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Justin Townes Earle with Max García Conover

 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

Max García Conover is my friend and a heckuva guy. He is thoughtful and observes intently. He writes a song a week (you can be a patron of that project) and is working full-time as a singer-songwriter. I’m proud to know him. He was really excited to open for Justin Townes Earle, so the friend group rallied to support him on a school night.

Max took the stage to an attentive audience. Port City Music Hall had some seating set up in the general admission area, and it made for a special listening room show. Max told us that when he ended up in Puerto Rico without the grant money he’d expected to live on, he took to busking to earn money for groceries. He was just learning to play the guitar, and he’d play the same songs again and again, but no one dropped any money in his guitar case. He started playing a Justin Townes Earle song (“I Don’t Care”) on the streets, and it was the first song that made him any money. Max was clearly excited to open the show for JTE, and it was heartwarming to see him on stage at Port City in front of a big crowd that listened earnestly and enjoyed him. He played “My Neighbor Joe” early in his set, and it’s an intense song that reveals itself more and more each time I hear it. That something I appreciate about Max’s songs–they’re layered with meaning and take on new life at each listen.

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Max Garcia Conover

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Max said that everyone should have a preacher friend, so he invented one in a song. Max told us that he grew up going to church and on mission trips until one of his pastors gave an anti-gay sermon and so he immediately stopped doing both. He told us a story about a real investment banker with heart, who chatted with Max to make sure he was saving for retirement after his set at a music festival. Max’s last song of the night was one he wrote on a pizza box during intermission at a tough show in New Sweden, Maine (the song is aptly titled “New Sweden, Maine”), that has evolved over time and become a staple in his setlist.

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Justin Townes Earle took the stage, and the crowd was pumped. Some friends I trust love his music, so I was excited to see him live. I’ve got to say that his live show fell flat for me. People in the crowd were smitten. Some shouted out song requests. I heard someone yell a song title and say it was his wedding song. JTE’s songs obviously mean a lot to his fans, so I thought it was unfortunate that Justin didn’t receive love from the audience warmly. At one point early in his set he said “I’m an asshole,” and it seemed true. I have a hard time getting interested in someone’s music when they don’t seem to care at all about the listener. Everyone is entitled to an off night, which perhaps this was, but it was enough to turn me off. I very rarely leave a show before it’s over, but I did on this night, and I don’t feel like I missed out. If you’ve had an incredible Justin Townes Earle show experience (and if you thought he was amazing at this particular show), I want to hear from you about what you see that I missed.

xo,

bree

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The Lumineers, Langhorne Slim, and Rayland Baxter

Friday, August 5, 2016

Thompson’s Point, Portland, Maine

I snagged a ticket for this show at Thompson’s Point the moment they went on sale, and I am so glad I did. The show sold out early (impressive, given the capacity at outdoor Thompson’s Point), and as show openers were announced, I got more excited, because both Langhorne Slim and Rayland Baxter have both been on my radar for ages. I feel really lucky that I got to see three great bands for the first time at a fantastic venue on a perfect summer night.

I picked up my friend Marian and we got to Thompson’s Point early to grab a spot up front. We ended up seventh row center, surrounded by great people who’d also arrived early to enjoy the music up close. There was a brief bit of drama where a woman pushed her way through the crowd to get a better spot, but another woman who’d been there since doors opened with her kids convinced her to do the right thing and leave. Concert etiquette–if you want a good spot, arrive early. You can’t push your way to the front and expect to stay there and have people welcome you with open arms. It’s rude. Don’t do it.

Nashville’s Rayland Baxter took the stage and was friendly with the crowd. 98.9 WCLZ has been playing his song “Yellow Eyes” for ages, and I was glad to hear that live. He seemed like a chill guy and his country music inspired jam band was a fine opening to the night.

