Tag Archives: Aimsel Ponti

Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Thompson’s Point, Portland, Maine

This night was an absolute blast! I’d planned to see Brandi and Jason the following weekend at the Newport Folk Festival, but bought a house and my closing date was too near. I actually didn’t have a ticket for this show because I’d planned on a bachelorette weekend getaway with girlfriends, but I needed to stay home and pack, so treated myself to a night out with one of my top favorite musicians. The show had sold out before I knew I needed a ticket, but my friend Aimsel connected me with a ticket, and even though she got to go to Brandi’s soundcheck and had a VIP ticket for the show, she popped over to fourth row center to hang out with Colin and me for a little bit before the show.

I got to Thompson’s Point at 5PM to be in line for doors at 6PM. There was already quite a long line when I arrived. Folks chatted happily in line, and I met Kristen, Caitlin, and Remy–a mom and her two daughters–who were also long-time Brandi fans (my first Brandi show was back in 2005). I caught Remy’s eye later in the crowd and we waved from across the fourth row, and we also bumped into each other and debriefed as we head out of the show later.

Colin and I grabbed an incredible fourth row center spot and met Steve and Donna, Zach (who’d come from Iowa), Lisa, and her 11-year-old nephew, Noah. We bonded and chatted for an hour and I was pretty psyched about the pocket of great people we’d ended up with.

Jason Isbell and his band, which sometimes, but on this night included his gorgeous wife, Amanda Shires, took the stage right on time. I’d never seen Jason live, but I love his songs. I especially liked “24 Frames,” “White Man’s World,” and “Cover Me Up.” He sounded great and they played a fun set for us, with a guest appearance from Brandi and her daughter Evangeline, too. I’d hoped Jason would be more of a storyteller in person, but he really let his songs speak for him and didn’t talk to us except to introduce members of the band. Jason Isbell threw a pick into the crowd and it came right for me. It bounced off my hand and right to the nice woman behind me who was a much bigger fan and I was glad I’d helped it get to her.

I knew the crowd would shift in between acts, but things got messy for us up front quickly once Jason left the stage. We were prepared to stick together, but I was surprised by how many people tried the “my friend is up there” line and the physical force to push their way forward route. I was particularly surprised because Brandi exudes love, and I was disappointed that so many fans used force to push their way up. I was most surprised that the people who pushed me were women in their 50s. The woman behind me was rightly furious that people pushed in front of her, and she let folks know. Many argued “this is a rock show” and “it’s general admission!” I had a woman (also in her 50s) press every inch of her body against my backside to try to push me forward. I told her to stop touching me and asked her if she was embarrassed by her behavior. She told me– “I’m completely at peace.” People are gross sometimes. Even Brandi fans. *If you haven’t arrived early to earn your spot up front, it’s not yours to take later. Concert etiquette 101.* Of course the women who pushed their way up front talked through the rest of the show and didn’t seem to pay much attention at all, which is *exactly* what I’d expected from folks that rude in the first place. Bad concert karma to them!

We settled into our pressed, but mostly intact group for Brandi, and tried to let the frustration of the full court press wash over us (it was hardest for me, I’m sure, because I’m a teacher and bad behavior is maddening). Brandi and the twins and their band took the stage, and the night improved quite quickly. They opened with “Every Time I Hear That Song” and the audience was immediately caught up in their energy.

Most of Brandi’s “the” songs–“The Eye,” “The Mother,” and “The Joke” came back-to-back and they’re all stunning in their own right. Brandi told us that “The Mother” is about her daughter Evangeline, but it’s really about everybody’s Evangeline. Brandi introduced “Sugartooth” by telling us that “everybody is somebody’s baby, some of them have fallen on really hard times. Nobody is just a criminal or an incarcerated person or a junkie.” Their cover of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” left me SPEECHLESS. I’d heard them play it back in May in Boston, but I was too far away at that show, so this was a totally different thing to hear it up close and personal. Brandi told us that “Party of One” is about a fight with a spouse, and the lyrics ring true–“Don’t even think about your freedom / Or taking that flight / Or going back upon your promise after fighting for the right / Because your eggshells and your right statements and your weaponized words / Are paper tigers now.” The tone took a sharp change after when Brandi and the twins left us with “Hold Out Your Hand.” The sold out crowd was in unison as we sang and clapped along, which I think we all needed.

No one really does a live show as well as Brandi, Tim, and Phil, and I am so grateful that I got to be right up close to feel all the goodness they showered on us that night!

xo,

bree

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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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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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Bill Murray, Jan Vogler, and Friends

Monday, April 23, 2018

Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine

I love Bill Murray a bit more than the next person. I was sitting in the passenger seat, enjoying the sunshine and watching beautiful green hills roll by just south of Monterey, California, when I noticed on Facebook that Maine Todaywas offering a chance to win tickets to an upcoming show. But not just any show, because *the* Bill Murray was coming to perform at Merrill Auditorium the following week. Maine Today asked folks to comment with where they’d like to run into Bill Murray in Portland before his show with Jan Vogler and Friends. I commented that I’d love to share some garlic green beans with Bill at Empire Chinese Kitchen and that I had specifically visited Sullivan Island, South Carolina (where Bill lives), just hoping I’d run into him last April when I traveled to Charleston. Sadly, I didn’t have a Bill Murray sighting that day, but Maine Today must have felt for me because they “randomly” picked me to win tickets! My friend Sheila had also commented on the post, so I invited her to join me. We even saved a seat for Bill (just in case) at Empire, hoping he’d join us for dinner before the show. Maybe you ran into Bill while he was in town? I know some people were so lucky!

