” Gauthier urged people to record it and thankfully several did because this song blew us all away. For real. Tears streamed down my face.

Watch this:

After wiping away of tears and joy from Mary Gauthier  & company, I made my way to a grassy spot I had staked out earlier and settled in for The Weepies. They’re  the duo of married couple Deb Talan and Steve Tannen and they’re a pair of indie-folk firecrackers. And even though I’m still schooling myself on their tunes, their set was tremendous and it included “Not Your Year,” so near and dear to my heart.

Thirty minutes after The Weepies ended, Rhiannon Giddens and her band were on stage. I was bummed to have missed her show in Maine a few weeks before the festival but was SO HAPPY to finally be seeing her.  Her band Caroline Chocolate Drops is excellent and so is her solo work, especially the new album “Freedom Highway.”

Rhiannon ONE
Rhiannon Giddens at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The song “At the Purchaser’s Option” was inspired by a print advertisement in the 1800s for a 22 year old slave woman that Giddens saw in a book. The woman also had with her a nine-month-old baby who was “at the purchaser’s option.”

Rhiannon TWO
Rhiannon Giddens at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Giddens channeled her sadness in thinking about what that woman’s life must have been like into a powerful, searing song. Her voice is a mountain of glory.  Giddens plays banjo and violin (and I suspect a number of other instruments) and her set was jaw-dropping at the festival. “You take my body, you can take my bones, you can take my blood but not my soul.”  I won’t be missing her next time she comes to Maine.

Closing out the first night was a guy that I’ve been a from-a-distance fan of for a few years but am WAY INTO; Gregory Alan Isakov.

Gregory Alan Isakov
Gregory Alan Isakov at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I mean honestly, what’s better than his song “Liars?” In fact, that entire live album he recorded with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra is excruciatingly magnificent.  Isakov and his band ended the first day of the festival in brilliant fashion.  After his set,  I made my way back home to my temporary home, climbed the ladder up to my sleeping loft and fell into a deep slumber, in a state of disbelief that there were still two more days ahead.

Saturday morning kicked off with a set by someone new to me: Korby Lenker. He’s a singer-songwriter out of Nashville and he charmed the pants off of me with his tune “My Little Life.” Lenker was the winner of the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest Songwriters Showcase 2016, earning him a spot on the main stage at this year’s festival. Hey Korby, come to Maine. Let’s hang.

The happy voyage of new music discovery continued with the very next act; Australia’s The Mae Trio. They’re sisters Maggie Rigby, Elsie Rigby along with  Anita Hillman and they’ve been out on the road in support of their latest release, “Take Care Take Cover.” Facebook tells me that  “They perform an insightful collection of original songs arranged for ukulele, banjo, guitar, fiddle, cello, bass and superb three part vocal harmony. ” I can tell you all that’s true! Check them out when you get a minute.

I had to retreat to my  loft for a brief recharge but heard great things about Ben Sollee & Kentucky Native and  Mandolin Orange. But I made it back in time for a fun set from the legendary Loudon Wainwright III. He’s got a hilarious song about prescription medications and really got the crowd going.

The second to last band to play on Saturday was one that completely dazzled me and I became a HUGE and INSTANT fan of. Elephant Revival!!! They’re based in Nederland, CO and are a six piece “experimental/folk/Americana” act. All I know is that I could listen to Bonnie Paine sing tax returns and it would be awesome. She also plays washboard, djembe, musical-saw and the stomp-box. Holy bananas. The other singer is Daniel Rodriguez who also plays guitar, banjo and bass. Where has this band been all my life?

Their set was effing awesome, their originals are to die for and then they put me into absolute orbit with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” Holy smokes. There’s even a clip of it someone shot at the festival. 

Elephant Revival
The Elephant Revival at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The Revivalists out of New Orleans closed out the festival on Saturday night and they were yet another band I didn’t know anything about who were absolutely fantastic.  I did however find myself singing along to the last song, “Wish I Knew You” which I realized I had heard a bunch on the radio. Great song. Great band.  Singer David Shaw is the perfect frontman. I’m gonna HAVE TO see this band again.