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Raymond Baxter

I have a handful of friends who are devotees of Langhorne Slim, so my expectations were high. Langhorne Slim & The Law took the stage and worked it. I like the lyrics to his opening song “Airplane”You and I’ve got our backs against the wall/When you don’t move, no one throws you the ball/Life’s a dance between riding the bench and/Waiting for your chance to swing for the fence.” “The Spirit Moves” sounds a lot like a song The Lumineers would write, so it seemed fitting that Langhorne (born Sean Scolnick) would open for them. We sang along on “Love Crimes” while Langhorne jumped off stage and into the crowd and sang most of the song sitting on a fan’s shoulders. I was glad to hear “Changes” live. Langhorne Slim & The Law will kind of incredibly be back to Portland to play at teeny One Longfellow Square on Friday, October 28. It will be a great show and will sell out early.

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Langhorne Slim & The Law

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The Lumineers took the stage and the audience roared. My friend Ken Templeton introduced me to them back in 2012. I fell in love with their Daytrotter session he recommended and looked up their tour schedule, just to find I’d missed them playing at teeny tiny Red Room at Cafe 939 at Berklee in Boston by three days. I’ve been waiting for four years to see this band. I also sang their breakout hit, “Ho Hey,” at my best friend’s little brother’s wedding. He’d played the song to woo his now-wife and I sang it while they had their first dance.

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The Lumineers

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The huge crowd roared with applause and sang along every word of every song. It was such a feel good night. I loved hearing “Ophelia” and “Ho Hey” early in the set. Lead singer Wesley Schultz made a deal with the enormous crowd that we’d all put our cell phones away after “Ho Hey” and just be present in the moment. It was so refreshing to see a show without having to watch through the cell phone screen of the person in front of me. Wesley told us that “Cleopatra” is a true (and heartbreaking) story of a female taxi driver who he met in the Republic of Georgia.

The band grabbed their instruments and ran back to rear of the crowd and played a few songs on a small stage set up there, including “Gale Song,” which was featured on the Hunger Games soundtrack. I thought it was cool that the band wanted to reach as much of the crowd as possible. When Wesley returned to the main stage, he walked through the huge crowd and right by me! The Lumineers returned to the main stage for another eight or so songs and a three song encore. They wrapped the night with “Stubborn Love,” which the happy crowd ate up. What a night! I feel lucky I got to be at this show. Seeing The Lumineers live was well worth the wait.

xo,

bree

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Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Saturday, July 30, 2016

L.L.Bean, Freeport, Maine

I’ve been hard on Grace Potter and on the L.L.Bean Summer Concert Series in the past. On this night, though, I gave them both a chance, and they were amazing. It was great to be wrong. Grace Potter is a rock star, through and through. I saw her live from the front at the State Theatre in Portland back in 2012, and although she sounded great, I found her sensual dance moves distracting. I was positioned basically right underneath her at that show, though, so having a little physical distance and fast forwarding four years, I just saw a tremendous talent.

I have loathed the L.L.Bean Summer Concert Series for ages. I think L.L.Bean needs to build a large amphitheatre outside of town with ample parking facilities. The knoll where shows are located between their stores is wholly inadequate for the caliber of shows they bring to town. I continue to be flummoxed by their policy allowing people to put up chairs for the show at 6AM the day of shows, as well. Back in 2010, I went with my friends Tricia and Rebecca to see Joshua Radin at L.L.Bean, and we got there (they’d driven up from Boston, in fact) at 1PM, picnic packed, ready to hang out on the lawn for the day and save a spot up close to see the show. When we arrived, though, we couldn’t get any closer than 25 rows from the stage, and we were the only people there for hours. People will often remind me that these shows are FREE, and that’s why I’d rather pay good money to get to venue early to get a great spot up front. I have only seen two L.L.Bean shows in five or so years. My friend Andrea insisted I give it another try, so she set up seats for Guster at 6AM the day of the show, and even then, I was so far from the stage (the stage barricade is quite far from the stage–am I right?) that I could barely see their faces on stage. This Grace Potter show was the other exception to my firm L.L.Bean ban. My friend Grace declared she needed a girls night and wanted to go, and then I heard that Grace Potter herself had insisted it be a dance party, so people couldn’t set up seats in the front at all. It was worth a shot, and it paid off beautifully. I think a lot of regular L.L.Bean show goers skipped the show because they couldn’t set up chairs. I would definitely go to more shows if this were the policy. We arrived around and were six rows back. People sat on the lawn until about an hour before the show and a staff member got on the mic to welcome us and tell us it was time to stand up. People spread out, and we were easily able to move right up to second row center.

