Monthly Archives: October 2012

Brandi Carlile with Blitzen Trapper

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

This was my seventh Brandi Carlile show. I love her. I was front and center. She sang inches away from me. She and the guys in the band were all smiles and every one of them made definite eye contact with me throughout the night—Tim even raised his eyebrows and smiled at me. I’m ready to call it—this was my favorite Brandi show and in my top ten of all shows I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen over 300 concerts, so. . .

I want to give a birthday shout out to my dear friend Kim, who I first saw Brandi with on December 3, 2005, opening for Ray LaMontagne at Berklee College of Music. She stole that show and Kim and I were instant fans. I got home a couple of days later and emailed 98.9 WCLZ to tell them about her and within a couple of weeks “What Can I Say?” was in their “New Music File.”

I saw Brandi from the front row at Berklee last November with my effervescent friend Tricia, and it was like having a sing along in Brandi’s living room. She was solo, and she played an incredible cover on piano of Damien Rice’s “Cannonball” that I remember like it was yesterday. The time before that, I saw Brandi at the Life is Good Festival, the only set of the day I made it to after someone broke into my car and made a huge mess that my friend Dave sweetly supported me in dealing with, including making a makeshift shower curtain window for the car ride back to Maine. Life wasn’t super good that day, I guess.

Friends asked if I wanted to join them for dinner before the show and I said no. I knew I’d need to get to the State early to earn my spot front and center. I was honestly a bit drained from having gone to see Bully on a field trip with my whole school earlier in the day. My face hurt from crying (I recommend that you see it, though), and I was hoping to rebound for the show. I couldn’t find a parking spot for a while, and by the time I got my ticket at will call, the line for the show wrapped around the block. I was so bummed. A lovely woman, Annie, from Martha’s Vineyard, who was bringing two sweet little boys, Forest and Jack, to the show, distracted me. I suggested they try for a balcony seat so that the boys would have a good view of the stage. I hope they found a good spot and enjoyed the show.

My fears were gone when I got inside, though. It seemed pretty empty on the floor. Were people there early to ensure good balcony seats? I can’t imagine, but there was plenty of room on the floor. I found a spot in the center behind two women. I met a group of fantastic young women, one of whom lives in Gardiner—small world—and we chatted for a long time. One of them was a huge Blitzen Trapper fan, so I encouraged her to write them a love note and lent her my pen. (They got the note later, by the way).

There was a shift in the crowd and I found myself standing next to the woman who’d been in front of me—so just behind one very short woman. What luck! An unobstructed view of the stage! I couldn’t believe it! Heather’s mom had gone to sit down, so there was room for me. It was her birthday present from her mom and she was a super concert buddy. This night was magical, and it had something to do with my surroundings. It’s been a long time since I was surrounded by such consistently lovely people at a show. The woman in front of me in the front row had arrived at 4:30. I’d gotten there significantly later, so was tickled about my luck. I believe in concert karma, and have since paid this forward. One of the crew members came up to us to let us know that Brandi and the guys would use the little platform we were standing at later in the show. We were pumped.

I liked Portland, Oregon’s folky rock band Blitzen Trapper. I am only vaguely familiar with their music thanks to my music aficionado friend, Greg, and I was happy to see them live. I had a hard time hearing them clearly during their set, though. Their lead singer looks a lot like my friend Alex, and I loved his harmonies with the pianist. I was glad to hear “Furr” and “Lady On The Water” live. I would have liked to hear “Heaven and Earth.” Check out “My Home Town” courtesy of Sleepover Shows.

Blitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper’s setlist

Brandi’s set up went quickly and someone from the crew came out on stage and put the needle to a record on a player set up in the center of the stage. It set the scene for a crazy good, building, powerful introduction. We were pumped when Brandi, The Twins, and the rest of the band took the stage. There was an electric energy in the room that night.

Here’s the set list for the night:

“Raise Hell”


“Closer to You”

“Before It Breaks”


“What Can I Say”

“Caroline” was in there somewhere

“Keep Your Heart Young”

“Hiding My Heart”

“Looking Out”

“Again Today”


“Dying Day”

“The Story”

“Nothing Compares 2 U”

“Pride And Joy”

“That Wasn’t Me”


Brandi always encourages the audience to sing a long. I was lucky to be standing with lovely people and some of them (Heather included) could REALLY sing. I was overwhelmingly happy. So many pieces aligned to make this show magical, beautiful, intimate, and unforgettable.

Definitely one of my favorite shots on the night! Not bad for a point and shoot camera!

Brandi and The Twins got on the platform directly in front of me and belted out my favorite of their songs—“What Can I Say”—completely unplugged. Someone got it on video! I was overwhelmed. I had to lean way back while taking some pictures of this too good to be true moment to try to fit them all in the frame. It didn’t work, but I love the photos anyhow. We sang along on the chorus and you could hear a pin drop during the verses. What command of the room! Oh my goodness. Phil even gave me a high five as he left the platform! The smile on my face was so big for so much of the show (but especially at that moment) that the women around me joked with me about my abundant displays of joy.

Can you believe how close I was?! I am still not over it!

I love the message of “Keep Your Heart Young”—“Don’t trade in your tic tac box/For a ball on the end of the chain/And don’t go spending Grandpa’s pennies/Buying into the game/You gotta keep your heart young/Don’t go growing old before your time has come.” It manages to be both an important and still light hearted song. I loved hearing the secret song on The Story, “Hiding My Heart.” Brandi told us that Adele covered it (apparently I live under a rock, because I missed that) and that it inspired them to start playing it because she’d done it so beautifully.

Brandi founded the Looking Out Foundation in 2008 to support humanitarian work through music. She chooses a local non-profit in each town they play, invites that group to set up a table at the show, and encourages the audience to support the organization. I was really excited to hear Brandi offer her support and ask us to reach out to Good Shepherd Food Bank, which has provided food to Mainers since 1981. They do crucial work and have done so for over thirty years.