I awoke on Sunday morning both ecstatic and kind of sad because on the one hand, the lineup was for the day was almost too good to be true, but on the other hand, it was the last day.

I got there at by ten, grabbed a tasty breakfast burrito from the food area and enjoyed sets by Egyptian singer-songwriter (and superhero, look this guy up) Ramy Essam and then Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore.

Then at 1:30 the primary reason I came to Colorado took the stage. I’ve been ALL ABOUT SHEL for a little over a year ever since they came to Portland (ME) in July of 2016. When I came up with a list of my favorite songs of 2016, one of their songs was at the top. The last time I saw them was in a Tennessee cave. This festival was the sixth time I’ve seen them play live and each time I am pretty much at a loss for words because they’re THAT GOOD. SHEL is an acronym for the four sisters in the band; Sarah (violin, guitar), Hannah (keys, piano, accordion, vocals), Eva (vocals, mandolin, guitar) and Liza (drums, beatbox, percussion, vocals). Click on the cave link above for a ton more background on the band. The only thing that frustrates me about SHEL is that they make me feel like a lousy writer because I always struggle to find just the right string of words to express how over-the-moon talented they are. They’ve been at it since they were kids and make it look easy. They’re the kind of band that belong on a stage. At present they have two full-length albums, a holiday EP and a few other odds and ends out there. Expect a covers EP soonish. In the meantime, feed your ears with what’s out there because SHEL is a really special band.  And follow them on Facebook, etc. And join their mailing list at because you don’t want to miss them if they come anywhere near you. Dig?

Upper left= Eva, upper right = Liza, lower middle = Sarah, lower right = Hannah
SHEL photos by Aimsel Ponti

Listening to them – especially live – is an experience that is many things at once; uplifting, riveting, emotional, immensely satisfying and most certainly one that sends shafts of light zooming through every corner of my heart. Their performance at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival was all this and more. With songs like “When the Dragon Came Down,” “Stained” and “Is the Doctor in Today,” not to mention their homage to Led Zeppelin with “The Battle of Evermore” they nailed it and as I looked around I could see the crowd was very much into it. I’ve noticed this every time I’ve seen them.  Judging by the length of the line of fans in the merch area afterwards, it’s safe to say they made a lasting impression. In fact, after their set it I realized I didn’t have a proper photo and so I properly fangirled and a helpful stranger was kind enough to snap a few pics, including this one: (yeah, I look nerdy as hell {per usual}but the band all look fab and smiley).


And the festival could have ended right then and there and I would have walked away feeling tremendous gratitude.

But it wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. In fact, the very next act was The Wailin’ Jennys.

The Wailin' Jennys
Heather Masse, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody. AKA The Wailin’ Jennys
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

To know the Jennys is to love the Jennys. Close harmonies for days. P.S. Heather Masse is FROM MAINE. If you aren’t hip to the Jennys, get hip. Trust me! A fellow festival goer shot this clip of them playing Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and it’s brutally great.

Again, the festival could have ended and I would been entirely fulfilled. But nope, it wasn’t over yet. Not only was it not over, the next act was one of my favorites of the past couple of years. Three words: LAKE STREET DIVE!!!!!

Lake Street Dive
Lake Street Dive photos by Aimsel Ponti

I think this was my third time seeing them and I’ll keep coming back because Mike Calabrese, Rachael Price, Bridget Kearney and Mike “McDuck” Olson are absolutely electrifying. They’ve cornered the market on a throwback sound that’s also, somehow, 100% modern. “Side Pony” is their latest record. Jump into Lake Street Dive pronto! One last thing, Dear Lake Street Dive, please record that “Jameson” song. I love it so much. Thanks. Love, Aim.

All good things must come to an end, even the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. But boy did it end on an indelible note. I had seen Gillian Welch several years ago so already knew how great she was, but this was the first time seeing Dave Rawlings Machine. The lineup, and I *think* I’ve got this right, is Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Willie Watson, Paul Kowert and Brittany Haas.

Rawlings Machine group
Dave Rawlings Machine
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I almost lost it several times during their set. I didn’t really recognize the songs but it didn’t matter AT ALL. Take this one for example. I sat there dying inside.


