Monthly Archives: April 2019

Patty Griffin with Ruston Kelly

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Music Hall, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

I’ve been listening to Patty Griffin since my senior year of high school, so for over 20 years now. I have always liked knowing that she grew up two towns over from me. It made me feel like anything was possible for a kid from a small town in Maine. Her songs, full of heart, are among my all-time favorites. If I absolutely had to narrow down my favorite songs from her long career, I would still have to pick six–“Rain,” “Nobody’s Crying,” “When It Don’t Come Easy,” “Top Of The World,” “Let Him Fly,” and “Burgundy Shoes.” Patty’s songs have been recorded by so many talented musicians who’ve helped share her music in the world. Patty is pretty epic. Somehow, I’ve only managed to see her twice, in 2002 and 2007. I was thrilled when I saw she was going on tour with Ruston Kelly. I saw his incredibly talented wife, Kacey Musgraves, back in January. I eagerly snagged a solo seat in the third row at The Music Hall in Portsmouth when tickets went on sale, and I made my way south on a sunny Sunday afternoon to see the show. I was pumped to run into my friend and fellow music enthusiast Aimsel Ponti and her friend Kathryn, who had incredible front row center seats for the show.

For me, Ruston Kelly stole the show and my music-loving heart. His set was full of sincerity, heart, and power. His voice is compelling and his songs are honest and self-aware. He shared the stage with his dad, TK Kelly, on pedal steel guitar. Ruston introduced his dad–“not only is he a fantastic dresser, but he happens to be my biological father. We found out on Maury. He’s the strong, silent type.” Something that crept up early in the night was a little bit of sarcasm from the audience that I found annoying and I think Ruston did, too. A few people interjected during his banter–one to give him a hard time about tuning his guitar. He responded, “I’m tuning my guitar so I can play better.” He mentioned the comments later in his set. He said, “that’s the stuff you remember later.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.

Ruston told us early in his set that “I feel like it will give some context that in that at this period in my artwork, I had to dig myself out of a pretty low hole dealing with substance abuse and I’m happy to say that I’m on solid ground these days. There’s a silver lining to most of it, but the songs are still pretty sad.” I was surprised to hear him introduce “Mockingbird” by saying “I wrote this song standing next to a dumpster.” His song “Alive” gave me chills. I’m already looking forward to seeing Ruston again live. He is the real deal. I was excited when one of the guys on the tour crew handed me his setlist during intermission, too.

I can’t believe I hadn’t seen Patty Griffin live in 12 years, and I was sad to hear how much thinner her voice sounds in person these days. If I’m being totally honest, I didn’t love this live show. I appreciated learning about some of the songs on her new album, Patty Griffin, though. Patty told us that “Boys from Tralee” is about a couple of boys getting out of Ireland during the Famine. She said her grandparents came to America couple of generations after the Famine, because Ireland was still pretty devastated. She told us that, “one of the reasons I’m alive is because the gates were open. I think about that a lot lately.”

Patty told us that “Hourglass” was inspired by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and she encouraged us to check him out on YouTube. More of the songs on her new album were inspired by other musicians, too. Patty was in Europe when she had a vivid dream about Billie Holliday. She explained, “I’d never immersed myself in her music before because her voice is awfully sad and I didn’t think I could handle it. In this dream, she was young and was smiling and was singing this beautiful song in a barn to a bunch of people. I woke up out of this dream and started listening to her consistently. I’ve learned from her that singers can sometimes never waste a note. She meant every single note she used. I learned what a huge supreme gift it is to have a voice that sad because when you need to feel sad she carries you there with her and that’s a gift to the world. I thought about what made her sad. She was born a Black woman in America in the era she was born into. I heard there were many difficult moments in her life and as a child her mother was not able to be in her life. This sadness in her voice is where people go to cry their tears and it inspired Had a Good Reason.

Photo courtesy of Aimsel Ponti

Patty didn’t play many older songs, which I was disappointed about, too, so I was especially glad to hear “Long Ride Home” in person. Patty honored her mother when she introduced “Bluebeard.” She told us her mom was an English teacher and they went to the library every week. “Bluebeard” is a murder ballad that retells the story she read as a kid. She said, “sometimes there are things in life that you don’t want to know but then they become obvious and you can’t unknow them so you have to do something about them.”

Patty told us that she wrote “Where I Come From” about Old Town, Maine. She was driving her mom around town (she still lives there) looking for a store that has long disappeared and “thought about how different the town is now. When I was born there were 5 or 6 factories–they made shoes, paper, and canoes–and now they’re down to just one canoe factory. I thought about how there’s no plan B and that is the case all over America. There are all these little towns that need a little love.”

I really love Patty’s new single, “River.” The lyrics are powerful (like Patty’s always are): “Isn’t she a river? / She doesn’t need a diamond to shine / You can’t really have her / But you can hold her for a time / Takes an army just to bend her.” I was over the moon to hear one of my favorite Patty Griffin songs, “When It Don’t Come Easy,” in person. I’ll take a sappy lyric anytime, like “if you break down / I’ll drive out and find you / If you forget my love / I’ll try to remind you

And stay by you when it don’t come easy.” Patty sincerely thanked her band, Ruston Kelly, the folks at The Music Hall, and all of us for coming before wrapping her set with “Shine a Different Way.” She came back to the stage solo and sang “Heavenly Day” for us, which was enthusiastically received by a much warmer audience. It was not my favorite Patty Griffin show to date, but I am forever grateful to her for decades of songs that make me feel all the feelings.




