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Lori McKenna with Hailey Whitters

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I’ve been seeing fewer and fewer shows these days. There are two reasons for the lack of live music in my life. The first is that my partner works in theater and I’ve seen 26 plays in the last year alone. The heart of the matter, though, is that audiences seem to be more and more full of people lacking basic concert etiquette these days, and it’s just not fun to go to concerts when people in the audience push, talk non-stop, and record the whole show through their phone screen. I’ve lost my patience with it, so I’m being a lot more picky about the shows I am choosing to attend. I am primarily attending seated shows, where pushing is basically impossible, because people can’t show up late and steal your chair. All of these conscious decisions absolutely melted away from my anxious concert-going brain on Sunday night, though, and I am so grateful for it.

Lori McKenna and her band came to Port City Music Hall to play her album, Bittertown, on its 15th anniversary, and it was a GA seated show. I showed up just after the doors opened (after stopping on Washington Avenue to support Hannah Daman’s [of Sibylline] new delicious maple creemee food truck venture), and found an empty second row center seat. I was blown away by the show in every sense and was so grateful to my fellow concert-goers who were attentive and came to listen. It was perfect and was such an unexpected joy. 

Hailey Whitters took the stage in vintage overalls Lori McKenna gave her, and she just blew me away. I try to never miss an opening act, and Hailey exemplifies the reason why. You just never know who you might fall in love with. Hailey is 29 and from a small town in Iowa. She’s been living in Nashville–co-writing and performing–for 12 years, and she has a voice and songs with lyrics that pierced me in the heart. I was hit right in the feels by “The Days” and “Heartland.” Hailey told us she wrote “Ten Year Town” with fellow songwriter Brandy Clark about feeling low and broken hearted by Nashville and the music industry and being away from home for ten years and not having a lot to show for it. She’d just found out she was going to get to play the Grand Ole Opry later in the week because of that song and told us, “if you have a dream and you feel like giving up–don’t.” I laughed and cried moments apart while she sang “Janice and the Hotel Bar.” Her album, The Dream, is due to be released later this year and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I am so sure Hailey’s on the cusp of getting the recognition she’s worked so hard for. Check her out in Rolling Stone

I heard a couple of women behind me talking about music during the break, so I turned around and they kindly let me join the conversation. I enjoyed the chat with Jo, who owns Cup of Joe in Portsmouth (Jo–I am listening to Erick Baker on repeat right now!), and Fiona from Bait Bag, a feminist punk trio from North Haven I’d heard of because my friend Aimsel is nuts for them.

Lori McKenna came to the stage with her band–Jamie Edwards, John Sands, Paul Kochanski, and Lyle Brewer–after a long break. She told us that Bittertown came out three days after her son David was born. Lori played the entire album straight through and she told us the story behind each and every song. It was my concert dream! She joked that she had to look most of the songs up on Google to have other people teach her how to play them again. She made us laugh a lot all night long. She said, “I have five children and they only really care about whether or not they’re going to get fed after school when they come home and I’m writing a song at the table in my sweatpants.” I loved hearing about the songs from Lori. She told us she could tell when she learned certain things about her own life and when she learned how to play certain chord progressions and with a drummer. We were in the palm of her hand all night, and I remember thinking about halfway through her set that I hadn’t heard a peep from anywhere in the room the whole set. We were all there together to hear these stories, and that really meant something to me. So, it made me laugh even more when Lori told us, “this is a master class in the worst things you can say before or after songs,” because she did everything so right, from start to finish.

We laughed throughout the evening, but especially when Lori told us about her dad, Frank Giroux, who worked for Boston Edison for 42 years and gave his six children a hard time when they didn’t turn off the lights at home. He’d say, “I work for the electric company, I don’t own the electric company.” She joked, “I can’t get away from these utility people. My husband works for the gas company in the maps and records department, which is the name of my publishing company” and she made us promise to call Dig Safe and wait two days for Gene McKenna to see if he sprays a G or does not spray a G in your yard before you dig even a little hole to put up a new mailbox.” 

I was particularly glad to hear a favorite Lori McKenna song, “If You Ask,” in person again. I think I’ve only seen Lori three times live–once in 2006 and again in 2012. All three times have been such a pleasure. She is the best of the best.

Lori’s high school in Stoughton, Massachusetts is about to be torn down, so her last two kids will attend the brand new Stoughton High School that’s been built adjacent to the old one that’s inspired so much of her songwriting. She told us there was never a timeframe that would have made sense for her and Gene to move away, so they stayed put and can walk to her dad’s house and the house her husband Gene grew up in.

Lori said that a lot of songwriting is writing songs that no one ever hears, so she was especially grateful to get to play songs for an audience. She told us that she’d talked about that aspect of songwriting with Liz Rose and Hillary Lidnsey on Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Record. They wrote an absolutely stunning song together inspired by David Letterman, who on a Netflix special interviewing Howard Stern, said “my son is 14 years old. What’s the world going to be like when he’s my age?” It inspired When You’re My Age,” which had the audience in tears.