Brandi told us the story of a day early in their career spent in Tuscon, Arizona in their tour van with broken air conditioning—waiting out the day before their gig in a car wash to stay cool. There was a notorious sidewalk preacher yelling into his bullhorn about the end of the world, scaring the college kids on their way to the show. It inspired the song, “Looking Out.” I love knowing where songs come from, and I listened to the song more carefully with that story in mind. Here are some of the lyrics: “I went out looking for the answers/And never left my town/I’m no good at understanding/But I’m good at standing ground/And when I asked a corner preacher/I couldn’t hear him for my youth/Some people get religion/Some people get the truth.” And luckily the song has a happier ending than the end of the world—“And when you feel like giving in/Or the coming of the end/Like your heart could break in two/Someone loves you.”

I love this one!

I loved their rockin’ cover of “Jolene” and “The Story” was the perfect powerhouse song to end their set with. We’d been a rock solid audience, and Brandi and the guys came back for a three-song encore. I was FLOORED/blown away/moved by their cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” “Pride And Joy” was great. Brandi moved over to the piano to close the night with “That Wasn’t Me,” a song about addition and redemption. It was a soulful, lovely way to end the night. I really do think we impressed Brandi and the guys with our enthusiasm, but I was still surprised when Brandi came out solo to play a hauntingly beautiful version of “Hallelujah” for us. She gave a shout out to 98.9 WCLZ and dedicated the song to Ethan. I imagine WCLZ’s programming director Ethan Minton was over the moon!

“That Wasn’t Me”


Brandi was extraordinarily complimentary of us as an audience and of Portland in general. She echoed a shout out from an audience member encouraging us to support YES on 1, and humbly and appreciatively thanked us for a wonderful evening as she left the stage. Congratulations are in order to Brandi on her recent marriage to her wife Catherine Shepherd in Boston! I encourage everyone in Maine to get out to vote YES on 1 in a week. It is crucial that we support equality whenever the opportunity arises. Here is Brandi’s interview with the Portland Press Herald that addresses marriage equality at length.

What an amazing night. I would have loved to hear “That Year” and to sing in parts with The Twins and Brandi on “Turpentine,” but I ultimately wouldn’t have changed a thing. It took a few days to really start articulating how magical this evening of music was, but a few days later, I found the words. All 1,783 of them. Thank you so much to Blitzen Trapper, Brandi, Tim, Phil, and the hardworking and talented guys in Brandi’s band! Come back to Maine anytime!



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Frank Warren, Creator of

Monday, October 15, 2012

Augusta Civic Center, Augusta, Maine

I found out that Frank Warren, creator of the fascinating blog, was coming to speak at University of Maine Augusta because I randomly saw a flyer hanging on the community bulletin board at the Hannaford in Gardiner. What a lucky find! I am so excited I got to attend Frank’s only appearance in New England! Here’s an article about the event in the Kennebec Journal.


My friend Clare and I made our way to UMA early so we could get good seats. I was surprised and disappointed that there were VIP seats for friends of UMA and then the rest of us had to sit far away from the stage. I was lucky that I had my glasses with me to sharpen things, but they don’t really do the trick because I have an eye injury. Boo.

There were postcards on each of our seats when we arrived addressed to Frank’s house in Germantown, Maryland. The gist of Frank’s project is that he started handing out these postcards in 2004 in Washington DC inviting people to “anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything—as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.” Now Frank has over 500,000 postcards at his house and more than a million people read his blog every week. And Frank has created a space where people can share and also reach out to help or for help—especially via the National Hopeline Network.

I’m still thinking about what secret I’ll send to Frank on this postcard

Clare and I chatted with our neighbors in the front row of the bleachers. People had driven from all over (a row of folks Frank recognized from Panera earlier in the day even drove five hours) for his talk. The lights dimmed and local restaurant owner and suicide prevention advocate Laura Benedict introduced Frank. I still have a lot of feelings I’m working through about the following hour and a half. I didn’t realize that, actually, until a few nights ago when Clare and I had dinner at Gardiner’s famous A1 Diner and we ended up having a long talk about that night. There’s a lot I could say, but I also don’t want to share other people’s secrets. Instead, if you watch Frank Warren’s TED talk, you’d have a basic understanding of the presentation we saw. Here’s another cool video of people sharing their secrets, too.

The program

Frank told us the history of, showed us the secrets that his publisher banned from his books (there are five Post Secret books now), told us some of his favorite stories from his eight years of the project, and revealed his secret to us. I think Frank gave us three major take home messages that night. One, the secrets we keep are really keeping us. If we don’t let them out they can consume us. Two, our secrets can either be walls or bridges. If we keep them to ourselves they are obviously walls. If we share them, our secrets can build bridges with others. Third, Frank said that he would go through all the failures in his life again because they led him to where he is now. I “get” the first two messages of the night, but as a perfectionist, the third is hard for me. I would definitely go back and change some things if I could.

Part of Frank’s presentation included a funny story about The All-American Rejects, who used a sampling of postcards sent to Frank in their 2005 music video, “Dirty Little Secret.” The most touching part of his presentation for me was the story of someone who sent a postcard that he posted on his blog (he posts new secrets for every Sunday) saying that they never delete voicemails because it might be the last time they hear a loved one’s voice. It created a lot of discussion on the blog, and Frank played a sampling of people’s saved voicemails that they emailed to him. Something about hearing a recording of a now deceased grandparent singing their grandchild “Happy Birthday” really affected me. I am glad I packed some tissues. I needed them

The last thing that happened floored me. Frank invited people to take the microphone and share a secret with all of us. I was shocked and so impressed and moved by the many brave, brave people who shared secrets of such magnitude with a room full of nearly 500 strangers. I won’t repeat any of those secrets here except to say they ranged from secrets about playing The Oregon Trail to suicide attempts to rape to leaving home and forging a completely new identity to get away. I was floored.

