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Max Garcia Conover with Kafari

Friday, June 29, 2019

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

This was a perfect day–a sunny day with a friend at Popham Beach, goat yoga (exactly what it sounds like) at Sunflower Farm in torrential rain that cleared and offered a rainbow, and then a lovely, warm album release show with tons of friends in the crowd to support our dear friend, Max Garcia Conover.

I’ve written enthusiastically about Max’s shows easily a dozen times now, but he keeps getting better and I like him more and more live. My Bowdoin College classmate and dear friend, Ken Templeton, interviewed Max ahead of this Stagger albumrelease show, and you should read it to learn a ton of context and dig into Max’s songwriting process. My good pal Aimsel Ponti is also a Max fan, and she interviewed him and talks a bit more about the songs on Stagger.

Max introduced his friend, Ahmad Kafari, to the stage to open the show. Max told us that he met Kafari when he was a prospective student visiting Bowdoin College. After dinner, he sat down at a piano outside the dining hall and played some of the most beautiful sounds Max said he’d ever heard. It drew a crowd. Kafari plays piano, rhythm bones, and mixes. His music is soothing and soulful and layered. He is humble and sweet. As a good teacher does, Kafari explained the surprising origins of rhythm bones to us (they came from Ireland and ended up in minstrel shows) and asked someone in the audience to hand out a bunch to the crowd so folks could learn to play them. Kafari played for about half an hour and then welcomed Max to the stage.

Max is a quiet and introspective guy. I listened to him sing a few songs and answer some questions on 98.9 WCLZ the day before the show, and I was struck by how very humble he is. Max had just gotten home from a month-long tour of Spain, Poland, Switzerland, and Sweden, and he seemed glad to be playing in Portland to a room full of his closest friends and supporters. He said, “there are lots of people here who are very close to me and who I admire and feel so much for. It’s just on the edge of overwhelming and too good.” Max played more than the eleven songs on Stagger, including a favorite older song of his called “The Wedding Line.” To introduce the song, he told us that when his dad got remarried about ten years ago, Max remembered seeing his dad standing at the altar in a vulnerable, hopeful way.

Max grew up in a religious town in western New York, and used to go to church because everyone else did, too. After he stopped going, he went for nature walks on Sundays with his awesome mom (Hi, Vivian!)  and they’d read and recite poetry together. Max said, “I thought we were praying, which says a lot about how I got here.” About his next song, “Holy Rider Pt. 4,” Max said, “this is the fourth time I’ve written this song about a preacher.” A lyric that sticks out to me is “The last thing I want / is to burn something down / The last thing I want is to ruin this song / To make anyone feel like they’re / hearing it wrong.” One of the things that Ken talked to Max about is how many times Max comes back to songs and changes them. On Stagger, 3 of 11 songs are titled as PT. 2, one is PT. 4, and one is PT. 1. Songwriting for Max is a never ending process, for sure.

Max is also writing songs about what’s going on in our world today–the good, the bad, and the ugly. He talked about the for profit prison system in Louisiana, which had the world largest prison population per capita. He talked about the crazy laws there designed to keep people in jail. For example, the second time you steal a car in Louisiana, you have to go to jail for 24 years. He wrote a song about the guy who profits from the system–he “probably has a house and wife and kids and this is a song about that guy.”

“Gone” is a song from Max’s 2017 release, Motorhome. Maybe five years after quitting church, Max started going back to because “this girl I liked was going there and one day we both admitted to each other that we didn’t like church at all.” They snuck away from church during the 4th of July fireworks, got on a bus, and took off to Canada together.

Max encouraged us to ask questions throughout the night, and someone asked about “Funeral Guests,” which is a stunning song. The lyrics are heart-wrenching:

I asked him not to tell everyone else
Alright he said
But they all like you
so much more than you like yourself

When he died
his mother called
to talk to me about his funeral guests
She said she wanted
to get to know me
to understand what I was to him

I said I don’t know myself
but I think he did

Someone asked if it was autobiographical, I think, but it’s not. Max said he was leaving a show in Burlington, Vermont headed for Cleveland, and he was listening to A Little Life and crying in the car a lot, so he didn’t notice that Google maps had adjusted his route to save him 5 minutes by sending him along the Trans-Canada Highway until he found himself sitting at the border without a passport. He finagled his way onward, but pulled over to write that song so he could spend a bit more time with the character in the book.

To introduce “New Sweden,” Max joked that “people in Sweden don’t love the idea of New Sweden.” That song is heavy, and it’s evolved over the years to its current incarnation. Afterwards, Max introduced us to his band–his mom’s suitcase from when she was in college and one of her suitcases from when she was in her twenties. Max introduced “Rich Man” by saying it feels like the first song he’s written that’s completely in his voice. Spencer Albee produced the song and wrote about “Rich Man” on his Facebook page ahead of the show:

“This song is intimate, honest and vulnerable. To my ears, ‘protest’ songs are usually heavy handed, or they are pandering to a particular audience, but this one is different. What I hear in this song, and what I relate to most, is that this is the voice of a person in the world who is trying to make sense of all the crazy shit going on around them.