We stood next to a sweet seven year old girl, who was a huge Grace Potter fan and seeing her first-ever concert. If you saw Grace come down to the crowd and give a guitar pick away, it was to this little girl. Grace totally won me over with that classy move. Her voice was raspy and strong, her banter upbeat, and her energy well beyond what most people could give from start to finish. She brought her dad Sparky on stage to dance (Grace didn’t inherit her dance moves from him) with her, and was an absolute delight. The crowd danced and sang along happily, and we had a blast.

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Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

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A pick hand delivered by Grace Potter to this adorable fan!

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I was very surprised that we had negative interactions with four pushy, loud people all trying to get to the front, especially because they were all people in their sixties. It’s just not what I expected. The seven year old girl’s mom played concert security guard for our whole area, though, and was able to convince three out of four folks to do the right thing and not push their way ahead of us. Overall, it let me just relax and enjoy the show, which I was grateful for, but this is worth noting. If you stake out a spot at a concert, it’s yours. If you arrive later and push your way to the front, that’s never okay.

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Grace and her dad, Sparky

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Grace designed the colorful dress (I’d call it a shirt, but I don’t have her legs) she was wearing, and it coordinated beautifully with an incredible sunset behind her. She invited us to think about our loved ones who have passed on before playing “Stars,” and wrapped her set with high octane crowd pleasers “Medicine” and “Paris (Ooh La La).” Grace went for it and really blew us all away. She’s playing in her home state of Vermont this weekend at the Grand Point North Festival in Burlington if you need another fix. She rocks.

xo,

bree

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The Paper Kites with Larkin Poe

Friday, July 29, 2016

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I was so grateful for this concert experience. I received a very nice email from Larkin Poe’s publicist a few days before the show inviting me to come, and I decided to rearrange my schedule to attend. I am so glad I did. Larkin Poe had just played the Newport Folk Festival, and anyone who is invited to play there is definitely worth checking out. The Paper Kites have been popping up on my Spotify “Discover Weekly” playlists for a long while now, and I particularly like their song “Bloom.” I went to my first Muay Thai boxing class at my gym, and then showered and motored down to Portland to Port City Music Hall. After attending a show the night before at the Maine State Pier (which is such a disappointing place to “see” a show), I was so glad to be on my way to a venue I love where I knew I’d get to be up close and actually see the bands.

Larkin Poe is Rebecca and Megan Lovell, sisters from Atlanta, Georgia. They’ve both toured in Elvis Costello’s band, and they’ve got chops. They took the stage with a powerful a cappella song, and I was sold. I got there early, so was front and center, and I was mesmerized. These sisters have tons of chemistry, and I liked their lyrics, rock sensibility, and effort to connect with the crowd. Rebecca told us that their band name comes from their great-great-great-grandfather, who was a cousin of Edgar Allen Poe. I don’t know their music well, but I remember “Tornado” stuck out. They played “Trouble In Mind” on Conan O’Brien back in April. You should definitely check them out live.

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Rebecca and Megan Lovell are Larkin Poe

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During the break, I chatted with a trio of women who’d flown up from New Orleans, partially to visit a friend from Maine, but surely to coincide with seeing Australia’s Paper Kites live. They were lovely to chat with, and the crowd that night was 18+ and quite respectful and nice to be around. It’s always great when people come to a show to actually see the show, and an 18+ show often means there are fewer drunkards who detract from the overall concert experience. The “kids” in the audience were clearly fans, and they sang every word of every song.

The Paper Kites‘ front man Sam Bentley was quite chatty with the crowd, and he told us the stories behind a handful of their songs, which is something I absolutely love. He joked that “I’d like to connect with you by telling you the story of another song,” which was charming and worked beautifully. I wish more artists would tell us about their songs. Sam told us the story behind “Paint.” He was in a long distance relationship when he was young and living at home, and wanted to make a grand gesture to his girlfriend by painting a love note to her in invisible ink he’d ordered online from China on his bedroom ceiling. It turned out to not be all that invisible. His parents were mad and he had to paint over it. They also broke up. He explained the song as “dealing with a life that didn’t quite happen.” This was the last night of the Paper Kites’ tour, and I’m so glad I got to spend it with them. This fantastic show was a completely welcome nice surprise. Pictures below!

xo,

bree

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The Paper Kites

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All the way from New Orleans for this double thumbs up show!