Frank closed the powerful night and encouraged us to share our secrets so that we can be freed of the weight of them. I bought his most recent book, Post Secret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God, and waited a while in line to have him sign it. When I had a brief moment to say something to him, I told him that I’d mentioned going to his talk with my advisory group at the high school where I teach and they were interested in his project and that I hoped we’d keep looking at it together in the future. I’m hoping to make checking out’s weekly updates a tradition with my kiddos since we’ll be together every morning for four years. I think it will build bridges instead of walls. It’s funny now as I’m editing this a day after writing that because some of the kids in my advisory group and I just read together this morning.

Here are a couple postcards from the new book that I really like. I picked a lighter one and a heavier one so you can see how varied the postcards in the book are.

PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God. Page 57

Boris approves of NPR! PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God. Page 16.

What a night. If Frank Warren is coming to speak anywhere near you, get there.




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Swine and Stein featuring North of Nashville and anna & the diggs

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Water Street, Gardiner, Maine

Gardiner’s third annual Swine and Stein Oktoberfest was a big success. It rained last year, which was unfortunate, but people were back and ready for a good time this year. If you’ve never been to Swine and Stein, it’s a great time with something for everyone—a local beer tent, plenty of food vendors that specialize in local pork, live music, and games for kids. There are usually some animals to pet, and this year I was tickled that there were adorable goats and pigs. I think they like me more because they know I don’t eat them, but I digress. Here’s Bo the boxer checking them out.

Bo and the pigs were fast friends

Goats are cute

Pigs are so cute that I don’t eat them

I got to S&S early in the day so that I could hear Portland’s favorite bluegrassy duo, North of Nashville. I’d been asked by Gardiner Main Street, who worked so hard to organize and run this event, to help with the press release for the event. This is what I wrote about North of Nashville:

North of Nashville is certainly Portland’s hardest-working and most energetic country/bluegrass duo. Jay Basiner and Andrew Martelle, both members of popular Portland band This Way are taking it to the streets and bars with their high-octane music. They are famous for their epic sets rich with guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and harmonica. Be prepared to get up and dance during their set.

They didn’t disappoint! I sat on a hay bale with my Gritty’s Halloween Ale and enjoyed their upbeat set. Jay and Andrew are both so talented, and play out so often that they know how to keep a crowd engaged and entertained. Swine and Stein was their first of three gigs that day, actually.

Andrew and Jay are North of Nashville

This little cutie really enjoyed North of Nashville

Jay told us that his grandfather worked on the railroad, and growing up around him informed his songwriting. He played “City of New Orleans,” which everyone knew and was happy to hear. They did a bluegrass version of “The Letter,” a song about a letter Abe Lincoln wrote to the country after the Civil War. Their version was called “Common Country.” I’m always impressed that Jay can sing, play guitar, and play foot percussion at the same time. I remember being impressed by that early in the year when I saw This Way play, too.

They played a Springsteen song and the title track from This Way’s newest album, The Story of Simon Pure (which is in rotation on 98.9 WCLZ). Jay and Andrew were kind to us and I appreciated knowing a bit about the songs they played, too. They were chilly under a tent in the shade on a cold day, but they still played their hearts out with winter hats and/or fingerless gloves on. They wrapped their set with my favorite This Way song about playing music for a living, “Take It All (Or Leave it All Behind).” Definitely check out North of Nashville and their full band, This Way. They are talented, high energy, and fun.

I was chilly, too, and also needed to catch up with some friends, so I took some time off from being fully present at the music tent. I got to hear Poke Chop and The Other White Meat from a distance. They had a bluesy sound and people really seemed to like them. The Oktoberfest German Band played two sets and I loved seeing old men in lederhosen playing clarinets and brass instruments. They sounded great and were adorable and set an appropriate tone for the day.

The Oktoberfest German Band

The sun went down and it got cold. I was sad that anna & the diggs played last because a lot of people were Oktoberfested out by then and missed their set. I did a quick rally of local friends to get as many people to the stage as possible. I’d seen them at Slates in Hallowell back in April and was abundantly impressed. I wrote a glowing review of the show and Anna and I have been in touch a bit since then. It was really nice when I saw her that she remembered me and took the time to introduce to me to all of the guys in the band. That kind of warmth is nice to see from talented musicians!

anna & the diggs (Chris is back there, I promise!)

Anna and the boys sounded great. Everyone who stayed for their set had a blast and was impressed. I’d told one of my colleagues who lives in town that I’d recommended anna & the diggs for the lineup and his friend sought me out to tell me that I have the best taste in music ever. I do have good taste in music if I say so myself, but what he was really saying is that he loved anna & the diggs. There’s nothing not to love.

Here’s what I wrote about anna & the diggs for the Swine and Stein press release:

anna & the diggs is comprised of former members of Portland’s popular Americana group Gypsy Tailwind who have delved into soul, rock, and R&B. Lead singer Anna Lombard won “Best Female Vocalist” in this year’s Portland Phoenix music poll and it was more than well deserved. This headlining set is sure to please. anna & the diggs are insanely talented and are not to be missed!

anna & the diggs sounded great as always. I liked “River Girl,” the title track of the EP they released this summer. I really love “We Were Younger Then” about being in love with someone for a long time. Check out anna & the diggs on Private Stage to get a good taste of their sound. They wrapped their set with “Mercedes Benz.” We were an appreciative, if small audience. One thing we learned is that we need to put the headlining bands a bit earlier in the lineup so no one misses them!

Anna and the guys (Max, Colin, Chris, and Ben) graciously stayed around to say hello to their new fans while they packed up so they could head to their next gig of the night—Asylum’s League of Extraordinary Women. You’ve really got to work to make it in the music biz, I guess! Thanks for fitting us into your day, anna & the diggs!