It strikes a chord.

That’s why I really wanted to help bring it to life. Max is a tremendous guy. ‘Rich Man’ is a tremendous song.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Spencer, and I hope you’ll give “Rich Man” a listen. Max also played it on 207 the week before this show. I am so glad that Max is getting the attention we know he deserves, though I doubt he thinks he deserves any attention at all.

Max told us the backstory of the “Crow Song.” His record label, Son Canciones, invites two musicians from their label to meet on a working farm in Barcelona and spend a week together to write and record an album. Max said, “it sounded wonderful and romantic, but I got there and it was the worst.” He said it was beautiful on the farm–he watched horses galloping by–but he couldn’t think of any songs at all. He searched for inspiration inside the very old farmhouse, and eventually found a dark room and sat down to strum a few chords when a crow randomly stepped out of the fireplace, got upset that Max was there and tried to escape, but just kept hitting the walls again and again, missing the small exit, until he died. We tried not to laugh when Max told us that the poor crow inspired the first he wrote that week. Max is decidedly an introvert, so when he asked us to sing along with “Crow Song,” he readily admitted he probably wouldn’t if he were in the crowd. Our friend Ken has a booming voice, and without naming him, I knew why Max knew it would work on this particular night to ask us to sing. We closed Max’s set together while he unplugged and came to the front of the stage with the hopeful lines “I’ll be home where I go / I’ll be home wherever I go / I’ll be home where I go / Someday.”

We cheered for an encore, so Max played “Grand Marquis” for us. The main character of the song is a 1986 Grand Marquis that Max found on Craigslist when his van died. Max chuckled as he told us that it “wasn’t listed as a car–it was listed as a one bedroom apartment. I called the guy and we talked about it over the phone and after a long time, he told me it didn’t have an engine. So I didn’t get it, and wrote a song about it instead.”

This was a spectacular night. Max has hit his stride with banter even though it pains him some and he made us laugh a lot, despite how serious and heavy many of his songs are. I grabbed a physical copy of Stagger that night, but I suspect they’re all gone by now. The only place where you can find it for now is here, and I really encourage you to listen. I am not at all exaggerating when I say that I have listened to it probably 20 times straight through on repeat in the couple of weeks since the show. It is by far my favorite MGC album.

I can’t pick a favorite song on Stagger, but a handful of lines that I haven’t mentioned above really do stick out to me at every listen. In “We’ll Be Friends,” I love the notion that“this is bravery / this is the romance of the century / this is music right in front of me.” Also, in “The End of Fables,” the image that “the shepherd shot the sheep / Fell to his knees and he cried / They looked like wolves to me” is particularly heartbreaking. Stagger is incredibly well-written and Max’s songs are more melodic than I’m used to in a way that I find intriguing.

This post is so long, but it was a night worthy of a thorough recap. I do that for the musicians I really love. Max is surely one of them.

xo,

bree

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Rose Cousins and Mark Erelli

Friday, June 8, 2018

Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield, Maine

This is a really long post. Sometimes I love an artist and go overboard.

Rose Cousins is one of those tremendously talented singer-songwriters who is far less known that she should be. I was introduced to her by Mike Miclon, who is the Executive Artist Director of Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center in Gardiner, Maine, for which I serve on the Board of Directors. Mike put together a compilation CD a couple of years ago of all of the upcoming acts at Johnson Hall, and Rose was on it. Her song “Go First” stole my heart in the first 15 seconds, and so I went to her show with Carol Noonan, Duke Levine, and Kevin Barryin March of 2016. Her songs are stunningly heart-wrenching, but she raises your spirit with witty, self-deprecating banter between songs. Her live show is definitely an emotional roller coaster ride.

Colin texted me two days before the show to ask me to join him to see Rose Cousins and Mark Erelli. I’d somehow never been to Stone Mountain Arts Centerin Brownfield, because it’s a solid couple of hours away from my house and felt very far out of the way. I jumped at the invitation, knowing that this was the perfect show to be my first there, and Colin offered to drive, which was a bonus. I hate to write this next sentence, but it’s burned into my memory. Colin and I were five cars behind a fatal accident on Route 113 in Brownfield on our way to Stone Mountain. I looked for information after the show online to see if what we saw was what we thought we’d seen (it sadly was), and found out that particular stretch of road near SMAC has been home to many fatal accidents, which gave me pause. My heart is still heavy for that person and their family.