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Joe Walsh with JD & The Straight Shot

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Maine State Pier, Portland, Maine

When I got a kind invitation from JD & The Straight Shot’s publicist to attend this show where they were opening for legendary Eagles’ guitarist Joe Walsh, I decided I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity. I had two reservations about this, though, because classic rock is not really my thing and I HATE the Maine State Pier. I think it’s easily the worst venue in Maine. I avoid shows there. My former sweetie said it well after we went to see Jonny Lang and The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band there last summer, “maybe if I had been closer to the stage it would have been more engaging, but standing room feels essentially like you are standing outside the venue looking in.” I completely agree. Going to “see” a show at the Pier is practically guaranteed to be a disappointment. When people ask me about seeing a show at the Pier, I tell them to skip it. If they absolutely love the artist, I recommend they go see them on another stop of the tour in New Hampshire or Massachusetts. If the Pier is a must, I suggest getting reserved seat tickets as close to the stage as you can afford (tickets are usually very expensive at the Pier, no matter where you end up, though), or get there before doors open and make sure you’re in the front row along the outside third of either the right or left side of the barricade that separates GA from the reserved seats. Even if you’re in the second row of GA, you’re probably not going to be able to see a thing, and certainly not the stage. If you’re in GA, you absolutely cannot see if you’re directly behind the soundboard tent, which spans about 30% of the width of the Pier.

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I held my phone up over my head to take this picture. So, if you’re about 6’5”, this could be your view from GA at the Maine State Pier. See that ant on stage in yellow? That’s Joe Walsh. What a view!

Also, I always feel a little on edge at the Pier. There are always folks there who are shirtless and smoking cigarettes while shouting obscenities and stumbling from too much alcohol. Oh! And this show happened to be the night the Pier rolled out their new “security policy,” where no purses were allowed unless they were wristlet sized OR you waited in line to buy a clear plastic tote bag printed with the “Waterfront Concerts” logo that then you could just place your entire purse (much bigger than wristlet size) in. What is the point? It was so stupid. I am all for increased security, but do thorough bag searches—don’t just make a security policy that someone can circumvent by buying a crappy plastic bag for $5. I hate this venue. “Seeing” shows there is the worst and that means that I go there as infrequently as possible.

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Don’t you feel safer already?

I invited my friend Ian to join me, because he’d just finished taking the bar exam (no, I didn’t invite him to the Pier because I don’t like him), and we parked and got to the venue when I was told by their publicist the opening band was slated to start. I don’t know why, but JD & The Straight Shot took the stage early. By the time I got my press pass (see, I had to wait in the same line as the ladies looking to buy their “secure” $5 clear plastic bag), they were well into their set. I was there at the invitation of their publicist, so I wanted to be sure to get a nice photo of the band for them, but someone who worked for the Pier shooed me away and told me I’d missed the first three songs of their set, so I couldn’t take any pictures. I told him I’d been invited by the band and asked if I could just sit in an empty seat for one minute and take a handful of shots, but he flatly refused. I was frustrated. I emailed their publicist with the bad news and only ended up hearing a song or two. I thought the band was pretty talented, but their front man, Knicks owner James Dolan (JD), was odd. He wore a Mad Hatter hat and was awkward during his banter and then literally pulled a stuffed bunny out of it and threw it into the crowd. He reminded me of a creepy uncle that you try to avoid at Thanksgiving because everything he says and does makes people cringe. It definitely seemed like he just put some money into hiring a talented backup band so he could go on tour and be a rock star. I actually think the band could be good if they got a new lead singer, though.