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Lori McKenna with Mark Erelli

Friday, October 5, 2012

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I met my dear friend Shaun on our first night of our first year at Bowdoin College. He’s back in town teaching there for the year, and I’m so excited to have another concert buddy for the duration! We met up in Brunswick after a long week and trekked down to Portland for margaritas and Mexican food (including a fish taco debacle) before the show at One Longfellow Square. It was also Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, so we enjoyed the bustling, vibrant sidewalks full of people and arts in downtown on our way.

I was not at all surprised that OLS was packed for Lori McKenna. We struggled to find seats, but landed on the far edge of the fourth row—probably the farthest from the stage I’ve ever been at OLS. Mark Erelli took the stage soon after we arrived. The last time I saw him was last December at OLS sharing the stage with Jeffrey Foucault. It had been ages since I’d seen Lori—more than six years, in fact. I had to look it up, but I last saw her with Mark in April of 2006 at Chicky’s Fine Diner in Westbrook. It had been far too long.

Bates College alumnus Mark Erelli established himself as a local (or maybe a former local?) by opening with his lovely song, “Congress Street,” which One Longfellow sits on. He told us about his apartment in Portland’s East End (truthfully just off of Congress Street) where he wrote a lot of songs back in the day. He joked that he didn’t usually give so much autobiographical information because made up stories are more fun. He said he lived there with his wife while she was in graduate school and he was bringing home the bacon (or bacon bits, more likely). He wrote “Five Beer Moon” in that apartment “on Munjoy Hill,” too.

Mark Erelli

Mark rocked out a bit on “Basement Days,” and welcomed us to use our iPhone lighter app anytime we felt moved during the show. Mark was warm and comfortable with us. He played a great new song for us that I really liked. He told us he wanted us to take his music home, so his albums were “pay what you can,” but he clarified that “free is not a price.” He joked that there was also no upper limit to what you might pay for his albums since “some people who own houses on the Western Prom might be here.” He was charming and sounded great. Mark only played a handful of songs because, as we were to find out, he would share the stage with Lori for the rest of the night. He wrapped his set with “Everything in Ruin” and we took a short break between sets.

Lori McKenna took the stage and looked just as I remembered her—she hasn’t aged at all and could absolutely still pass as a twenty something. Mark joined her and it became clear that we’d enjoy them as a duo for the evening. I think Lori’s voice is amazing—deep, raspy, and strong. I can pick out her distinctive voice as easily as Emmylou Harris’ or Adele’s. Her music is rooted in her life experiences—being married to someone for a long time, having five kids, living in a small town, and being on the road. There’s an autobiography and genuineness running through her music that makes it wholly relatable. Her music is so relatable, in fact, that many other artists have recorded her songs. Faith Hill, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, LeAnn Rimes, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood are just some of the people who’ve sung Lori’s songs. I remember seeing Lori singing one of her songs on The Oprah Winfrey Show with Faith Hill years ago, too.

Lori McKenna and Mark Erelli

I wish I had a better handle on song titles. I listen to music so much in the car that I rarely know what songs are called, but I’ll estimate. Early in her set, Lori and Mark played “Your Next Lover” that includes the sad lyrics “I stood and watched all the stars fade right there from your eyes.” “Stealing Kisses” is also sad—about a young love that’s changed. It goes, “I was stealing kisses from a boy/Now I’m begging affection from a man/In my housedress don’t you know who I am/Don’t you know who I am/Standing in your kitchen/It’s late enough your husband’s dinner is cold/So you wrap it up and leave it for him on the stove/It’s probably the traffic again/Or another important meeting.” Mark sounded great on mandolin on that song.

Before she played “Witness to Your Life,” a song about a wedding, Lori told us that her 24th wedding anniversary is next month and clarified that it was 24 years with the same person, and consecutively. Lori told us about her new Honda Pilot (she’s said goodbye to her famous touring minivan) and how since it has Bluetooth technology people actually call her car to talk to her. She said she and Mark listened to her daughter crying on the car/phone on the drive up because her brother was literally completely out of gas and couldn’t drive her to gymnastics. They figured out a plan. This openness is part of what I like about Lori’s live show. She is a real person with stories and struggles that she shares in story and in song. She easily creates a sense of communal understanding and closeness.

Lori also told us about her fabulous songwriting group called “The Love Junkies.” Three women—one in her thirties, one in her forties, and one in her fifties—who have never been married, have been married for a long time, and who have been married many times—gather to drink wine and write songs in Nashville. They draw from their diversity of life experiences and have a great time. They (or more specifically, the other two women) got the idea for their group name from an article in a magazine where an actress was quoted as saying that falling in love is like being drunk.

Lori said she’s about to record in Boston and Mark will be producing. I was reminded of Bono during her set. Bono uses a teleprompter that scrolls the lyrics during his live shows and Lori had a binder with each song in it. It’s in the same ballpark, anyhow. One of the songs she’ll record is an old song “How Romantic Is That?” about being with someone for a long time and still being in love. There was a gaggle of excited lady groupies in the audience, and they seemed particularly excited to hear that news.

Lori spends a lot of time writing with other artists, especially in Nashville, and joked with us about how she tries to cover up her thick Stoughton, Massachusetts accent, but that it comes out at home and when she’s on the phone with her family. Lori was so charming, and she was also very complimentary of Mark and his performance. She said it sounded like we were screaming for Justin Bieber during Mark’s set. Mark had just toured in Texas and wasn’t sure what stories to tell, so Lori had offered to let him use her stories about the minivan and yoga pants.

I loved “Buy this Town,” a song I read almost didn’t make it onto Lori’s newest album, Lorraine, because she wrote it just after the recording process was over. It’s a bittersweet song about love and small town life—“If I could buy this town/I’d keep the Friday night bleachers full of kids falling in love/And unlikely believers and the firefighters are there/Because their kid’s in the game/And we don’t win too often but that ain’t why we came.”