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Maggie Rogers

Saturday, March 23, 2019

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I was prepared to not like this show. In fact, I almost skipped it out of sheer frustration. I’d emailed back and forth with Maggie’s publicist about a press pass back in August for the originally scheduled November date at State Theatre. I reached out again closer to the rescheduled date in late February and got the runaround about a press pass and then a final no the week before the show. By then, the show was long sold out. I hadn’t wanted to take a ticket from a fan if I was going to be covering the show, so I didn’t buy one. I can say that I can’t remember a time I worked so hard to get a single ticket to a show. I ended up posting in every Facebook event related to the show and finally a real person messaged me and was selling a ticket AT COST. Two things–there were SO MANY fake Facebookers selling fake tickets in the Facebook event thread. If a person doesn’t have a single Facebook friend–they’re a scammer. Watch out! I connected with a real person who I have mutual friends with on Facebook and they wanted $100 for a single ticket. Bad concert karma to folks who jack up ticket prices! Dear Katia asked for $40 for a single ticket, which covered just the cost of the ticket and fees. Good on you and many, many thanks, Katia.

Saw so many friends at the show!

Turns out, I am so damn happy I worked so hard to find a ticket to this show. I know Maggie is coming back to Portland at the end of July to play Thompson’s Point, but I really hate that venue and have decided I just can’t have a quality concert experience there. It is simply too big a venue for me personally, especially when proximity to the stage is so important to me. Actually, I’d really love the opportunity to talk with the Thompson’s Point team about a trend of simply awful concert etiquette I’ve experienced there and see what we might do as a community to make shows better for everyone. The number of times I’ve been physically pushed at shows there, and often by women in their 50s telling me “it’s a concert!,” (which I found surprising at first), despite many clear statements to people to STOP TOUCHING ME is alarming. Many folks have such little regard for others at that venue particularly, and I just can’t enjoy a concert there anymore.

I digress. I won’t see you at Thompson’s Point, Maggie Rogers, but your electric, captivating, darling sold out show at State Theatre really *almost* makes me want to ditch my Thomspon’s Point boycott.

Maggie Rogers was pure delight. She came out ready to party in a silver shirt that shone all night like her smiling face. She grooved the entire show and worked every inch of the stage. She put on an excellent show, and I am so, so grateful that I had the opportunity to see her live. Sean and I snagged our favorite spot (it’s a secret) and had a great view of the stage. Everyone was so excited for the show and people danced and sang along and threw their hands up in the air during her 75-minute set. It had been awhile since I’d seen a show at State Theatre where concert etiquette wasn’t a huge issue for me. I suppose most folks this night were so into Maggie that they were too busy dancing and singing along to be awful, or, I just got lucky.

img_0914-1Maggie introduced a few of her songs with honest, open details, and seemed genuinely moved to be headlining the State Theatre, which she’d known from years of attending summer camp in Maine. She expressed sincere gratitude about waiting so long for the show and for being willing to reschedule. She thanked us “for being so understanding and for being so open about changing your plans–your hotels, your planes, your trains, your buses–so that I could go do Saturday Night Live.” It turns out, I was glad to see Maggie live for the first time after the release of her 2019 Heard It In A Past Life debut album, because we got to hear every single song from the album in person and had listened to it enough times through (on repeat in my car, at least) that we knew all of the words, too!

Sean lost his mind a little during Maggie’s cover of Taylor Swift’s “Tim McGraw” and he was coincidentally wearing a Taylor Swift shirt to the show! Maggie sang “Light On,” and told us it’s about graduating from college and figuring out adulthood. She said it recalls a “time when I was scared and overwhelmed. I got on stage every night and felt like I could be vulnerable and could share and I felt so supported doing this thing I love to do more than anything else in the world. SNL is part of the dreams you don’t stay out loud, but so is Thompson’s Point, and I can’t wait to be back here this summer.” Friends–I assure you–Maggie Rogers will kill it at Thompson’s Point. If you like the big venue thing, you should totally go see her there.

Maggie put on a hell of a show and she told us, “You can journal and you can go to therapy, but sometimes you just need to dance things off. I’m up here because singing makes me super happy, but it also gives me a lot of joy to help people release.” And it shows! I think Maggie closed with “Fallingwater,” and the crowd roared for an encore.

Maggie came back to the stage solo and spoke to us about how hard it’s been to fall asleep after the shows because “we create a lot of energy in this space together and being loud together is amazing. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being quiet with a group of people. I’m going to sing and it’s important to know it’s a camp song I grew up singing in Maine in the woods in the dark and it’s special to have my fellow campers’ blessing to sing it. There’s not really rules at concerts, but there’s like guidelines, and if you feel like yelling something, you should wait till after cause that’s rude (AMEN, Maggie!).” Maggie sang “Color Song” from her Maine summer camp a cappella for us to end the night, and I was so happily surprised when everyone in the room stopped to listen. Thanks for that wonderful moment, all!

This was such a happy show and I was so glad to be there. Also, State Theatre played “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” just after the house lights went up, and it kept the good vibes going all the way out the door.



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