Tuesday, February 26, 2013
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
I was so excited for this show and it exceeded all of my expectations. I love Shawn Mullins. He is by far one of my top favorite singer songwriters. I think I survived my sophomore year of college because of his album, Soul’s Core. When I studied abroad in Namibia in the fall of 1999, I transferred the album to tape (high tech, I know) and brought it with me. I vividly recall listening to it on repeat to fall asleep during my three week long rural home stay. I was really sick from bad drinking water and missing clean running water and electricity and English. I believe the music helped. 98.9 WCLZ played Soul’s Core in it’s entirety years ago as my “Desert Island Disc.” Ethan played it with clips of an interview with me about it interspersed. I wish I had a recording of it. I finally saw Shawn in 2011 at the The Strand Theatre in Rockland and decided to stay after the show to tell him that story. He listened patiently and responded with kindness. I’m always afraid to meet musicians I look up to in case they are unfriendly, but Shawn was a complete gentleman.
Back to the night of the show. I circled Portland for parking for ages, and finally made my way to One Longfellow Square almost 30 minutes after doors opened. I snagged an aisle seat in the second row (phew), and settled in for Chuck Cannon’s opening set. I’d never heard of Chuck Cannon, but I seemed to be in the minority. It turns out that he’s a prolific and decorated songwriter from South Carolina. Countless artists have sung his songs, and he wrote some of the songs he played in Shawn’s set later in the night. I had no idea. By his second song, I was totally hooked. He talked about his family full of Pentecostal ministers, and you could readily hear the influence of growing up in a conservative Christian household on his music. I absolutely loved his story about how his dad offered to help him buy him a car when he was a teenager if he’d agree to cut his long hair. Chuck didn’t tell us how it turned out. I would have gone for the haircut. Chuck said he told his dad that Jesus had long hair. His dad replied, “sure, but Jesus walked everywhere.” I laughed a lot during Chuck’s set. He’s quite the storyteller.
Here’s Chuck’s setlist:
- “Money Don’t Matter”
- “Poison.” I liked the lyrics, “You can learn to love anything/Even a bird in a cage will sing a song/Even it’s wrong/Even if it kills you in the end.” He asked us before the song how many of us had ever fallen in love with the wrong person. It was quiet in the room. He smiled and joked that the silence usually means “you’re here with them.”
- Shawn Mullins and Tom Ryan on bass joined Chuck for the rest of his set starting with “Outta This Town.”
- “If I Was Jesus”
- “Boyfriend,” which Chuck said was essentially a chick flick with a surprise ending. He used a slide and told us it was his first time using one. I don’t think I believe him.
There was a brief intermission between sets. Shawn took the stage and opened with “Twin Rocks, Oregon” from Soul’s Core. I was ecstatic. I love that song, but the whole album means a lot to me. It was so nice to hear it live. After the song, Shawn joked that people were watching online at home through Concert Window and that he’d play his hit “I’ll Be” later (obviously Edwin McCain’s song). He gave his buddy Edwin a shout out just in case he happened to be listening. Shawn and Tom played another song from Soul’s Core next, “Ballad of Billy Jo McKay.” In fact, here’s his setlist from the night. Chuck Cannon joined them often throughout the set.
- “Twin Rocks, Oregon”
- “Ballad of Billy Jo McKay”
- “Blue” written with Matthew Sweet and Pete Droge of The Thorns
- “Light You Up” written with Chuck Cannon. The lady sitting behind me was REALLY into that song. We could all hear her enjoying it. It was awkward.
- “Catoosa County”
- “Can’t Remember Summer”—I really like the line “shades of hopeless on the faces of the souls that stand in line.”
- “She Completes Me”
- “Lonesome, I Know You Too Well”
- Chuck’s song “Whiskey Drinkin’ Preacher”
- “Beautiful Wreck”—I loved the killer harmonies on this song!
- “House of the Rising Sun” from 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor
- Chuck’s song “Ghost of Johnny Cash”
Shawn told us that he left Columbia for Vanguard in 2005, which is owned by the Welk family (as in Lawrence Welk). His first album with Vanguard was 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor, which was recorded at the recording studio of the same name in New Orleans that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina just after recording wrapped. I learned that Chuck Cannon co-wrote a bunch of Shawn’s songs. Shawn called Chuck “a songwriter’s songwriter.” “Lonesome, I Know You Too Well” told the story of a guy who played covers at a sports bar in Mississippi who was in love with a bartender there who happened to be the owner’s wife. He could never tell her how he felt about her because the owner had a pistol. And he needed the money from the gigs.
Chuck’s conservative family member apparently started a prayer circle for him after he released his first album. They were offended by the songs, especially “Whiskey Drinkin’ Preacher.” I loved it. Chuck’s religious upbringing is abundantly present in his songs.
I had somehow not expected to hear “Shimmer” that night, so I got really excited when I heard the opening notes. I was sitting just in front of bassist Tom Ryan and he saw my face light up. I know I’m really expressive. He smiled big at me. I’m glad the guys on stage could see how happy hearing the music live made us.
Shawn introduced “Lullaby” by saying it was the song that changed his career. At the time, he wasn’t sure he could keep making music for a living when he happened upon a girl who told him her tragic life story after a gig at LA’s Genghis Cohen. “Lullaby” is certainly the song that put Shawn on the map in the late 1990s. I was really surprised, actually, that I was by far the youngest person at the show. I thought that I’d be surrounded by other thirty somethings who listened to Shawn in college. I was totally off about that.
Shawn, Chuck, and Tom got a roaring standing ovation from the sold out crowd and played a two-song encore for us. I was so excited when I heard the first few chords of “House of the Rising Sun.” It was added about a month after Hurricane Katrina to 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor and is one of my favorite folk songs. Shawn’s version is fantastic. He said there’s a legend that a lady of the night wrote the song ages ago. They wrapped the night with one of Chuck’s songs, “Ghost of Johnny Cash.” I don’t know if they knew it, but the show that night was on Johnny Cash’s 81st birthday. It was a great end to the night, but I would have gladly stayed for hours more. If you can see Shawn Mullins and Co. live, DO NOT miss it. I was completely taken with Chuck Cannon, too, and look forward to seeing him again. Thanks for these songs, Shawn and friends. They mean so much to me.