Lori talked about writing a song on a miniature piano her sister found that she doesn’t know how to play but that Mark helped her fix up. She told us about a recent trip to Nashville to write with Little Big Town and played a couple of the songs they wrote together, “Sober” and “Your Side of the Bed.” A reporter from the Boston Globe accompanied her on the trip and ended up sitting in for the entire writing session because everyone in Little Big Town was so welcoming. Here’s the finished article. I liked the lyrics of “Your Side of the Bed” a lot, even if they’re sad. “Tell me how/How you’d get so far away?/Are you sleeping with your own regrets/On your side of the bed.” My friends often joke when we’re in the car together that I like sad music. I know they’re right.

Lori is such a great storyteller on stage, and she was so sweet to us. She thanked us again and again for showing up and told us we were the nicest people and that she could tell she liked every one of us. Her songwriting advice was that you’ve got to write for yourself because writing to fit someone else’s wishes is too complicated. As a professional songwriter, I trust her judgment.

She told us that one of my favorite LM songs, “Make Every Word Hurt,” was actually supposed to be an upbeat song. It’s not, which is probably when I love it so much. It’s soul crushing, actually. She and Mark sang beautiful harmonies on the song, too. Here is the chorus:  “But whatever you do/For whatever its worth/If you’re gonna tear my world apart/Then I’d prefer/Don’t leave me confused/Don’t let the lines blur/If you’re gonna tell me/You don’t love me anymore/Make every word hurt.” Also, amen to that message.

“Unglamorous” was up next—an upbeat song and I still like it—and Lori and Mark had a little guitar jam session during it that sounded great. Lori talked about her new EP Heart Shaped Bullet Hole coming out a few days after the show. She closed her set with “Still Down Here,” but we asked for another song and so she left us with her beloved Tom Petty’s “Room at the Top.” We sang along a little bit, too, and it was a great way to close a great night of storytelling and music.

I’d chatted throughout the night a little bit with an older woman sitting in front of me who was there with her husband and a couple of friends to celebrate her birthday. At the end of the night, she turned to me and said, “I think I was at the wrong show!” She had mistaken Lori McKenna for someone else whose albums she owns (she couldn’t figure out the name of the person who she thought she was going to be seeing, either). She said she loved Lori McKenna, though, and that it was a happy accident. So cute!

Thanks for a great night, Lori and Mark!



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Joe Fletcher and brown bird

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Oak + The Ax, Biddeford, Maine

I suspect this is true for most people who work Monday through Friday, but Fridays are often tough for me, and that seems to be the night that a lot of fun things happen on. I’d committed to seeing Joe Fletcher at the first night of The Oak + The Ax Fest soon after I saw him at Newport Folk Festival. I’ve always wanted to see brown bird, so was excited that they were playing the same night. They are from the same state of Rhode Island, after all. Maybe they carpooled.

Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons at Newport Folk Festival in July 2012

I stayed after school until 6pm coordinating Mt. Ararat Class of 2016’s spirit wall decorating for the upcoming spirit week (I’m their class advisor). I called my college friend Shaun afterwards to see if he was in town, and we grabbed Indian food in Brunswick in the pouring rain before I took off for Biddeford. I may have accidentally had my first taste of lamb in my life in a samosa that I thought was vegetarian. I will be going to the other Indian food place in Brunswick from now on (I’d tried to go there in the first place, but they were packed). Boo. Sorry, lambs.

I bumped into Joe Fletcher outside the venue and said a quick hello. I made it inside The Oak + The Ax just as The Milkman’s Union was wrapping up their set. I found a random seat against the wall in the front of the room next to the stage and decided to hunker down there for the back-to-back Joe Fletcher/brown bird sets.

I admit that I’m drawn to Joe because he’s good to look at, but I also think he has musical talent and showmanship. His Americana music (I want to call it rockabilly, but his Facebook page disputes this, so.. . ) is not quite my thing, but I think he’s great anyhow. I especially love his deep, raspy voice. Joe’s solo EP, “You’ve Got the Wrong Man” just came out, and I really like his last album with his full band, The Wrong Reasons—“White Lighter.” A Joe Fletcher super fan has a lot of information about him as well as videos here.

Joe Fletcher

Joe played nearly all of his set with David and MorganEve from brown bird. They seem like old friends. Joe played many of the songs I really liked during his Newport Folk Festival set—“Florence, AL,” “Every Heartbroken Man,” “Flat Tire,” “Drunk & Single,” and ended the night with “Too Many Doors.” There’s a song that I don’t know the name of that is a rambunctious sing along. We gladly belted out the chorus when asked—“I never would have gotten on the boat if I’d known/That it was going to take me home.” Joe puts on a good show—he was gracious and had a lot of kind things to say about The Oak + The Ax and their efforts to bring good music to southern Maine, too.

MorganEve, David, and Joe

brown bird took the tiny stage and MorganEve Swain set up her upright bass and violin stand while David Lamb tuned his guitar and set up his kick drum. I thought their music was very compatible with Joe’s and they talked about touring and recording together over the years. I was impressed with the power of David’s voice and his ability to sing, play guitar, and stomp on his kick drum (sometimes with both feet) while not flubbing up the lyrics. Practice makes perfect, I guess.

brown bird

David Lamb

David told us that he used to live directly across the street from The Oak + The Ax, and joked that he had a bottle of Jack Daniels in his window just like everyone else on Main Street. I was surprised by what I picked up as Middle Eastern influences in their solidly country/folk sound. I thought it really added something unique to their music. I loved the variation in the tempo on “By the Reins.” Jeremy and Jerusha Robinson, both former members of brown bird, joined David and MorganEve on it on accordion and cello, respectively. I loved “Fingers to the Bone” with David on banjo. I really enjoyed “Thunder & Lightening.” The lyrics are fascinating—“ain’t nowhere left for the good to go/No truth in a world full of lies/Our unforgiving fettered foes fumbling stumble around/Gather all their greed to go back to their hole in the ground/To wash their hands of all the blood begged borrowed and stole/To keep a good man down.” Here’s a recording of their set at 2011’s Newport Folk Festival so you can get a taste of what brown bird has to offer.

brown bird featuring former members Jerusha and Joshua Robinson

One of the non-musical highlights of bb’s set was their friend Wesley Hartley (from Wesley Hartley & The Traveling Trees) who danced up a storm. I’ve almost never seen moves like that. Wes and his band were going to play on Sunday, the last day of The Oak + The Ax Fest. The weekend was a success, and I hope it means that there will continue to be great shows in Biddeford. It’s incredible that two artists who played at The Newport Folk Festival are just as pleased to play in such a teeny, intimate space. It’s really a treat to get to see bands there.