Colin and I arrived a little bit after doors opened, a bit shaken from the accident, but hopeful everyone was going to be okay. For those of you who have also not been to Stone Mountain, you pick up a number in order of your arrival, which is the number you wait to hear before you get seated for dinner and the show. Colin and I were maybe number 21, and we were seated four or five rows away from the stage. We had a delicious but very expensive dinner (our shrimp pizza alone was $33!), and you need to be prepared with cash, because SMAC doesn’t accept credit cards. I think we split dinner and each paid $51, which is quite pricey to me, but was part of an elevated show experience. Anyhow, be prepared with that information before you go, if you haven’t visited SMAC yet. I really appreciate how much effort Carol Noonan (she played with Rose at Johnson Hall and spoke so much about how important live music is to a thriving community) has put into creating a venue that artists will want to play and show goers will want to frequent. It is a LISTENING ROOM. Period. I loved it. Photography and talking during the show was clearly prohibited, and it was amazing to see such a big crowd all intently focused on the show for a change. (Also, I did take one photo, but just so readers can see what a gorgeous venue SMAC is. I took it in 5 seconds from the bathroom door in the rear of the room and literally no one could see me and I obstructed no one’s view–promise promise!)

img_3226img_3248Rose Cousins and Mark Erelli took the stage and played in the round all night. I hadn’t seen Mark since 2012 playing with the incredible Lori McKenna, but he is warm in person and puts on a great show. Rose joked in between all of her depressing songs, and started the show by saying that she likes playing in Maine because Mainers have a deeper appreciation for Canadians because we’re literally attached. She told us that she quit her job in 2005 and the first thing she did was open for Mark Erelli at Club Passim. She opened the night with “Freedom.” A couple of songs later, she quipped “here’s a devastating little number called ‘White Flag.’” I absolutely LOVE it when artists tell us what inspired their songs, and Rose and Mark introduced every single song with thoughtful details all night. I was totally blissed out by that, the exceptional audience concert going etiquette, and the heartbreakingly beautiful songs.

Mark introduced “Look Up” (a song he said was one of those “don’t blink songs”) by telling us that he and Rose had realized “there were short but clearly definable stretches of the program where we were going to be unable to save you from double or even triple devastation.” Rose told us that Mark is so good at writing story songs, but she usually goes straight into an emotion that’s extremely uncomfortable and talks about that in her song instead. She told us both her mom and sister are married to farmers, and that she has a deep respect for how much work that is for them, which she fleshes out in “Farmer’s Wife.” Rose also mentioned that “Lock and Key” is about those people in your life who you are drawn to who are disruptive to your life who “you don’t want around but also do really want around.”  

Mark played “The Hitter” for his son, who’s team was just eliminated in his Little League playoffs. He said he’d searching for cell service around SMAC (there isn’t any) to get text updates about the game. Mark and Rose have been playing an annual cover song show together for 13 or 14 years (they couldn’t remember) and recorded an album called Mixtape of the songs they’ve played at those shows. Mark joked that making his fans a mix tape was his way of “asking my audience to go steady” to introduce their cover of “Ophelia” by The Band.

Mark and Rose had just arrived at SMAC after an annual songwriting retreat on an island in New Hampshire. Mark and Rose both talked about how important that week is to them at length. Mark said, “there were maybe 18 of us this year and I think we wrote 63 songs together in five days.” He said that he collects scraps of lyrics and tells himself he’ll turn them into songs at the retreat. Mark and Rose played a song he wrote on the island a couple of days earlier inspired by just three lines on an otherwise blank notebook page called “Handmade.” It was gorgeous.

Rose also raved about the retreat. She said, it’s a “privilege to be with these nutritious friend. All year long, I empty my tank and this retreat is the best part of my year when I refill my tank.” They rough it on the island–there’s poor cell signal, no wifi, and no showers–but everyone comes together and is excited to be there to create with a creative community. Rose turned a conversation on the island with a friend who is a mother of two into a GORGEOUS, heartbreaking song about the perception others have of you compared to how you really feel you’re doing. She explained that “as a mom, you want to make everything so great and fix your kids’ emotions when they’re sad. As my dad would say, ‘they’re just emotions.’” The lyrics of her new, untitled song are stunning–“I wish my heart was a hammer, I’d put you back together, but it’s just a heart, like yours. If my hands were a pedal, I’d pull you through this struggle, but they’re just hands, like yours. Here’s what these hands can do. Be here to hold you. And when you lose your way, here’s what my heart would say–love comes back around.” I felt like the whole audience held our breath from start to finish to not interrupt a single second of that incredible song. What a treasure Rose is. I hope she appreciates how impressive her skill to express feelings so beautifully in song really is.

A few years ago, Rose told us that she arrived at the retreat feeling like a “garbage person” and wanted to write an anthemic song called “Grace.” She said she was “thinking about how it’s such a great way to walk in the world but sometimes it’s hard to apply grace in the moment.” “Freedom” rolled out of her at the retreat first, but then “Grace” came, with help from Mark Erelli. “Grace” won Song of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards, and she said it is a testament to how important that week of songwriting on the island is. Mark agreed and told us that everyone brings little pieces of ideas to the island and they work together to form songs and everyone is changed in the process. It inspired “For a Song.”