Lori played “Humble & Kind” and then Hailey joined her on stage for “Girl Crush” and “Happy People.” Lori told us that they first time she and Hailey ever wrote a song together she showed up in Stoughton and wanted to write a song called “Happy People.” Lori said that the best parts of the song came from Hailey–especially the parts about how we affect one another.  Lori said “It’s the happiest damn song I’ve ever helped write, so we’ll leave you with this and I hope you’re the happiest people we know.” I was a whole lot happier after this show, for sure! Thank you Lori! I sure hope you’ll come back to Maine, too, Hailey! 

xo,

bree

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The Merrymeeting Community Band

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Gazebo at City Park, Bath, Maine

My friend and colleague Dennis texted me in the late afternoon to let me know that some of our recent Mt. Ararat graduates would be playing a couple of hours later in Bath at the gazebo with the Merrymeeting Community Band. I packed my folding chair and made my way over to see them. I texted Dot, who also teaches with us and lives in Bath, and she came right over, too. I’m really glad we were there. It was so nice to see a multigenerational band playing medleys of Beatles songs, Michael Jackson hits, and Brahms.

Look at all those recent Mt. Ararat graduates!

I was really surprised by the quality of the performance when I found out they’d only had six rehearsals! There was something for everyone to enjoy, and director Margie Landis introduced every song with a story, which I love, and she warmly acknowledged every graduating senior in the band, too. I didn’t know a couple of my kids were even in the band until she did that because they were too many rows back for me to see them seated. I’m so proud of our wonderful MTA grads and am really glad to have been in the park to see this entertaining show.

xo,

bree

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Parker Millsap

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Lisbon Concerts in the Park, Lisbon Falls, Maine

Lots of my friends posted updates from their weekend at Newport Folk Festival that made me incredibly jealous–especially because Brandi Carlile was a guest in just about everyone’s set AND DOLLY PARTON WAS THE SURPRISE FESTIVAL GUEST! It made me wish I’d been there in person. I did, however, have a delightful little Sunday with Dan where we took the introduction to cheesemaking class at the wonderful Sunflower Farm in Cumberland and even got to milk goats! It was fun and delicious! I realized the timing would work out perfectly for me to leave the farm and get over to Lisbon Falls just in time to see Parker Millsap at their free Concerts in the Park series. I texted my friend Christine to meet me, and hurried over.

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Photos courtesy of Hope Lipp Hall at Sunflower Farm

Parker Millsap had quite a weekend. From tiny Purcell, Oklahoma and at only 26 years old, Parker played the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival on Friday. And then, two days later, he played a free outdoor concert in tiny Lisbon Falls, Maine, to a couple hundred folks gathered in lawn chairs at Marion Morse Park. What a juxtaposition. Chrissy and I set up our chairs and caught up a little bit about our summer vacations. We both had delicious strawberry and nutella waffles from the My Waffle food truck. I was glad to see Parker Millsap and his band for the first time. He has a strong raspy voice and a bluesy rock sound. Check out his KEXP session if you’re unfamiliar with his sound. Parker didn’t say much more than “thank you very much” after each song, which is what makes or breaks a concert experience for me, but it’s probably pretty hard to keep your stage energy up after a weekend at Newport Folk Festival. I’d be curious to hear from folks who’ve seen him before if he brings a more raucous vibe to a more typical show. I’d like to see him again in an indoor venue, I think. 

xo,

bree

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The Ballroom Thieves with Max Garcia Conover

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Front Street Music Series

Downtown Augusta, Maine Riverfront

I’ve seen The Ballroom Thieves and Max Garcia Conover so many times over the years, but I’d never seen them share the same bill before. That was all the motivation I needed to convince Dan that we should leave our quiet lakefront weekend at camp on Clary Lake to see our friend Max play with The Ballroom Thieves. Plus, the last time we saw the Thieves was last summer at Ghostland, and Dan was in a giant food truck line at the very back of Thompson’s Point and sadly missed their whole set. 

It was a little tricky to figure out how to get to “downtown Augusta’s riverfront behind Cushnoc Brewery” as instructed by our Eventbrite tickets since we aren’t familiar with Augusta, but we managed. We were welcomed by folks at the entrance volunteering for the Front Street Music Series (which is happening all summer) to benefit the renovation of Augusta’s historic Colonial Theater. I have just left the Board of Directors of Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center in nearby Gardiner, Maine, after my three-year term, so I was especially glad to show some support for our neighbors.