IMPOSSIBLE to get a clear picture of Wes on the dance floor

I think “Bilgewater” (I really recommend you check out that Kitchen Sessions video) was my favorite bb song that night. I liked the haunting, chorus—“in spite of all the wherewithal/to fight it all I will face it all/in spite of all the wherewithal/to fight it all I’ll embrace it all” and the heavy, thoughtful verses—“when everyday’s like a war between the will to go on/and a wish that the world would spiral into the sun/Turn your head toward the storm that’s surely coming along/If the sun was always shining and our load always light/we’d be shaking like a leaf with every God given night/and we’d break under the weight of any pressure/that was ever applied.” They sang it in a round with Jerusha and Joshua, and it was powerful. You can listen to four of five of brown bird’s albums here.

brown bird wrapped up their set with a great country song, “Bottom of the Bottle,” and then “Cast No Shadow.” We asked for one last song and the Robinsons joined David and MorganEve for “Mabel Grey” that had a “la da da” sing along moment so we could end the night singing together.

What a treat to see both bands in such a tiny venue.



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Darlingside with Tricky Britches

Thursday, September 27, 2012

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

This night caught me totally by surprise. Both bands were utterly impressive, and this was definitely one of the top shows I’ve seen in 2012. If you haven’t heard of Darlingside or Tricky Britches before—if you haven’t listened to them, but especially if you haven’t see them live—let me be the one to encourage you to check them out!

I got a very nice email from Sam—Darlingside’s drummer—about a month before their show saying that they’d stumbled across my blog and wondered if I might be interested in being on the guest list for their show. Those are the kinds of emails I like to get! I had already seen they were coming to One Longfellow Square, and my dear college friend, Ben, had actually sent me a link to their incredible “Terrible Things” video a couple of weeks before Sam’s email arrived. Ben grew up in the same town as Don Mitchell, Darlingside’s guitarist, and apparently even used to baby sit for him. It’s such a small world.

I hadn’t seen my friends Max and Sophie for a long time, so we made plans to grab dinner at Local Sprouts before I made my way over to the show. After I ordered, I turned around and immediately recognized Auyon from Darlingside’s video. I introduced myself and Sam knew who I was (which I appreciated) and we chatted for a quick minute. I wished them a good show and found a spot for a leisurely dinner with Max and Sophie.

I got to OLS just before Tricky Britches was supposed to go on. There was a seat in the middle of the front row that was open, so I grabbed that and settled in. I couldn’t help but overhear a man proudly talking about his son Tyler (Tricky Britches’ fiddler) with some women sitting behind him. It was adorable. I learned that three of the guys are old friends from Gorham High School and have been playing together for a really long time. If I hadn’t overhead Tyler’s proud papa, I still would have figured that out. Talk about chemistry. The guys have an obvious rapport, and it is abundantly clear that they’ve had years of serious practice. Their music is fun and feels casual, but their quality musicianship is no accident. I was seriously impressed by their cohesive, polished sound.

Tricky Britches. Bear on lead vocal.

Tyler on lead vocal

I want to concur entirely with how Tricky Britches describes itself on their Facebook page—“Tricky Britches is a high-energy string band hailing from Portland, Maine. From their roots of playing heel-stomping old-time fiddle tunes they have progressed into a fusion of classic bluegrass, country, and folk rock.” If you like a bluegrass sound—blends of guitar, upright bass, banjo, fiddle, and harmonica—these guys are right up your alley. They were funny, too, introducing themselves as “Alison Krauss and Union Station.” (PS—I’ve seen Alison Krauss and Union Station, and TB would be a superbly appropriate, capable opening act for them). I liked TB’s mix of originals, mountain songs, and covers. “Bear” (Ryan Wilkinson) took the lead on Grateful Dead’s “Brown Eyed Woman.” Everyone could sing! There was lots of toe tapping and clapping along with the music. I’ve rarely seen an opening band bring that much energy and enthusiasm. Here’s a video of Tricky Britches performing “When the Morning Comes” so you can get a taste of their sound.

Seth plays a mean harmonica

I thought their original song about “Big Ass Beers” on Bourbon Street in New Orleans was hilarious. Tricky Britches plays weddings and events and a bride this summer asked them to play a waltz not about death, etc., so they changed the words to make a happy version of another song and now have a go-to love song called “By My Side.” They played Hank Williams’ “Tennessee Border” for Jed’s gramps who was sitting behind me. I met him before the show and he was a sweetheart.

Jed on lead vocal

Talk about a band that really gets the crowd warmed up! I never miss an opening act, but I’m rarely so sad to see them go. I’m also completely sold on seeing Tricky Britches as the headliner. I loved the ease they showed on stage with each other and they were a complete blast. Their friend Jake Hoffman joined them on banjo and they wrapped their high energy set with “Stay All Night.” Tyler, Seth, Jed, and Bear—thanks so much! I’m excited to see you guys again!

Tricky Britches with guest musician Jake Hoffman

During the break between acts I introduced myself to Don from Darlingside and chatted about our mutual friend Ben and Don’s plans to move to Portland in the near future (pending criminal check by his landlord, apparently). I’m excited that two of the five guys will be in Portland, because I am already really looking forward to seeing them often.