Rose told us that she wrote “Tender Is the Man” with the intention of “relieving men of the shame of having emotions.” She said “society makes it hard for that to be a normal human thing. Men are taught to compact and push aside their feelings, and that discomfort is emotion and if you want to talk about it, you can. I recorded it and realized that I have shame about having emotions, too.”

I was sad not to hear “Go First” in person again, but Rose closed with another of my favorite of her songs,“Chosen.” Rose will be back at SMAC on August 5 opening for the incredible Patty Griffin. Tickets are $100 each to support Brownfield’s Public Library. Before she sang, she told us that “Chosen” is “about the disparity between how we present ourselves in the world and how we feel about each other and the quest to bring those two things closer together.” She asked us to sing the “ooohs” together and fostered a beautiful feeling of unity in the room while she sang lyrics that bravely express self doubt and vulnerability. It felt like just the right note on which to end this beautiful evening. Rose is such a sharp lyricist, and “Chosen” is no exception–“take these arms, these legs, they are broken. This love is too much, I am frozen. And I don’t know if I have what it takes to be chosen. I arose with wings, and I am flightless. Someone’s carving a statue in my likeness and I will never live up to this portrait. I’m just posing. And I don’t know if I have what it takes to be chosen.” To hear these lyrics sung in person make them even better. Please see Rose Cousins when she comes to your town.

The crowd erupted with the first noise we’d made all night (thanks, fellow show-goers, for being so wonderfully attentive!), and Mark and Rose came back to the stage and played a lovely cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind.” I felt lucky to be in the room that night. Thank you, Rose and Mark, for the gift of your vulnerability and honesty in your songwriting and your bravery in sharing your heart with your fans.

xo,

bree

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Good Old War with Juke Ross

Monday, June 4, 2018

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I needed this show to go well more than I’d realized. I’ve seen many of my favorite musicians play in the last couple of years to crowds that were rudely on their phones or talking the whole show. It’s gotten disheartening, but this show was different, and helped restore my faith in audiences a little bit. Last night’s crowd was small (it was a Monday, after all), attentive, polite, and clearly appreciated being there. A special thanks to my fellow show-goers for making this such a great night!

I saw Philadelphia’s Keith [Good]win, Tim Arn[old], and Dan Sch[war]tz of Good Old War for the first time opening for my beloved Brandi Carlile at Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom back in 2010, but I’ve known their music for the whole decade they’ve been together. You know a band is great when they open the show for someone you really love, but you’re not in a hurry for them to get off stage. I’ve seen them a handful of times in person, and they are always great. I last saw them open for Josh Ritter at State Theatre in October 2017, and before that at Port City Music Hallin September of 2015. I was so glad to see they were coming back to town just six months after their last stop in Portland.

I checked out show opener, Juke Ross, online before heading down to Portland, and was eager to see him in person after watching this video of a gorgeous live performance of his song, “Colour Me.”Juke is a young singer-songwriter from Guyana, South America, which is on the Caribbean. Doors opened at Port City Music Hall an hour earlier than normal last night, and Juke Ross took the stage a few minutes after 7. There may have been 20 people in the room when he took the stage, but he decided to engage us even though we were such a small crowd, and I commend him for that. His voice is unique and lovely. He told us a little bit of the backstory behind most of his simple songs, and he shined on his cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” I had a photo pass for the show last night from Good Old War, and I’d meant to take a few shots of Juke, but his songs were so delicate and the crowd was so attentive, that I decided my shutter would be a distraction. It’s really rare to have people at a show be so quiet and focused on the performer that taking a picture would be disruptive. I was psyched that was the case, for a change!

Juke Ross

I was pretty excited that this was an early show, and that Good Old War was on stage by 8pm. They played for a solid two hours, which was such a treat. They opened with “Coney Island,” and then told us that to celebrate their 10 year band anniversary, they’d play their first album, Only Way to Be Alone, from start to finish for us. The crowd had grown by then, and people around me seemed pretty excited to hear that announcement. Keith introduced “We’ve Come A Long Way” by telling us that he and his wife had dated and broken up in 8th grade, but that they got back together about a decade ago as Good Old War formed.

 

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Keith Goodwin

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Tim Arnold

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Good Old War, from L to R:  Kevin Goodwin, Dan Schwartz, and Tim Arnold

IMG_6335After they finished playing Only Way to Be Alone, GOW took and played many, many audience requests, including “Amazing Eyes,” “My Own Sinking Ship,” and the song Keith said is his favorite to play live, Woody’s Hood Boogie Woogie.” Keith remembered that they usually unplug and play part of their set from the floor at Port City Music Hall shows (which is just awesome), and asked us “should we play the rest of the songs down there?” We agreed enthusiastically, so the crowd parted for Keith, Tim, and Dan and the maybe 80-100 of us there encircled them for the rest of the night. Dan played guitar, and we all sang the last ten songs of the night together, which I thought was lovely and special. Also, the people around me had nice voices! Bonus!They started with “Loud Love,” which is one of my favorites. There was a kiddo named Clover who requested “Never Gonna See Me Cry,” so they played that for her even though they hadn’t practiced it and weren’t confident they knew the words (they didn’t, but figured it out). I was really happy to hear “I Should Go” and “That’s Some Dream.” They played “Here Are The Problems” as a request even though they weren’t sure they’d remember it, either. After a couple of songs they didn’t remember well, Keith wanted to play some newer songs they knew better and so they played “In a Heartbeat” and “That Feeling” from their 2018 EP, Part of You.