It was just after ten when Dave Rawlings Machine closed out the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival on the best note possible: Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

Final thoughts:

Thank you to Brian Eyster from Planet Bluegrass to responding when this writer gal from Maine reached out with an “So I’m thinkin’ ’bout comin’ to Colorado” email.

Thank you to my friend Lal for welcoming me with chilled Prosecco and a place to lay my head at night.  Up for a guest in 2018?

Thank you to all of the festival staff and volunteers who worked tirelessly.

And perhaps most of all,  THANK YOU to all of the musicians who poured your hearts and souls into your performances. I’ll never forget it.

To my fellow music fans, if you’ve never been to the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival,  let it be known that the 2018 dates are August 19 – 19. Keep your eye HERE for details.  Oh and if you’re a camper, that’s a HUGE dealio at this festival.

I left a little bit of my heart in that river, on that grass and on the side of the stage in Lyons, Colorado. That’s the highest praise I know how to give this festival. Thinking about it now,  my heart swells, my eyes get misty and I know I’ll often think back to those three days.

I’ll leave you with this very special montage. Thanks, Shamus Alley, for having the mad video editing skills that maybe someday I’ll learn.

Ponti out.

2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival PREVIEW


On August 17 I’ll be taking the 3:15 a.m. bus to Boston’s Logan Airport where I’ll be getting on a plane (United…gasp!) that will fly just under 2000 miles before touching down in Denver, Colorado. At which point, I’ll be getting off that plane and hopping on a shuttle bus to Lyons. I’ll spend four nights there staying with my friend Lal and we’ll be attending the annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.


Here’s the thing; I’ve NEVER been to Colorado. As in for real never. Colorado has always felt more like a dream than an actual place. It’s always seemed so far away almost as if it’s in another solar system. For all I know it could be.

I’m not a downhill skier so I haven’t had those kinds of Colorado visions. My entire life, Colorado has always made me think of two specific things: THIS  SONG and THIS TV SHOW. 

But with the recent launch of this blog and my insatiable thirst for live music and adventure, I decided – after seeing the lineup of the RMFF- that it was FINALLY time to make my way to the Centennial state.

Earlier this year I went to Tennessee for the first time in my life and you  read about that very special trip HERE and HERE.

So why am I excited about the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival? There are many reasons and it all starts with SHEL.

Left to right: Liza, Hannah, Eva and Sara Holbrook of SHELPhoto by Joe Dudeck
Left to right: Liza, Hannah, Eva and Sarah Holbrook of SHEL Photo by Joe Dudeck

In fact, it was one year ago yesterday that I first saw SHEL live after writing about them for the Portland Press Herald/ They were so great I went and saw them again at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival in Hiram, Maine the very next day. Check out this insanely amazing cover of the Led Zeppelin song “The Battle of Evermore” which SHEL recorded on their 2012 debut album. Fun fact: They’ll be performing at the RMFF on Sunday, Aug. 20 which also happens to be Robert Plant’s birthday.

SHEL is from Fort Collins, Colorado and are based there as well as Nashville, TN.

They’re one of those bands that are tricky to categorize but I’ll take a stab at it.

SHEL are purveyors of indie-folk-pop-rock magic and their songs will make you smile, weep, float up into the clouds and down into the depths of the ocean. The band is Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza (hence SHEL) and they’ve all been playing music since they were kids. They’re so good at what they do that seeing them live is a stunning, electrifying, uplifting and I dare say transformational experience. Trust me!

Also, check out this live clip of one of my favorite SHEL songs.

I reached out to keys and accordion player Hannah Holbrook to get the latest on the band and to measure their excitement level on playing Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.

“This summer, we’re extremely excited to be touring in our home state, Colorado! We’ve been spending every spare moment in Nashville, TN recording for film and TV projects and working on our next album. New music and videos coming soon,” said Hannah. And this is all of course SPECTACULAR news to this fan. As for the festival, indeed it is something very special for SHEL to be part of. “We’re really looking forward to playing in Lyons. We’ve been hearing about the legendary Rocky Mountain Folks Festival our whole lives but this is the first year we’re actually in town for it and we’re honored to be a part of it.”

As for the rest of the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival; some of the acts I know and love and some I’ve haven’t had a chance to get to know yet but that will be part of the weekend’s magic; the discovery process.