We showed up a few minutes into Max’s opening set, and I was impressed with how close to the Kennebec River the stage was. It was beautiful. We brought short folding chairs (I’d encourage you to do the same if you hit up the rest of this summer music series), and just sat back and enjoyed an easy night of great music. I didn’t love (shocker) that Cushnoc had a downstairs bar in the rear, because folks back there were chatty and distracted from the music for me. I know my dream for silent, engrossed audiences at shows is really impractical!

Thanks for taking this, Andrea! I’m never in concert pictures!

Max was glad to share the stage with the Thieves. He told us that he’d played a crazy cross-country tour and there was a show in Iowa where maybe 7 people showed up and 3 of them were the Ballroom Thieves and he was starstruck. He also said they’re as “wonderful and kind in real life and that’s a special thing.” I love how humble Max is, and something I appreciate about his music is that every song is a work in progress. I’ve heard Max play maybe 20 times, and I’ve heard him change so many of his songs over the years to add a verse or lyric about something current. He’s such a hard worker. I was glad to hear a couple of new songs and favorites like “Self Portrait” and “Rich Man.” He also introduced one of his songs by sharing the beginning of his touching, beautiful story about the first girl he ever loved that I’ve had the pleasure to hear him tell twice–once on The Moth mainstage! You should really listen

The Ballroom Thieves took the stage and played a long set. I didn’t love the performance overall, but it was out of their hands and was because Martin often sings the melody and his microphone was just not loud enough. I appreciate how sweet Martin, Callie, and Devin are on stage with each other. Devin’s band introductions are always funny and awkward. All three of the Thieves live in Maine now and Martin joked that the “last time I came to Augusta was to set up our cable with Spectrum. That’s not the best part of Augusta. This next song–‘Trouble’–is about setting up your cable package with Spectrum.”

I absolutely love Devin’s lead vocals and their powerful interpretation of Frightened Rabbit’s “My Backwards Walk” and was so glad to hear it live. Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer, Scott Hutchison, ended his own life a little over a year ago, and a tribute album was recorded by the likes of Julien Baker and Ben Gibbard. Proceeds go to a mental health foundation in Scott’s name. While we’re here, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

I also really enjoyed their cover of Bahamas’ “Lost In The Light,” too. Devin introduced a “love song called ‘Fist Fight’” by encouraging people in the crowd to “at least say hi to the person who’s here that you’ve had your eye on.” He said “quit the crap and go say what’s up.” It was very sweet.

I appreciate that The Ballroom Thieves are using their voice as a band to speak up about issues of global importance. Martin introduced “Do Something”:

This is a risky thing to say in today’s political climate. We are on the side of basic human rights. Sometimes you have to just take a stand. I think this is where we make our stand. It’s a big issue in our country right now even though it shouldn’t be. It’s important to speak up for those who don’t have a voice or for those who have had their voices silenced. Since we are literally on a platform and we have microphones amplifying us across the river we might as well make a stand for basic human rights because I believe it’s the minimum stand you can take. This is a song called “Do Something” and it’s about holding people accountable, especially those in public office, because those people work for us and they have to do what we want them to do or they’re not fulfilling their duty. In a way, we’re Trump’s boss, which flips the Apprentice narrative. That’s where I’ll leave it for now because I’ve gotten in trouble before.

img_4058I’m always glad to see Max Garcia Conover and The Ballroom Thieves live. They both use their platform to speak up for people without a voice, and if you’re down with treating all people with respect and dignity, you’d like them and would be in good company at one of their shows!

xo,

bree

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The Milk Carton Kids 

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Music Hall, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

I’ve barely seen a show all summer! Summer is when I recharge after an inevitably crazy school year, so dealing with what seems to be an epidemic of awful concert etiquette at shows is really low on my summer to-do list these days. Dan and I did make a plan, however, to celebrate my last day of school with a Milk Carton Kids show at The Music Hall in Portsmouth. He put their song “Michigan” on a mix CD he made for me (I know–he is thoughtful and knows me so well!) early on in our relationship. I’d heard of the band, but didn’t know their music at all. I was excited to give them a try.

We made our way to Portsmouth with time to enjoy a delicious and wonderfully unique Himalayan dinner at Durbar Square Restaurant. We tried a lot of things and highly recommend it! We grabbed our second row seats just before the show started. Something I enjoy about The Music Hall (and most seated shows anywhere) is that folks in the audience tend to be there for the music and exhibit proper concert etiquette, which is rarer and rarer these days. Yes, I’m a broken record about this, but at least I shut up and listen at shows!

Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan remind me a lot of Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter of a band I adore, Penny & Sparrow. Their songs are serious and often sad, but their banter with the audience and each other is absolutely hilarious. Joey is the funny guy. He introduced “A Sea of Roses” thusly:

He [Kenneth] had a difficult breakup and a cancer diagnosis. I am happy to say he’s completely cured and is fine now. He has new love in his life and some hormone pills that keep him relatively even. Everything’s been going pretty well for me. I did lose my glasses. And after months trying to find a suitable replacement, I gave up and now the whole world is blurry. I don’t mean to compare anybody’s misfortunes. All of Kenneth’s trials and tribulations are in the past, while I’m still dealing with this. Many of the songs Kenneth wrote for this album are personal and it’s some of the most beautiful and revealing he’s written in a long time. But due to an early agreement between us, I do own half of the songs. Ok, that’s enough now. Do you want to do your cancer song now? I mean, our cancer song.

We laughed so much all night long. I was also blown away by Kenneth’s guitar playing, too. What I didn’t connect with was their songwriting, which turns out to be the most important thing for me. Dan loves the Milk Carton Kids and generally appreciates music that sounds good to listen to. No argument from me that their music sounds amazing, but I care more about the lyrics, which I just didn’t connect with, unfortunately. Still, I was entertained from start to finish and am really glad we started my summer vacation off with a truly fun musical adventure.

xo,

bree

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Jamestown Revival

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I set up for the senior prom Friday night, hosted the prom Saturday night, but still made my way down to Portland Sunday night to see Jamestown Revival at Port City Music Hall. In retrospect, I was way too spent to not take some time off over the weekend, but they’re so worth it. I saw Jamestown Revival on my birthday back in 2017, and it was my third favorite show of 2017. I was happy to see they were coming back to town after two years away, and I’m glad I was in the room.

I showed up at the end of Chris Ross and the North’s set, and they sounded great and made me wish I’d gotten there earlier. There was a huge gap between the stage and the audience when I arrived, so I made my way to an empty space at the stage edge in between sets. I met Annie, a science teacher from Portland, and we chatted about our Jamestown Revival experiences. I often go to shows solo, so it’s nice when I end up in a good pocket of people to enjoy a show with.

Magnolia, Texas’ Jamestown Revival is warm and inviting in person. Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay share the lead, and they’ve been friends since high school. They introduced their songs with details (which I love), sincerely thanked us for being there, and even remembered the woman dressed up like a zebra at their first-ever show in Maine a couple of Octobers back. She was right there in the front row, and loved hearing that they remembered her. “Revival,” “Fur Coat Blues,” and “California (Cast Iron Soul)” stick out as crowd favorites. I thought it was interesting that they didn’t play their best-known song, “Love Is A Burden.” 98.9 WCLZ has played that song on heavy rotation for a couple of years, and I’m bet it’s the only Jamestown Revival song some of folks in the room knew. Their new single, “Who Hung The Moon,” is out now from their upcoming album, San IsabelJonathan introduced “Killing You, Killing Me” saying, “It’s like we work to distract ourselves with our phones. They keep us from having conversations where we look each other in the eye and they take us away from moments and people that matter the most.” We asked for an encore and they graciously obliged with the whole band unplugged around one microphone (while the crowd really listened!) for “Round Prairie Road.”img_2452Lots of my former students were in the room and I got to catch up with them after the show, which made it a really sweet Sunday night, too.

xo,

bree

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Courtney Marie Andrews

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I’m grateful to Brandi Carlile for putting Courtney Marie Andrews on my radar. They toured together in 2018. When Brandi recommends an up-and-coming artist, I listen. I was so glad to see Courtney Marie Andrews was opening for Deer Tick at Port City Music Hall last week. I’m the senior class advisor and teaching a new course in American Foreign Policy this year, so I’m often short on time. Even so, I got myself down to Port City just in time to snag an available front row spot a few minutes before she took the stage. I knew I didn’t have the energy to stay up late for Deer Tick, so I drove 80 minutes round trip to see Courtney Marie Andrews play for 45 minutes. She was SO worth the effort! Do you ever feel that excited energy of knowing an awesome secret before other people? I feel like that with her, though I dug into her background a bit and was surprised to learn that she’s already been making music for over a decade. I am actually really late to the Courtney Marie Andrews party, but am here to invite you anyhow.

Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Courtney Marie Andrews shared the stage with a drummer, bassist, and pianist. She played electric guitar and just stunned the room with her powerful lyrics and transcendent voice. The show was sold out and lots of people were clearly in the room ready for Deer Tick, but Courtney Marie Andrews held the crowd in the palm of her hand. Listen to “Rough Around the Edges” and “May Your Kindness Remain” to hear for yourself how powerful her voice is. If I had any wish for her live show, I’d (of course) want a bit more banter and to learn something about some of her songs in person. Even though she stuck almost exclusively to the songs, I was so blown away by her voice that I’d see her again in a heartbeat. Check out this live set and interview from KEXP for a bit of context about Courtney Marie Andrew’s background as a bartender and experience as a touring musician. Read NPR’s review of her 2018 album, May Your Kindness Remain, too. She’s the real deal, y’all.

xo,

bree

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