Keith told us that he loves Portland and even brought his family on vacation to Maine. He said “I took a boat cruise for an hour and a half and you have Eventide and Fore Street! This place is the best!” Mainers tend to agree that this is a pretty special place, so I appreciated the compliment. GOW wrapped their delightful unplugged set with “Calling Me Names,” a “Happy Birthday” song that we all sang for Tanner, who turned 28 yesterday, and “Not Quite Happiness.” They thanked us for being a great audience and told us they’d be back soon. I sure hope so. They are such a pleasure to see live, every single time. I’m always a little surprised that this band isn’t more famous than they are. They deserve the recognition, for sure. Thanks for a really lovely night, y’all!

xo,

bree

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Apocalyptica

Friday, May 25, 2018

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I think nearly every song could be taken to the next level with the addition of a string section, so it shouldn’t surprise you (totally) that I’ve loved Metallica’s S&M (Symphony and Metallica) album for 20 years now. I saw a post from the State Theatre on Facebook announcing a show called Apocalyptica Plays Metallica by Four Cellos, and had literally no idea what it meant. I saw Metallica and cellos together in the same sentence, though, so put the show in my concert calendar without any additional research. A few days ahead of the show, the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra posted a contest on their Facebook and Instagram accounts for a single third row center ticket for the show, which I entered and won. I am SO GLAD that I went to this show on a whim. It was supremely entertaining.

I grabbed my seat and chatted with other Metallica fans around me, who totally knew Apocalyptica and were really excited for the show. I took that as a good sign, but I was SO surprised by how cool and just totally fun this show was. Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, Paavo Lötjönen, and Antero Manninen were the current touring lineup of Apocalyptica, and the first half of the show was literally the four of them playing four cellos across the stage. They were amazing! I obviously had to look Apocalyptica up after the show, and learned that they are a Finnish orchestral rock band with eight studio releases, including their debut album from 1996, which was Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. I watched an interview with Eicca Toppinen, where he said he was told that Apocalyptica’s album of Metallica covers inspired Metallica to do their collaboration with The San Francisco Symphony in 1999 that became the S&M album. Apocalyptica was even invited to the performance.

After a pretty long intermission, Apocalyptica came back to the stage with Mikko Sirén on a giant drum kit for the second half of their show, which was a total blast and very much a rock concert. I had so much fun at this engaging, unexpectedly awesome show. Thanks for the ticket, MYRO!

xo,

bree

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Brandi Carlile with The Secret Sisters

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Orpheum Theatre, Boston

I hadn’t planned on going to this show because I’m really over the logistical hassles that come with any Boston show, but my best friend very thoughtfully bought me two tickets for this show for Christmas because she knows how much I love Brandi Carlile. I thought about selling the tickets because they were in the back of the room at Orpheum and I have a pretty firm 10 rows or less from the stage rule (I’m visually impaired and seeing performers’ faces matters to me), but I decided to make a weekend of it. I bet that’s probably just what my bestie was hoping I’d do, because this show just happened to fall on my birthday weekend.

My awesome friend Dot and I took the bus from Portland to Boston (we saw Malia Obama in the Concord Trailways station, too), had a delicious lunch in Chinatown, checked in early to our beautiful room at the Revere Hotel Boston Common, explored Boston Common on a perfect, sunny day, grabbed a drink on our hotel’s gorgeous rooftop deck, had a very uncomfortable dinner sitting next to a drunk husband verbally attacking his wife, recovered with a bonus stop for coffee and a lemon tart, and made it to Orpheum with time to spare to catch up with my pal Aimsel Ponti.

Aimsel had a great seat for the Friday night show, and she was so taken (duh, it’s Brandi), that she decided to buy a seat for the next night online, too. Aimsel’s seats both nights were about a thousand rows (okay, more like 25) in front of ours, so her show experience was much different than mine. 

Dot had never heard of The Secret Sisters, but I’ve seen them a handful of times now, and knew she’d enjoy their harmonies and pretty songs. Their most recent album, You Don’t Own Me Anymore, was produced by Brandi Carlile and earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Folk AlbumI’ve read interviews that The Secret Sisters almost quit making music after their label dropped them, but Brandi swooped in and fought hard for them to keep going. The crowd was sadly pretty chatty in the Orpheum all night, so it was hard for me to stay connected to either performance, which was quite disappointing.