To see the entire lineup CLICK HERE

Here are a few of the other acts that I’m SUPER excited to see in a few weeks.

Gregory Alan Isakov<em>Photo by Rebecca Cardiad</em>
Gregory Alan Isakov Photo by Rebecca Cardiad

Gregory Alan Isakov

I’m still getting to know this singer-songwriter and to know him at all is to love him a ton. I’m working my way through his catalog and with each new song I hear my jaw drops a little more and I become more and more smitten with his songwriting. I saw GAI at the 2014 Boston Calling Festival and can’t wait to see him again because man alive, the live album he released last year, “Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony” is divine.

I mean seriously, listen to this.


Rhiannon Giddens

I’ve been a casual fan of her old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops since they released their 2010 debut record “Genuine Negro Jig” and am annoyed with myself because I have yet to see them live.

Giddens released her first solo album, “Tomorrow is My Turn” in 2015 and she followed it up with “Freedom Highway” this past February and this is the album that I’ve been ALL ABOUT for the past month or so. It’s not that I don’t like the other one, I just haven’t listened to it yet because I’m lame. But I will. “Freedom Highway” is mostly original songs with the title track being a protest song that dates back to 1965 and was penned by Roebuck “Pops” Staples of the legendary Staple Singers.

Giddens’ take on it is sensational. Take a listen to the song and Giddens’ gorgeous, glorious voice:


“Freedom Highway” is an album that’s joyous, mournful, rootsy, hopeful, historical and about 376 other things and I can’t wait to hear Giddens and her band play some its songs live.

Lake Street DivePhoto courtesy of the artist
Lake Street Dive Photo by Danny Clinch

Lake Street Dive

Dear Mike, Rachael, Bridget and the other Mike,

I think you’re all REALLY swell.



Seriously though, if you’ve never seen Lake Street Dive live, stop what you’re doing right now and go buy tickets to the festival because my oh my, they’re one of the most spectacular ( I use this word too much but it’s always true) live bands out there.

The last time I saw them was in February and the show was dynamite.

If you’ve never heard of Lake Street Dive, take a listen to this:

The Wailin’ Jennys

The Wailin' Jennys
Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse of The Wailin’ Jennys Photo courtesy of the artist

They’re the folk trio of Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse.

Harmonies for days…

The Wailin’ Jennys are certifiably FANTASTIC live.  Just listen to this:

The Weepies

The Weepies
Steve Tannen and Deb Talan of The Weepies Photo courtesy of the artist

The Weepies is the married duo of Steve Tannen and Deb Talan. They’ve released five albums since 2003 and they both have solo work out as well. I have barely scratched the surface with The Weepies but I’ll say this much, this song KILLS ME. (Aimsel code for I love it!!)

This video clip is audio only which is just as well because I suggest you close your eyes and just let this play.


And so there you have it, these are some of the acts I’m excited to see and to be super deluxe clear, this is only about 1/3 of the acts who will be performing on August 18 to 20 in Lyons.

To quote Mr. Denver “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…” OK so they’re not QUITE packed but I did buy my airport bus ticket today when I was at the station dropping my sister off. I’ll be bringing my camera and some notebooks to document this thing as best I can so look for that post soon after I get back.

As of today (7/30) there are still tickets left for the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival and you can get them here.

If you come to the festival, drop me a line and let me know so we can say hi. I’ll be the gal from Maine with the 1,000 watt smile.

Ponti out.



Mesmerizing show from SHEL way below the ground in Tennessee

I realized a longtime dream recently with my first ever trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It was pure magic to finally visit Music City and  I crammed a lot into four days including a visit to the storied Bluebird Cafe, the famous Studio B, the super cool Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum and two consecutive nights at Ryman Auditorium seeing Brandi Carlile.

But the trip really began in a cave where I saw one of my super deluxe for life favorite bands called SHEL.  Soon after my plane landed on April 22, my buddy Dave collected me at the airport and we drove about two hours to McMinnville, home of Cumberland Caverns. It’s there where Bluegrass Underground has been putting on shows for several years in an other-worldly spot called The Volcano Room.  And it’s an honest-to-god cave. I’ve never seen anything like it and to see a show there by a band that I adore is an experience that’s forever etched in my heart and mind.

