How far would you go to realize a musical dream? For me the answer was just about 1200 miles; the distance from my driveway to Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.
Until a few days ago I had never been to Tennessee, let alone Nashville, let alone the Mother Church of music that is Ryman Auditorium.
I guess I was waiting for just the right moment and that moment came in January when a friend here in Maine told me that Brandi Carlile was doing a handful of dates to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her incredible album “The Story” and The Ryman was one of those dates. The show was going to be Carlile and her band playing, in order, every song on that album and some of those tracks I’ve never heard live before.
And so I bought a ticket, booked a flight, found an Airb&b, sat back and smiled on a cold winter’s day. A few days later the smile grew larger as a second show was added and a ticket to that show was also secured.
Fast forward to Monday, April 24. I laid my head against the side of the Mother Church and had a moment of reflection and reverence for the historic building and then I had myself a whiskey in the attached Cafe Lula and waited for the doors to open for the 7:30 show.
I found my seat, about a dozen pews (yes pews, this is the Mother Church after all) back and to the left and sat in contained enthusiasm along with my fellow pew-mates and Brandi fans.
And soon after 7:30 on that Monday night in Nashville night one of two of the greatest nights of my life began as Brandi, the twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth and cellist/pianist Josh Neumann took to the stage and opened with “The Story’s” first track, “Late Morning Lullaby.”
I realized immediately the first reason why this was going to be such a special evening because I dare say the sound at Ryman Auditorium is the best I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been to at least 87 million concerts (give or take).
And there I was, in an entirely decent seat taking it all in, remembering to breathe and wearing a Nashville-sized smile.
They played the album in order and so the Phil Hanseroth penned title track was next and it was the first Brandi Carlile song I ever heard and it STILL kills me every time I hear it, whether it be live, on the radio or with headphones on walking.
“I climbed across the mountain tops. SWAM ALL ACROSS THE OCEAN BLUE.” It was all the more poignant and insane and beautiful and goddamn glorious at Ryman. Every single one of us in that audience on both nights lost our minds. I still don’t have mine back and I’m fine with that. Oh so fine.
“Turpentine” was next and again, such songwriting. This one Carlile wrote herself and it’s been an Aimsel theme song for the decade that I’ve known it.
Now’s as good a time as any to show you some video clips from these two shows. Know that I only shot short ones and did them as non-obtrusively as humanly possible. I promise, I wasn’t the annoying chick with the phone. These are from both nights and editing credit goes to my pal Shamus Alley.
The show continued on its path of “The Story” album and every song was an emotional groundswell of love, music and perfection.
About halfway through “The Story” tracks, Carlile shared with us the existential crisis-of-sorts she experienced three years ago when her daughter Evangeline was born. Carlile started thinking about the global refugee crisis, especially when it came to children. It was during this time that her wife Catherine Shepherd told her about War Child, based in the UK. Their mission is to protect, educate and stand up for the rights of children caught up in war. That’s when an idea was born…a big one. “The Story is the biggest rock we’ve got to launch at Goliath,” said Carlile and the end result is “Cover Stories.” All proceeds go to War Child UK. The album is all 14 songs of “The Story” covered by other artists including Dolly Parton, Indigo Girls, Pearl Jam, The Avett Brothers, Kris Kristofferson and even Adele. It’s available on May 5th but this fan pre-ordered it a while back and can’t wait for it to arrive.
Carlile surprised everyone by announcing that the album would be for sale during intermission and by the looks of it afterward, they sold just about every single copy they brought with them on CD and vinyl. WHICH IS AWESOME. She told us that they have a goal of raising a million dollars for War Child. I have every confidence they’ll do this…and then some.
A few more notes on “The Story” songs live at Ryman on both nights:
“Have you Ever” was a foot-stompin’, hand-clapping party with exceptional cello from Josh Neumann
“Cannonball” was performed at the front edge of the stage without microphones or amps and it further demonstrated how incredible the sound is at Ryman. “The Ryman is one of a kind,” explained Carlile and she proved the point quite well.
“Losing Heart” had only ever been played two or three times before this run of shows. It was awesome.
“Again Today” was my favorite of “The Story” tracks on both nights because Carlile sang it with a level of unfettered abandonment it just about made me cry.
Carlile, the Hanseroth Twins and Neumann closed out the set with “Hiding My Heart” and if the show had ended there I would have been more than OK because spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe what I had just seen and heard.
BUT THE SHOW WAS ONLY HALF OVER!
We got about another TEN songs on both nights, including several audience requests that got voted on by cheering.
Night one’s second set looked like this:
- The Things I Regret
- The Eye
- That Wasn’t Me (by request)
- Jolene (hell yes, the Dolly Parton song)
- Raise Hell
- Most Of All (brand new, absolutely gorgeous, heartbreaking song)
- Beginning to Feel the Years (Brandi and the Twins performed this from the corner of the balcony. Amazing!)
- Goin to California’ ( as in Led Zeppelin. I’ve heard Brandi sing this before but to hear it at Ryman. All words fail…)
- Amazing Grace (with special guest The Secret Sisters!!!) We were all invited to sing along and many did. As for me, I stood there spellbound.
Night two’s requests were Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which I’ve long said too many people have covered but I ate my words when I heard Carlile sing it. She also hit us with “Keep Your Heart Young” and “The Mother,” another new one and three-year-old sweet-as-pie little Evangeline wandered over to Brandi for a visit before the song. Priceless.
Night two was also closed out with “Amazing Grace” sans Secret Sisters but no less wondrous.
Sidebar: During the day on Tuesday I decided to take the self-guided tour of Ryman Auditorium which was really great as it included a multi-media presentation explaining the building’s jaw-dropping musical history. During this tour I plunked down in the balcony and decided I wanted to sit there for night two instead of the first floor towards the back seat I had. As luck would have it, I scored a front-row almost center balcony seat and after snapping my first-three songs photos on that second night, and yeah, OK after sitting for another three songs in a temporarily unclaimed second row seat I took my balcony seat and it was like sitting on the edge of heaven. The sound was even better from there and the view pristine. Yeah for spontaneity!
And there you have it, the story of “The Story” and this fan and writer’s trip, or better yet, pilgrimage to the Mother Church that is Ryman Auditorium in Music City, USA.
It has been almost 72 hours since that second show ended but part of my heart and soul are still there. As they should be.
Thank you, Brandi, Tim, Phil and Josh.
Thank you, Nashville for welcoming me with open arms.
Thank you, readers of this post for letting me share an experience that will always be part of me.
“But these stories don’t mean anything. When you’ve got no one to tell them to”