I took very few notes during Darlingside’s set, and that’s because I was completely mesmerized. They call themselves a “string-rock quintet,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had been in an a cappella group together at Williams College. Their harmonies were flawless and beautiful. The fullness of sound they were able to achieve with five voices and guitars, violin, cello, drums, and mandolin was surprising and breathtaking. I was sold from the first moments of their first song.


Auyon Mukharji, David Senft, Harris Paseltiner, Sam Kapala, and Don Mitchell are all individually accomplished and impressively talented musicians. You can read about their backgrounds on their Facebook page or on their website. They say about themselves, and I completely, totally agree—“together, the five close friends are a powerhouse of vocal, instrumental, songwriting and performing talent.” I was blown away.


Dave and Harris

I didn’t just like their sound and stage presence (they were chatty and all smiles), though—I also liked their lyrics. They played “The Catbird Seat” early on, and I loved the lines “And all the things I ever owned/Were in boxes I borrowed.” I liked “The Woods” and “Malea,” too. “The Catbird Seat” and “Malea” are from Darlingside’s EP 1, released in 2010. Their newest album, Pilot Machines, came out in July of 2012. Darlingside calls the album “an insistently melodic collection of new songs that feel both familiar and ground-breaking.” I have to agree. Auyon, who plays violin, gave me a copy for my long ride home from One Longfellow. I haven’t taken it out of the CD player in my car yet, and spend about an hour listening to it during my daily commute.

There was an instant camaraderie between Tricky Britches and Darlingside. They have the exact same GMC tour van. TB’s is called Van Buren and Darlingside’s is Chauncey. They seemed like a good fit musically, too, and will play together again at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA on November 13. Boston friends, I highly recommend you get out to this show!

I was surprised to learn that Darlingside has only been together for three years—two of which they spent living together in Northampton, MA. They wrote “The Company We Keep” about living together and living the dream—“the smelly, smelly dream.” I loved their cover of The Smashing Pumpkin’s “1979.” I was amused to learn that the working title of the first song they ever wrote was “Turtle Sock Tree.” I think they were wise to change the title to “In The Morning.” They closed their impressive set with one of my favorites, “Blow the House Down.” It didn’t matter to me that it was a school night and I was an hour from home—I would have been content to stay much longer. What a fantastic musical find. I am already looking forward to seeing them again—and often!

I wonder if there’s a single clear photo of Auyon–he’s always on the move! Auyon, Don, and Sam.

I got to talk to almost everyone in both bands after the show. I usually don’t like chatting with people in bands because I get very sad if I love their music and they turn out to be unfriendly (I have a list, but I’ll keep it to myself). I didn’t worry with either band. Their ease and grace on stage were evident. Everyone was incredibly nice and responsive to my probably overbearing praise that I surely gave because I was so caught off guard and impressed by both bands. I hope you’ll check them both out and keep them on your radar so you can take in a live show!

Like I said earlier, Auyon kindly sent me home with their newest album, Pilot Machines. I love it. I’ve been thinking for two weeks now about what songs are my favorites. I really like the whole thing, but I’m most drawn to “Blow the House Down,” “Terrible Things,” “The Ancestor,” and “Sweet and Low.” “Sweet and Low” features vocals by the fabulous Caitlin Canty, who I was fortunate to see with Jeffrey Foucault at One Longfellow Square months ago.

Check out their music, but don’t miss the fabulous, creative videos made by Crazy Lake Pictures for “Terrible Things” and “The Ancestor.” I love “Terrible Things” even more because of how incredibly creative and intriguing the video for it is!

Thanks, Darlingside, for the invite! I’m looking forward to seeing you again really soon!



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Ellis Paul!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chocolate Church, Bath, Maine

I’m a pretty big Ellis Paul fan. For nearly a decade, I’ve spent New Year’s Eve with him at his annual shows at Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I last saw Ellis on January 1, 2012 at One Longfellow Square in Portland—always a great way to begin a new year, and I gushed about him a bit in that post. This was my 38th Ellis show. I love Ellis’ narrative songs that tell stories about characters that listeners can relate to, from young lovers to music legends like Johnny Cash to historical figures like Chief Joseph.

I met my friend and fellow Ellis mega-fan Michelle outside of the Chocolate Church in Bath about fifteen minutes before the show started. I told her about the last time I’d seen him there—it was early January of 2004, and the pipes at the venue had frozen. The show went on, and we were really cold. I never took off my winter gear. During the intermission, I even went out to my car to get my emergency snowstorm blanket. Friends and I were sitting in the front row (you’re shocked, I know), and Ellis joked with me about it during his set.

As we took our second row center seats, Michelle and I wondered who would be opening for Ellis. I heard someone strumming a guitar backstage and said, “that sounds like Ellis.” Out he came! I always struggle with Ellis’ opening acts—I’d almost always rather skip them (sorry!) to get to the main event. He opened with a song I’d never heard before (impressive!) called “Chasing Beauty” and told us that he’s about to start another fan-funded recording project and that song would be on the new album. He reminisced about the last time he’d played at the Chocolate Church—the show I had been talking to Michelle about. He joked that it was the coldest show he ever played and it was like an Eskimo convention. He said it was nice to hear clapping at this show since we weren’t still wearing our mittens.

The fabulously talented Ellis Paul

He played “Rose Tattoo” next and told us the sweet story of his beloved guitar Guinness that he played during our show. One of the things I love about Ellis’ stories is that those of us who see him often hear them again and again—there’s a stability I like in that. Here’s the story in a nutshell (I copied some of this from my last Ellis post). Ellis had played a beautiful parlor sized guitar at a particular venue over three years of gigs there (“it was like we were dating”), but decided it would be crazy to buy it because it cost $7,000. Later, when he decided to go for it, Neil Young had just bought the guitar he loved for his wife. Fast-forward to another fabulous and expensive guitar ($9,000) in El Reno, Oklahoma that Ellis played during his shows there. When the owner told him Neil Young was coming in soon, Ellis pulled out his credit card and bought the guitar (which he was sold for a nice discount). He named the guitar Guinness because it has light wood and dark wood pressed together. He told us that the first song he ever played on Guinness is on YouTube. I think this must be it.

