Friday, February 3, 2011
Pickard Theater, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
My friend Sarah invited me to join her for a Catie Curtis concert at Bowdoin College to benefit Safe Passage/Camino Seguro and I frankly hesitated for a moment. Catie is a Saco, Maine native and a great folk singer songwriter, but she writes a lot of love songs—and I haven’t been in the mood for those lately. Let’s just say that if you like love and are optimistic about such things, Catie Curtis’ music is for you. If not, you might want to check back later. When I found out that a benevolent “ticket fairy” had already purchased a ticket for me, though, I was more inspired to go. Seeing this many shows, ticket fairies are ALWAYS welcome—if you know a way to get me a ticket or put my name on a guest list for a show, please do.
I heard Catie earlier in the day with Ethan Minton on 98.9 WCLZ during their Acoustic Coffee Break. They chatted at length about the great work Safe Passage/Camino Seguro does in Guatemala. Bowdoin grad Hanley Denning (’92) was improving her Spanish language skills in Guatemala when someone took her on a visit to the slums near the Guatemala City garbage dump. When she saw how impoverished so many children were, she stayed to figure out how to help. Within the week of her first visit to the dump, Hanley sold some of her possessions and started a school for forty children. Safe Passage has grown since 1999 to serve hundreds of children, and Hanley’s work has continued even after her tragic death in a car accident in Guatemala in 2007.
Q97.9 morning host, Lori Voornas, gave a great introduction that evening wearing borrowed reading glasses from a stranger in the audience. Catie Curtis is a wedding officiant (I am too, actually) and performed Lori’s wedding ceremony. Lori, like many of us in the nearly sold-out crowd at Pickard Theater, is a big Catie Curtis fan.
Catie said she approached Safe Passage about letting her do a couple of benefit shows for them. She so believes in the mission of Safe Passage, and both of her daughters were adopted in Guatemala, so it has special meaning to her. They are even going on a family trip to Guatemala through Safe Passage during February vacation this year.
Catie introduced us to Jenna Lindbo, with whom she recorded much of her new album “Stretch Limousine on Fire.” Catie and Jenna sounded just beautiful together. The room added to the crystal clear qualities of their voices. Jenna played banjo and piano, while Catie played guitar and the tambourine she’d belted to her ankle for occasional percussion. Their harmonies were lovely. Jenna has a very sweet, soft-spoken voice. I’m looking forward to hearing more of her music.
I loved “Troubled Mind.” Catie’s fingerpicking was perfect and it added just the right sentiment to the song. The song, about being ready to take a plunge into a new relationship that gives you some relief in this crazy world goes, “and I’m tired from all the weight/Tired of being strong/So won’t you come and stay/And let me lay/Down in your arms.”
I thought Catie’s introduction to “Sing” was very sweet. She wrote this song for her daughters. Her family spends summers on Lake Michigan, and a few summers ago, she and her family had to evacuate their cottage because it was struck by lightning—ironically, soon after she’d told her daughters not to worry. She said, “sometimes singing together is the only way to be courageous in a storm,” and her children actually recall the memory of running from the cottage fondly because they sang camp songs together as they ran down the trail together. Catie asked if anyone in the audience knew sign language, and a Bowdoin student jumped on staged and signed the chorus to the song as we all sang along.
“Soulfully”—a song about new love, goes “last night you found my house/You rang the bell for me/I didn’t know you very well/I didn’t know what it would be/But I felt so close to you/In so little time.” Jenna played one of her songs, “Thank You, Jane,” that she wrote for her piano teacher’s mother (who’d taught her piano teacher how to play). I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house at the end of the song. I heard audible sniffling and saw people reaching for tissues. One of the lines still sticks out in my memory—it went, “you lived 88 years, one for each key.” What a lovely tribute.
To end her first set, Catie played “Another Day on Earth,” a song she wrote after the tragic Arizona shootings last January that took the lives of six people and seriously injured a dozen people, including recently retired US Representative Gabby Giffords.
Lori Voornas and Dr. Lisa Belisle (also Bowdoin ’92) both addressed the crowd before intermission about the important work that Safe Passage does and how love inspires all that Hanley started and what Safe Passage continues to do. Lisa published Our Daily Tread: Thoughts for an Inspired Life, which has raised more than $22,000 for Safe Passage.
Catie came back after the intermission and started her second set with “The Kiss That Counted,” which is probably the song of hers I most often hear on the radio. I assume this is another song about taking a risk and jumping into new love—“yours was the kiss that counted/The one that mattered/My life before me undone/This would be the kiss that counted/The one that shattered my defenses/Bringing me emotion and devotion.”
