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.

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

10.6.18  9:46 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where I’m at:

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

I am woman hear me roar and watch me revolt.

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

What else? So much. Too much.

What next? Everything.

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

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

Now about that video…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponti out


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

lb-kitchen-logo1

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

Katie Herzig on her latest album ‘Moment of Bliss’

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

KATIE HERZIG HAS A NEW RECORD OUT!!!!

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

Say hello to “Moment Bliss!”

momentofbliss_sm

So how good is this record?

EXHIBIT A:

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

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

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

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

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

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

katie herzig 2
Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AP: Yeah.

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

AP: How long have you lived in Nashville for?

KH: I moved here in 2006 so 12 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KH: Yes she did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KH: Dreamboard?

AP: That’s amazing.

katie herzig 4
Katie Herzig
Photo courtesy of the artist

PONTI OUT

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

Rickie Lee Jones delivers in Portland, Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RLJ
Warner Bros. Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponti out

Maggie Rogers “Dog Years” video filmed at Camp Wohelo in Raymond,Maine

Man alive I love this song. “We will be all right.”  What’s more, Rogers just played a sold-out show at Port City Music Hall and everyone lost their mind when she played this and “Alaska.”  Here’s my preview of that show. Rogers also stopped by WCLZ for a 3-song performance and yours truly had the pleasure of interviewing her.

Listen to the performance and interview HERE.