Brandi Carlile and the twins–Phil and Tim Hanseroth–slayed like they always do. They give 110% every night, for sure, but I was sitting so far away from them that I really couldn’t see their faces. That, and people around me talked all night, and a handful of people a few rows in front of me decided to stand for the bulk of the show, so those of us behind them had to stand, and that just made it hard for me to see the stage and feel like part of a concert experience. Clearly, this was my least favorite Brandi show (this one was my favorite), but it had literally nothing to do with Brandi and the band–which included a lot storytelling (which I love), a string and horn section, and even The Secret Sisters on background vocals for some of the night.

Brandi said “if ever there was a band that should have been called something else, it’s this one, because there’s no lead singer” to introduce the stunning three part harmonies of “The Eye.” To introduce “The Mother” Brandi told us that most of the advice she’d gotten before becoming a mom didn’t ring true for her, and “if you’re thinking about having kids, give it some thought, because it will fundamentally shift your life.”

Brandi told us that “Phil was up late one night reading the news about an unidentified woman’s body found in a field in Georgia and no one never claimed her body. She was 30 years old and she’d given birth to someone at some point in her life. She had a tattoo of Jesus on her hand. It bothered him so much, that someone could leave the world without a proper name, that he wrote her a song”–“Fulton County Jane Doe.”

It took me a few songs to realize that they played every song from their new, deeply personal album, By the Way, I Forgive You, which included string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster, who passed away unexpectedly before the album was released. Brandi introduced “Party Of One” by telling us it was the last string arrangement Paul ever wrote, and that “I’ll never play it without thinking of him.” Brandi and the band cleared the stage, to thunderous applause.

They returned for a three song encore, and Brandi dedicated “Hold Out Your Hand” to the youth leading the March For Our Lives moment and to “all who amplify their voices.” You HAVE to watch the video for that song that came out last week. I cried. Laura, Lydia, and Brandi closed the night with a stunning a cappella version of “Amazing Grace,” which hit just the right note and sent us home with hope in our hearts.

I’ll see Brandi and the twins again this summer at Newport Folk Festival. I can’t wait to see them again, with what will surely be a far more attentive audience. This audience, from where I sat, didn’t deserve the show it got. We can do better, y’all.

xo,

bree

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Caitlin Canty with Noam Pikelny

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I saw Caitlin Canty by chance back in May of 2012. I was at a Jeffrey Foucault show at One Longfellow Square. At some point in the night he introduced his friend and fellow musician, Vermont’s Caitlin Canty. She was in Portland working on a new record with Sam Kapala (a founding member of Darlingside), and he had taken her out for dinner before the show. He asked her to join him for a song, and I was smitten with her airy, mesmerizing voice. What I didn’t know at the time was that I’d witnessed their first of what would be many, many performances together. I chatted for a while with Caitlin after that show back in 2012, and she has become a friend-in-music who I look forward to seeing whenever she’s in town. I hadn’t seen Caitlin live since 2015 when she moved away to Nashville, so I was really looking forward to seeing her back in Portland.

Colin kindly saved me a seat in the front row, and I arrived a few minutes before show time. I’d had a migraine at school earlier in the day, but I took a nap and rallied for the show. Caitlin and Noam Pikelny took the stage just after 8, and opened with a beautiful song that caught the attention of NPR, “Get Up.” I love that song, and Caitlin grabbed everyone’s attention from the first measure of it, too. Something I noticed even more at this show than last time is that Caitlin has this Alison Krauss quality to her voice where every single sound she makes is truly gorgeous.

Caitlin told us about a song from the Golden Hour album she released back in 2012, “Dotted Line,” that made its way onto House of Cards. She told us “it’s a very good day for a songwriter” when a television show picks up a song. Caitlin, her mom, and her brother watched the episode to hear her song, but didn’t hear it. She’d already cashed the check, so she was puzzled. They watched it again, and realized that they heard three instrumental measures of it during a creepy moment where a woman carrying groceries was being followed down a street. Caitlin laughed and told us it was pretty ironic that one of her “kindest, friendliest” songs was the soundtrack of such a creepy on screen moment.We saw Caitlin and Noam at the end of the release tour for her newest album, Motel Bouquet, which they played every song from for us. Noam produced her album, although he normally tours with The Punch Brothers. It was really a treat to hear him play in such a tiny venue. Caitlin had played a hometown show in Vermont a night or two earlier, and she said it was a community effort. The show was in a space that’s not normally a venue, so her dad and brother set up chairs, her high school music teacher ran the sound, and they borrowed a rug from a neighbor to absorb some of the echo on stage. She joked that compared to that show “you’re all sitting so quietly and you’re not sweaty from setting up chairs or anything.”