Catie said she wrote “Seeds and Tears” for a friend living with a terminal illness. This touching song went something like, “somewhere beyond what we can dream of/I still believe all our tears fall like rain on seed.” Catie’s words offered hope for a situation where it’s hard to see hope at all. Catie acknowledged how difficult it is to play anything after that song, so she played about thirty seconds of a Britney Spears song called “Hold It Against Me” that I’d somehow never heard before.
A catch phrase of the evils of capitalism was easily put into clever words the day that Catie saw a stretch limousine on fire. It became the title track of her new album. She played an older song—“100 Miles” afterward, which Catie said she wrote to process her feelings about wondering if she was ready for marriage. It goes, “it’s gonna rain/It’s gonna pour/Through sickness and worse/Can I love more?/You carried me/When I fell/Can I carry you?/Can I love that well?” On a bigger level, Catie said, the song is also about wondering if you have the courage to leap when something moves you. I think that message resonates with a lot of us. Sometimes it would be nice to have more courage to leap. I chuckled when Catie told us that this song was used in a Mary Kate and Ashley Olson movie. A Google search revealed that “100 Miles” was featured in “Our Lips Are Sealed,” a surely meaningful film in which the then-young Olson twins witnessed a crime, went into the FBI witness protection program, and finally ended up in Australia. Don’t worry, you can find it on Netflix. I checked. Is it in my queue? I’ll never tell.
Jenna and Catie covered “Song for a Winter’s Night” next. Sarah leaned over to ask me about the song and I confidently told her it was a Sarah McLachlan song. I’m glad I do some research for these blog posts, because I know I have some mature, attentive readers who would have let me know that Gordon Lightfoot actually wrote the song. I frequently tell my students that the songs they listen to include pieces of older songs that were not actually written (gasp) by Jason Derulo and the like. And then it happened to me—a humbling moment, for sure. In my defense, “Song for a Winter’s Night” was released in 1967, thirteen years before I was born. I’ll keep fact checking.
Jenna played lead guitar for her song “Influential Role.” Catie played piano. I liked the line, “whenever I hear music you climb through the window to my heart.” Catie’s song, “Passing Through,” was next and was quoted in the program that evening–“I refuse to let my hope become the latest casualty.” The same Bowdoin student who signed earlier for the crowd was invited back to sign the chorus of this song as we sang along. Catie and Jenna ended with “World Don’t Owe Me” with a little “Joy to the World” thrown in for good measure.
Jenna and Catie came back for an encore. Someone in the audience said something to her and she replied, “well, since he’s here, I guess I should play it.” I assume her dad was in the audience—a retired teacher from Thornton Academy in Saco where Catie attended high school. She wrote the song “My Dad’s Yard,” a very, very sweet tribute to him on the occasion of his retirement. As a teacher, I know if someone said these things about me, I’d break down sobbing. The song goes, “so if you need something when times get hard/You can probably find it in my dad’s yard/And if you need hope/If you’re coming apart/You can surely find it in my dad’s heart/He can see the beauty beneath the dust and the grime/He can see potential where the rest of us are blind/He will polish the grey until it shines clear blue/And if you know my dad/Well, he won’t give up on you.”
I told Sarah I’d thought I’d make it through a whole evening of almost completely love songs as long as Catie didn’t play “Magnolia Street.” I assumed I’d start sobbing in public if she played it, in fact. For anyone I’ve ever loved, I’ve put this song on a mix CD. It goes, “I knew that I loved you/The first time you got into my car/Your cheeks were flushed/And I felt a rush/Come over me in the dark/I got us lost/But at the next cross/You said I don’t care where we are/I’m in the right car.” It’s easily one of my favorite songs, but definitely not a song I want to be hearing often these days—and certainly not in public. I was relieved when Catie’s encore was “My Dad’s Yard,” but then she said, “oh, I’ll play another” and it was “Magnolia Street.” I took notes so I didn’t have to listen to the lyrics. It helped that Catie told a quick story before the song about asking one of her daughters what to dress up as for Halloween. Her daughter said that Catie should be a hippy. When Catie asked her what, specifically, to wear, she replied, “I don’t know. I wasn’t alive in the 80s.” It was very sweet.
One of Safe Passage’s board members presented Catie with a thank you video message from children in Guatemala they serve at the end of the show. If they post it on their website, I’ll be sure to add it here. Safe Passage is an incredible organization that provides opportunities for children and their families who are living in unimaginable situations. Maine has been tremendously generous—according to their literature, Mainers have “raised/donated over $4.5 million to support Safe Passage.” I hope you’ll check out the good work that Safe Passage does, and that you’ll see Catie Curtis the next time she’s playing in your neck of the woods. To ensure maximum enjoyment, be sure you’re feeling hopeful that day. If not, Catie’s music just may help.
As I left Pickard Theater, Adam Ezra Group’s song, “Basement Song” was playing. It was almost a too fitting way for the evening to end.