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JD & The Straight Shot

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I was excited to see Joe Walsh. I watched an interview with him online, and I respect that he got clean after decades of heavy drug use. I was a little surprised to hear how great he sounded live. He’s still got it. I shot at the stage for one song before someone from the Walsh Toor (that’s what they’re calling it) let me know I needed to shoot from the sound booth. Since that is really far from the stage, I decided it wasn’t worth it, so I lingered at the side and ended up chatting with the only other photographer, who turned out to be Ben Moore from Active Beer Geek. Ian and I “watched” some of Joe’s set from general admission, but people around us were drunk and belligerent and you can’t actually see anything from GA, so we left early after hearing Joe do a cover of “Everyday People.” The backup singers were great, too!

FullSizeRender 13IMG_3859IMG_3830IMG_3862Ian and I grabbed a shared table on the deck next door at Flatbread, and enjoyed delicious cocktails (we were trying to salvage the night after an icky trip to the Pier, after all) while eavesdropping a little on the couple sitting at the other end of our table. They were definitely on a first date, and it seemed to be going really well. We thought the woman talked a little bit too much about weddings for a first date, but her date seemed into her overall and was quite attentive. We agreed they’d probably have a second date. We were far better able to hear the Joe Walsh show from Flatbread’s deck than the Pier, and heard “Take It to the Limit” (which he played in honor of his Eagles bandmate, Glenn Frey, who passed away early this year) and “Life in the Fast Lane.” We had a delicious dinner, and when a new couple sat down at the other end of our table, I jokingly asked them if they were also on their first date, and they told us they’d just gotten engaged! They were really sweet, and Ian and I were among the first to know! The second half of the night helped salvage the first, and we had fun, despite having tried and failed (again) to enjoy a show at the Maine State Pier.

xo,

bree

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The Ballroom Thieves

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Snow Pond Center for the Arts, Sidney, Maine

I’d never been to Snow Pond Center for the Arts before, but a friend got married there, and when I saw the wedding photos afterwards, I knew I wanted to check out this beautiful amphitheatre in the woods. I love The Ballroom Thieves and have seen them live maybe ten times now. They are easily one of my top favorite bands, and I’ve said so very often and really hope they’re on your radar by now. Martin, Devin, and Callie are wonderfully talented musicians with lyrics and harmonies that hit you in the feels. I met my friend Andrea at the venue. She is a superfan by definition—gets to shows before doors open, connects with bands she loves over social media, and stays after shows to talk to bands—so we drove separately so she could do all of those things. We paid for tickets that included a delicious BBQ, which is the dinner the kids at New England Music Camp eat every night. I was over the moon when I ran into one of my incredible Mt. Ararat kiddos who was attending music camp. We got to catch up a bit and she told me later that she was really impressed with the Thieves and loved the show.

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The Ballroom Thieves took the stage and wowed the crowd. Andrea and I sat on a blanket front and center and soaked it in. It was pretty special to see the Thieves with birds singing their own songs in the trees nearby and enjoying the sky change colors over the amphitheatre. New England Music Camp musicians joined The Thieves on stage and accompanied them for a few songs (which they’d just learned that day), which rounded out the sound. I am really glad I made the trip to see one of my favorite bands in such a lovely spot! Check out “Here I Stand,” which is a favorite Thieves song of mine. Thanks, Thieves! When’s your new album debuting? I am so ready!

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I got a very nice email a couple of weeks later from Christine Durgin, the Director of Community Relations at Snow Pond Center for the Arts. She said it was great to meet me (she gave me such a warm welcome when I arrived) and reminded me I was invited to come back to take a tour. If you need to throw an event of any kind, I suspect these folks are fabulous to work with. Thanks, Christine! I’ll be back!

xo,

bree

I feel like I’ve gone on and on about the Thieves for years, so I intentionally wrote a short post here. If you are someone who likes to know more, here are links to a few older show recaps:

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John Paul White with The Secret Sisters

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Red Room at Café 939, Boston, MA