“Maria’s Beautiful Mess,” the only song that I think Ellis plays at every show and is a crowd favorite, was next. (I picked that video from the Kennebunk Coffeehouse because I’m in it. I’m in the front row in the hooded sweatshirt.) Then he told us about being approached by Barbara Orbison, Roy Orbison’s wife, who had asked musicians to record Roy’s songs to celebrate his 75th birthday. Ellis talked about how Roy was able to make singing in the upper register seem effortless and joked that this “wouldn’t be pretty.” He asked if anyone had a pair of sunglasses handy (we didn’t) so he could conceal his bulging eyes. All the theatrics for nothing—his rendition of “Crying” was lovely.

Ellis and Guinness

Ellis told us his next song paid tribute to the great Johnny Cash, who quite famously kicked out the stage lights at the Grand Ole Opry. “Kick Out the Lights” is probably Michelle’s favorite EP song, and it requires audience participation. This is when I started to take inventory of my surroundings. I’ve seen Ellis 38 times and he is always great. What makes an Ellis show magical, then, tends to be the energy of the crowd. This crowd fell flat, either because they were new to Ellis or because they were painfully shy. Neither is a good excuse in my book, but it does happen from time to time. He could tell this, too, and encouraged us, saying that we should aim for volume not quality. We got through it, and Ellis definitely made eye contact with me to cue the audience participation parts because I’m sure he could tell I had his back. And I’m loud.

EP told us how his frequent tour mate, the talented Radoslav Lorkovic, accidentally bumped into a speaker that fell onto Guinness the guitar and left a big hole in it. He was planning on sending it back to the maker, but they wanted thousands of dollars for the repair, so he took it to a luthier in a trailer in central Virginia who glued one splinter on at a time, waited a week for it to dry, and continued for six months until Guinness was whole again. Guinness apparently has heard about Guinness the guitar, because they sent EP some merchandise and some beer. I think you know you’ve made it when that happens, right? By the way, this blog post is brought to you by Tiffany & Co., Land Rover,, and Royal Caribbean! Is it working?

EP is an expressive storyteller

Ellis switched to piano for “Hurricane Angel,” a song that pays tribute to the resilience of New Orleans—including the line “You can drown New Orleans but you can’t drown the blues.” After Hurricane Katrina, I remember that EP offered that song online for donations for relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. He asked us to sing along again because there’s a Bee Gees moment in “Dragonfly” that’s hard for him to hit. He joked afterwards that he could hear his sister singing. I don’t think I’ve mentioned in this post that Ellis is from northern Maine and his family was at this show since he’s been living in Virginia (and sadly playing less frequently in Maine) for a few years or so.

One of my former students, Jane, visited Homer, Alaska this summer. I’ve been meaning to ask her if she visited Alice’s Champagne Palace, the title of EP’s next song. He’s playing there again in November and the song is about how Alaska is home to a lot of people trying to get away from things, but still find a home at the local bar. He joked (?) that Homer has a bumper sticker “A Drinking Village with a Fishing Problem.” Ellis kept with the theme and played another song I hadn’t heard called “Wasted.” Before the intermission, EP played a lovely song, “Mary, Mary” off of his upcoming Christmas album. I really like Ellis’ family album, The Hero in You, because it’s educational and intelligent without being music only kids can appreciate. I can tell his Christmas album will have similar wide appeal. I love the lyrics of “Mary, Mary,” especially “born to a mad world/weren’t you once a young girl.” It’s so good.

We took a short intermission and EP came back and opened his second set with “Snow in Austin.” My favorite song from The Hero in You, “Chief Joseph,” was up next and we got to sing Chief Joseph’s famous line “from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever” together. Ellis has obviously gotten used to singing that song mostly at family shows, because he made us do the hand motions he teaches the youngsters to do at them. I was sitting too close to him to get away with ignoring his directions! At least we all looked ridiculous together.

Ellis switched to piano for one of my favorites, “Once Upon A Summertime.” He told us the story of his high school sweetheart who became his first wife and how they watched the fireworks on the Fourth of July from her roof when they were students at Presque Isle High School. I absolutely love the lines “the sky turned to flame/I carved our names/Beneath the magnolia/I told you my heart wouldn’t change.” I think it captures the essence of young love beautifully. Ellis will be traveling north to Presque Isle in January to be inducted into the athletic hall of fame at his high school. He was a track star in high school and at Boston College, and I read that he started writing music when he had to sit out a season of running because of an injury. I hope he’s not upset that I’m glad it happened if it started him on this path!

We were such a quiet audience, which was maybe the reason why Ellis asked if anyone had any questions for him. I think a few people did, although I’ve forgotten them now, and he obliged with serious answers. “3,000 Miles” was next, followed by “Home” on piano—a sweet love song. The lines “home sits across the table/Home is dreaming in my sheets/Home, home, home, home/This house is just an address/You’re my home” would be enough to arrest my heart if it were sung for me. He says that “Home” was written as a farewell to a beautiful house in Edgecomb, Maine built in 1776 that he and his wife lived in and loved until they were about to have a baby and decided to move to Virginia to be closer to her family. It’s an amazing song and I think surely a favorite for many EP fans.

Ellis started to wind down for the evening and played “Take All The Sky You Need” and then came down into the audience, unplugged, and belted out “Annalee” to close the show. Ellis often wraps up his show in the audience, and I think it’s a great way for him to showcase the power of his vocals. He sounded great, as always. Even though we’d been a quiet audience, we were a grateful one, and EP played one more song for us. He wrapped the night with a great Johnny Cash song on piano, “The Night Hank Williams Came To Town.” As always, Ellis was great. I’m looking forward to seeing him a 39th time in December at One Longfellow Square. The crowd there tends to be significantly rowdier, which I think makes for a fantastic show.

Ellis unplugged in the audience

Thanks, Ellis!




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