Caitlin’s album is named for a bouquet of flowers someone left for her after a show that inspired a song, but she’d thought about naming it Who after one of her favorite songs on the album. She said she was so lucky to have Noam as her producer for many reasons, but also because he talked her out of naming her album Caitlin Canty: Who? Noam chimed in that it was “better than Caitlin Canty: Why?” Noam and Caitlin struck a deal that she’d play a song solo if he would. Noam introduced his solo song by telling us that a year and a half ago, “it became apparent that it was time, yet again, to milk the instrumental banjo cash cow.” His 2017 release, Universal Favorite, is mostly instrumental banjo music. He joked, “I’ll play you guys the first track off the record, a 53 minute piece, so lock the doors.” The song he played, “Wavelength,” was GORGEOUS. I had no idea that banjo could sound like that. Noam didn’t say much, but he was funny when he did talk. Caitlin mentioned that Noam’s friend texted that he couldn’t make it to the show because his guinea pig died. Noam chimed in, “some of you are laughing right now, but not me. It’s the strangest excuse yet, and shows folks are having to dig real deep to find excuses to not come out to hear me play.”

Caitlin told the story of how she’d come to sing her first song on stage at One Longfellow Square with Jeffrey Foucault, and thanked OLS for their continued support. She generously offered to give anyone who signed up to become a One Longfellow Square member that night one of her albums, which was very kind. She told us that she loves playing her songs for “cold weather folks, but they tend to scoot right out the door after the show.” She asked us to stop by the merch table and say hello before heading home.

I can’t remember what Caitlin played last, but my favorite song on Hotel Bouquet (which I’ve listened to a lot in the car over the last week) so far is “Leaping Out.” I do know that she and Noam earned and we gave a standing ovation. They treated us to one last song, a cover of Emmylou Harris’ “Tennessee Waltz” in honor of heading home to Nashville the next day after a successful record release tour. Caitlin remembered me when I saw her after the show and we chatted about how much she’s loved living in Nashville. I’m so happy for her success.

Colin saw Caitlin open for Josh Ritter last night in Portsmouth, and she’ll be back in town on July 20 opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter at the State Theatre. Caitlin is so worth hearing in person, and I hope you’ll check her out!

xo,

bree

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An Evening with Drew Holcomb and Josh Garrels with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

Friday, April 27, 2018

Aura, Portland, Maine

This is somehow a much longer post than I’d meant to write.

I’d wanted to check out Drew Holcomband Josh Garrels for quite a while, so I was really glad to have the opportunity to see both bands together right in Portland. When I saw that Maine Youth Rock Orchestra was playing with both of them, I knew it would be an even better show. I’m a sucker for a string section, and MYRO is so impressive.

I made it to Aura with about ten minutes before showtime. I have to say this–I don’t like Aura, and I try to avoid going to shows there. Primarily, it’s because of the staff at the door. I’ve been there a handful of times, and the folks at the door are never welcoming. In fact, every time I’ve been, the first words someone says to me are “are you drinking tonight?” I’d recommend trying “Hello! Welcome to Aura” instead. I am never drinking at a show, because I’m there for the music, so I bought a ticket and started to head towards the metal detectors. Someone after the ID checker grabbed me and told me I needed a bracelet because I’m over 21. I told her that I wasn’t drinking, but she insisted that I needed to have my ID checked and needed a bracelet. The show was all ages, so I was really confused. The person checking IDs and the woman who stopped me before security disagreed about whether or not I needed to wear a bracelet in front of me. One insisted that they’d received directions to make everyone over 21 wear a bracelet. The other hadn’t gotten the memo. Either way, there shouldn’t be confusion at the door like that, and front of house staff should be on the same page and much friendlier. The whole time this exchange happened, the manager was steps away in the ticket office staring at a computer screen, ignoring all of the patrons he should be working hard to foster a positive impression of Aura with. This ends the constructive criticism portion of this post.

One of my favorite bands is Johnnyswim. They are husband and wife duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano from Los Angeles. They were easily the best live show I saw last year, and I’ll see them again this summer in Boston opening for NEEDTOBREATHE. Anyhow, Johnnyswim formed in Nashville, and they’re good friends with Drew Holcomb. Abner, Amanda, and Drew worked together to write some songs and just released an EP together called Goodbye Road. As if that collaboration wasn’t exciting enough, then they asked another of my true favorites, Penny & Sparrow, to work on the EP with them, including a gorgeous cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” that I learned after the fact was recorded last summer a week after Tom Petty’s death. Penny & Sparrow is another favorite band of mine that aren’t mainstream yet, so I hope you will check them out. I also put Penny & Sparrow on my list of top five shows of 2017, coming in right behind Johnnyswim at number two on my list. Both groups are an absolute pleasure to see live, and I hope you will at some point, because they’re both so good for what ails you.

Back to the this show.