My friend Mac first introduced me to The Civil Wars on a cold winter’s night in 2009. John Paul White and Joy Williams were captivating. Their April 2009 set at Eddie’s Attic was recorded and released online as a free download a couple of months later on The Civil Wars’ website. The pair had undeniable musical chemistry and their songs resonated with me. I made a friend at an Iron & Wine show in 2011 who invited me to join him for Adele at the House of Blues in Boston a month later. Those tickets were impossible to get, so I was thrilled. I squealed out loud when I found out that The Civil Wars had been added to the bill and that I was going to get to finally see them live. I stayed after the show and approached John Paul White at the merch table, which is something I rarely do. I was sure he is a genuine person who would be kind (doesn’t it ruin it for you when you meet an artist whose music you care about, and they’re not?), and he was a dear. I told him that I’d been hoping to see them for a couple of years, and that I was actually more excited to see them that night. He glanced at Joy and said “don’t you think that deserves a group hug?” And then they hugged me. It was very, very sweet, and a moment I still recall fondly. I was lucky to see The Civil Wars again a handful of months later at Berklee’s Performing Arts Center in Boston from the fourth or fifth row. They were spellbinding. Then they broke up.

I was thrilled when I saw that John Paul White was writing music and was planning a tour. He produced Penny and Sparrow’s beautiful album, Let a Lover Drown You, which I’ve listened to countless times. I bought my ticket to see JPW at The Red Room at Café 939 at Berklee College of Music in Boston the minute they went on sale. I would not pass up an opportunity to see him live in such an intimate setting. My friend Jan and I drove to Boston and grabbed an early dinner at Bukowski’s and lined up before doors opened so we could be front and center, and it paid off, because we were able to stand a foot or two away from such talented musicians all night.

I’d first seen Laura and Lydia Rogers, The Secret Sisters, open for my beloved Brandi Carlile (she and the Twins are producing their upcoming album, too) about six months after first seeing The Civil Wars back in November of 2011 at Berklee in Boston. I loved their vintage vibe, beautiful harmonies, and funny audience banter. I got to see them again a couple of years later with my concert friend Bob (who’d taken me to see Adele and The Civil Wars) when they opened for Iron & Wine at State Theatre in Portland, Maine. The Secret Sisters played a half dozen songs and told stories and entertained thoroughly. I particularly liked “Carry Me,” which was such a sweet song about being daddy’s girls and having a wonderful father. I also really wish I could find a video of “He’s Fine” to share with you because I loved it and would love to listen to it again. I guess I’ll have to wait for the next album! Here they are on Jay Leno playing “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder,” which is on The Hunger Games sountrack. Check out “Rattle My Bones” to get a sense of their more upbeat side. They’re great.

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Lydia and Laura Rogers are The Secret Sisters

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John Paul White and his band took the stage and he poured his heart out for us. He played fifteen songs for a captivated audience (I still can’t believe I got to see him play in such a small venue from the front row!). He talked a lot with us about feeling conflicted about the songs that started to pour out of him because he knew he’d want to share them with the world and touring meant he’d have to spend some time away from his family. He asked us to come talk to him after the show to give him feedback about what resonated with us and what didn’t. I can’t think of a time a musician wore his heart on his sleeve more at a show. It was humbling to witness someone who so desperately wants his music to connect with people. His voice was clear and haunting as ever, and The Secret Sisters joined him throughout his set and added beautiful harmonies that amplified the message.

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Lydia Rogers of The Secret Sisters and John Paul White

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It was pretty incredible to stand right next to this man during his set!

John Paul shared with us a song about his grandparents. He said he appreciates music you can step inside and become the character in, but didn’t know how to feel about this particular song because “I loved my grandfather and thought he walked on water, but he did not. He had a lot of demons and my grandmother raised fourteen children by herself.” He played “No One Will Ever Love You,” which was featured on season one of Nashville. It’s easy to be a character in this song, John Paul—“Don’t you try to tell me someone’s waiting/They’re not waiting for you/Oh and don’t you try to tell me that you’re wanted/That you’re needed/Cause it’s not true.” Oh my heart. Check out “The Martyr” on NPR Music and “What’s So” at Rolling Stone. I am so eager to have my hands on John Paul White’s upcoming album, “Beulah,” which will be released August 19. Thanks for coming back into our world and putting yourself out there so honestly, John Paul. You’ve been missed.

xo,

bree

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