First I’m going to talk about SHEL then we’ll head down into that cave. SHEL is four Holbrook sisters from Fort Collins, Colorado and the name’s an acronym for their names. Sarah’s on violin, Hannah (pronounced Hahna) plays keys, Eva’s on lead vocals, mandolin and electric guitar and Liza plays drums, percussion and does this beatbox thing that’ll knock your socks off.  They all sing , they’re all the their 20s and they’ve all been playing music most of their lives. Said another way, they’re all SENSATIONAL musicians.

I got hip to them last summer when they came to Portland. Since that late July night I’ve seen them perform four times, most recently in that Tennessee cave.  Their one year anniversary of releasing their second album “Just Crazy Enough” is on May 13 and I’ll be raising a glass of Prosecco in their honor because they really are so very good. How good? At the end of 2016 I came up with my  14 favorite songs of the year and their tune “Hello is the Doctor in Today”   is in the number one spot.

And if that’s not enough, their spellbinding cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” just surpassed the million view mark on YouTube. Not only is their take on it enthralling, Sarah’s got quite a knack for videography and they shot this while in Alaska last year.


I’m already counting the days until I see SHEL again which will be in August at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado. Know who else is on that bill? NBD. Just Gregory Alan Isakov, Lake Street Dive, Rhiannon Giddens, Dave Rawlings Machine and The Wailin’ Jennys among others.  Whomever booked SHEL at this festival gets a high-five from me. Smart decision. Speaking of smart, Amos Lee also made a wise call last fall when he invited SHEL to open SIX shows for him. How cool is that? THIS COOL:

Now let’s get into that cave shall we?
After swinging through the gift shop/box-office building we were led down a dirt path and waited in groups outside this opening:

Cumberland Caverns
The entrance to Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, TN. 4.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

We wound our way  through and down into the depths and it was one jaw-dropping moment after another. I mean this cave even had a waterfall in it. It is wired with electricity but they kept the lights on low which added to the intrigue. You had to watch your step but I can’t stress enough HOW COOL IT WAS.

Cumberland Caverns
En route to The Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns. 4.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

After maybe five minutes or so and after descending just under 350 feet there it was; The Volcano Room. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Cumberland Caverns
Interior of The Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns. Photo shot just before SHEL took the stage. 4.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I thought I had seen a few things in my life and God knows I’ve been to a least 87 zillion concerts but never had I seen anything quite like this. Just to see this place was breathtaking. But to see SHEL perform it in. It’s hard to put into words.

But then there they were.

the fab four 2
Hannah, Eva, Sarah and Liza Holbrook of SHEL. 04.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I mean seriously…

SHEL performing in The Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns. 04.22.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The sound was GLORIOUS in that cave and for about an hour, SHEL CRUSHED IT. They played songs from both of their records, “Just Crazy Enough” from last year and 2012’s self-titled album.  I shot a few clips and my skillful friend Shamus Alley put this together:


The encore song was “Enter Sandman” which was perfect for three reasons: Their interpretation of it is beautifully eerie and lovely and I’ll never tire of it, it was my first time hearing them play it live and the line “we’re off to never never land” was most certainly true in that cave.

The cave’s got snacks, restrooms and comfortable enough seats. But most of all, in case this hasn’t been made 100% clear: IT’S SOOOOOOOOOOO COOL.

Go see a show there. Check their schedule and just make it happen. Figure it out. Get a pal or 12 to go with you. You’ll never see anything like it. Trust me. I didn’t even know this place existed until a few months ago and I’m SO GLAD my first trip to Tennessee including seeing a band I love in a venue I’ll never forget.



New love for seven old songs via incredible covers

While I’m typically all about original music, I also have a special place in my heart for certain covers. Especially ones that make me fall in love with the song in a way that didn’t happen when I heard the original version however many years ago.  Or maybe I’ve heard the original one too many times. That said, I tip my hat to the artists that created these songs in the first place. Here’s seven times that a cover knocked my socks off in a huge way.