Drew Holcomb and his band took the stage soon after I arrived, and they were great live. They were down a bandmate who’d gotten a call from his wife when they arrived in Portland, and hopped a flight home to meet their new baby. Drew’s guitarist decided to play piano to fill the void in sound, and I thought it was beautiful. Drew played “Ring the Bells” early in the set, which is one of the songs he co-wrote on the Goodbye Road EP. Drew chatted with the audience a fair amount during his set, which is the kind of personalized attention I really appreciate as a concert goer. He told us that he fell in love with his wife long before she returned the favor. They met in college and he tried not to be the guy that played music to get the girl, but had to go for it. He wrote “I Like To Be With Me When I’m With You” for her, and he joked that it took her from a “no” to a “maybe.” Someone in the crowd has sent him a message asking him to play “The Wine We Drink,” so he added it to his setlist. The lyrics are beautiful, too–“It’s in the miles we drive, never having to say goodbye/to the things we tell each other without saying a word./You are the one thing that I know.”

The Maine Youth Rock Orchestra joined Drew and the band for “American Beauty” and “Live Forever.” One of my favorite things about seeing MYRO play with bands is that the bands are always enamored with them and they often turn to watch the kids play with huge smiles on their faces. MYRO–y’all are impressive. Your hard work shows. You make the songs richer and more beautiful. It’s such a pleasure to hear you play!

Drew told us that he’s often asked what his favorite song he’s written is.  He said “if I had just one song to be proud of” it would be “What Would I Do Without You,” which he said almost didn’t make the cut to be on his 2013 album, Good Light, because the producer and a couple of guys in the band didn’t like the song much. He said he was glad they’d be wrong about it. He also told us a funny story about his all time favorite fan interaction. He’d been at the Austin City Limits Festival when he noticed a guy walking his way wearing a Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors t shirt and carrying a baby in his arms. He thanked Drew for his music and told him the baby had been conceived while listening to his music. Drew said it was the best compliment he’d ever gotten about his music.

I knew nothing about Josh Garrels except that his song “Farther Along” has been popping up on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist for ages. I didn’t know any of his other music, but liked that one song enough to know I wanted to see him live someday. I had not caught on that Josh is definitely a Christian artist. One of the first songs he played for us was called “Break Bread,” which was my first clue. It got much more evident after “Slip Away,” because Josh spoke for a solid five minutes about redemption. He said, and I am paraphrasing, “Some things that happen can’t be taken back or put back together. There is tragedy and loss, but there is redemption, which is making something new and potentially even more beautiful than it was before. For those of you who believe there is a God, he is in the business of redemption. I know the room. Some of you agree and some roll their eyes. Can there be good made from the awful things around us? I think we’re supposed to be agents of redemption in the world. We are not islands. Our decisions affect others. It’s scary to turn back and face it, though, but that’s called repentance. If you have the courage to turn around and face the wake you’ve created, you can see the things you thought were lost can be transformed.” I went to Seminary for five years and have a Master’s degree in Theology, so I was happy to hear from him about his beliefs, but I was a little surprised that the show turned more church meeting than concert. He acknowledged it, too, because he told us all of that had been “more than I’d planned to share.” He got a lot of amens from the crowd, though, so maybe I was the only one who didn’t know what to expect from him. No matter what I expected, his vibe was genuine and positive. He followed up his short sermon with “Ulysses,” which answers the question in “Slip Away”–can something be done about this? Josh says emphatically yes, there is hope for redemption.

MYRO joined Josh and his band for “Born Again” and “Morning Light.” They played beautifully, and it totally elevated the songs. A bit later in the set, Josh told us that his albums are all inspired by artists. His Home album was inspired by Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky apparently had a condition (Josh called it a “gift”) where he could see sound and hear color. His parents didn’t want him to be an artist, but he walked away from his lucrative job to be a painter and is considered a father of abstract art. Josh said he believes that color is connected to sound and that there’s more than our five senses can comprehend. He introduced “Colors”by asking us to consider “what are we singing and speaking and putting out into the world? Is it corruption, slander, jealousy, or are we speaking life and blessing and singing songs that blossom in the atmosphere and banish corruption?”

I saw Kevin Oates, MYRO’s founder and director, head towards the merch table towards the end of the night, so I skipped the last couple of songs of Josh Garrels’ set to catch up with him about MYRO and to chat about Portland’s summer music landscape. Kevin told me later that one of his MYRO artists came back from college to play that night because she’d been the one who’d asked for them to play with Josh Garrels someday. What an awesome opportunity for these kids to play with artists that mean a lot to them! Kevin is a passionate advocate for his students and for music education and MYRO students and families are lucky to have such a fabulous leader at the helm.

It was time for the encore, so I scooted back over towards the stage in time to enjoy Josh Garrels and his band invite Drew Holcomb and his band to the stage to join them for “Farther Along.” It was uplifting and energetic and a great note to leave the night on. Both bands were warm and conversational with the audience, played beautifully, and left Portland’s music scene a bit better than they found it.

xo,

bree

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