SONG: Enter Sandman

ORIGINAL ARTIST: Metallica from their 1991 self-titled album. This was of course a huge hit for them and I remember the video from MTV days. But it wasn’t until I heard this new version, recorded in 2016 that I came to appreciate it.

COVER VERSION: SHEL recorded the song on their 2016 “Just Crazy Enough” album. They’ve taken a metal song and made it into something you’d hear in say a Tim Burton film or in a dream. They’ve made it into something other-worldly. SHEL is four sisters  (Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza) and they’re all insanely talented musicians and I adore pretty much everything they do, including their take on Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore”  but we’ll go with this one for now. Hit play and get ready.


SONG: Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)

ORIGINAL ARTIST: Phil Collins. Theme song for the film “Against All Odds” which is actually a great  80s film with Jeff Bridges, James Woods and the red hot Rachel Ward. I’ve sung along to the Collins version more times than I care to admit and yeah, it’s a fairly epic love ballad. But I’ve always thought there was a bit of a cheese factor.

COVER VERSION: The Postal Service. They’re a Seattle-based indie-band and I’ve been meaning to take a deeper dive into their music for many years. It’s on my ever-growing list. We all have those lists. Anyway…they recorded “Against All Odds” in 2004 and its on the soundtrack to “Wicker Park,” a film I really love that you should see at some point. Their version kills me. In a good way.


SONG: Eye in the Sky

ORIGINAL ARTIST: The Alan Parsons Project (I simply cannot hear that band name without immediately thinking of Austin Powers. Right?)  The song is the title track of their 1982 album of the same name and it tore up the charts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song, it just doesn’t “move” me in a way I like to be moved. Though there’s a certain moodiness to it that I can appreciate for sure.

COVER VERSION: Jonatha Brooke. For real, JB is one of my absolute favorite singer-songwriters. She can do no wrong and you should check out her original stuff. She recorded “Eye in the Sky” for her 2004 album “Back in the Circus.”  Her version pulls at my heart strings in a way the original doesn’t. There’s something about her voice that makes me, as the saying goes, feel all the things.


SONG: It Must Have Been Love

ARTIST: Roxette. This dramatic love  song is of course best known for its inclusion on the “Pretty Woman” soundtrack back in 1990. I won’t trash talk the song because that’s not how I roll and also, I very much appreciate that -as I said above- if we didn’t have the original, there could be no cool cover for me to flip my lid over.

COVER VERSION: Kathleen Edwards. Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards is one of my reasons for living. Her catalog, at the moment, consists of four perfect studio albums and a few odds and ends, including her rendition of It Must Have Been Love. Her version, recorded in 2013, is devastating and gorgeous and bit edgy.


SONG: I Melt With You

ARTIST: Modern English, recorded in 1982 for their “After the Snow” album. Though I came to appreciate it around the time of the 80s classic film “Valley Girl.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song. I’ll always love it. I just grew weary of it. It sometimes happens.  So when I came across this cover, I was able to wrap my arms around the song all over again.

COVER VERSION: Nouvelle Vague. They’re a French cover band and I could write half of this post about their work. Dive in when you get a chance and thank me later. Their “I Melt With You” is from their 2004 debut record. Every track on that thing kills me. especially this one.


SONG: Rich Girl

ARTIST: Hall & Oates. I have nothing negative to say about Hall & Oates because they’re freakin’ Hall & Oates. The fellas recorded “Rich Girl” in 1977 for their “Bigger Than Both of Us.” And who doesn’t love their “Rich Girl?” But I’ve heard it twelve billion times and was ready for it to get a new lease on life.

COVER VERSION: The Bird and the Bee. They’re a California duo and”Rich Girl” is from their 2010 tribute album “Interpreting the Masters Volume I: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. It’s dynamite.


SONG: Shut it Down

ARTIST: Drake. Canadian rapper superstar. Mega famous. Yet I know very little of his work and will even admit I didn’t know this song until I heard the cover. I’m lame. I’m sorry. Anyway….Drake recorded “Shut it Down” in 2010 for his debut album “Thank Me Later”

COVER VERSION: Sarah Jaffe. She’s a singer-songwriter out of Texas and I just about lost my mind when I heard her take on this song. I wrote about Jaffe a few years ago when she came to Portland.