Sheila and I were surprised by how close our seats at Merrill Auditorium were. Thank you, Maine Today! I ran into my fellow music enthusiast and friend, Aimsel Ponti, and we got to catch up a bit before the show. We had lots of music business to discuss, including Aimsel’s “Summer of Brandi” (Carlile) and our excitement for the Newport Folk Festival, too. Here’s Aimsel’s review of the show, which you should definitely check out.

I had no idea what to expect of this show, but was confident it would be entertaining. Apparently Bill and Jan Vogler met in an airport when Bill noted Jan’s cello case and struck up a conversation. They decided to “do something together,” and created a concept, an album, and a tour. We saw them on the last night of the tour, and it was obvious that they were sad it was ending. Their album, New Worlds, features Murray on vocals and narration, Vogler on cello, Vanessa Perez on piano, and Mira Wang on violin. Bill read from American classics, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and sang songs, like Van Morrison’s “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?” Bill sings imperfectly but sincerely, and he was incredibly well received. Vogler on cello, Wang on violin, and Perez on piano together were absolutely stunning, too. Bill joked some with the audience, though this was definitely not a comedic show. We laughed heartily after they’d performed their first pieces when he said, “this is generally when people in the audience look at each other and shrug their shoulders and think, ‘meh.’ Trust me, it’s going to get better.” I really enjoyed the show and am so glad I happened to see Maine Today’s Facebookpost, or I wouldn’t even have known it was happening in the first place.

After many encores (why I’m so sure the quartet was sad the tour was ending), a couple of audience sing alongs (“Loch Lomond” and “El Paso” come to mind), and a plug for Karen Duffy’s book Backbone about living with chronic pain, the show came almost actually to an end. But then Bill was handed two dozen long stemmed red roses by a stagehand. He stepped off stage to the orchestra seating and started handing out roses to folks in the doting crowd. He launched one to an eager fan in the balcony, which earned raucous applause because it was no easy feat to throw it that far. Bill worked his way around the rear of the orchestra seating to the side I was on. HE MADE EYE CONTACT WITH ME, AND GAVE ME A ROSE! My friend Sheila captured the very next moment, and I think you’ll be able to tell from my crazy eyes that I was pretty ecstatic about the whole thing. It didn’t even matter when I found out the next day that Bill handed out roses on other nights of the tour and it wasn’t an impromptu thing at all, because BILL AND I HAD A MOMENT, damn it. Frankly, I’m thrilled that other people did, too. Bill has enough heart to go around, and it was a pleasure to witness it in person.I am so thankful for this unexpectedly uplifting, entertaining night.

xo,

bree

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SnugHouse

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Portland House of Music and Events

My friend Aimsel Ponti hosts the Music from 207 radio show on WCLZ. She’s been playing “I Couldn’t Be” by Portland’s SnugHouse regularly, and it hits me right in the feels. Aimsel also called “I Couldn’t Be” one of her favorite songs of 2017. I finally looked SnugHouse up, and have been listening to their songs nonstop for weeks now. Nikhil Dasgupta is the primary songwriter for SnugHouse, and we talked local music shop talk by email and he let me know they were playing at Portland House of Music and Events last night. I decided to stay up late on a school night and check them out live mostly to hear “Brunswick” live, but also because Nikhil is also a Bowdoin College alumnus and that makes us family. SnugHouse was excellent live. Put this band on your radar.

I am a person who likes context, so I read this band feature on Rawkus and listened to their Studio Z performance on WCLZ to learn a bit about where SnugHouse came from. In it, I learned that their name is derived from local Portland pub, The Snug. It’s also evident that SnugHouse has gone through a few lineup and genre changes, but they seem to have settled on their current folky vibe and the lineup of Nikhil Dasgupta, Alex Millan, Rosie Borden, and Laura Pauline. SnugHouse also played on 207 this week ahead of their show at PHOME.

I grabbed a quick dinner at El Rayo, and made it to PHOME with time to catch up with my concert friend and fellow Bowdoin alumna Ally and her roommate, Jill. I met them both this summer at The Head and The Heart’s show at Thompson’s Point, and Ally and I have run into each other at lots of shows since then already. I found a good spot to take some photos of the band, and I ended up chatting with Nikhil’s adorably proud dad, who’d driven up from Boston from the show and had Nikhil’s mom on FaceTime the whole night so she could watch the show. It was precious.

SnugHouse played a long opening set–over an hour, and the audience was hooked. Everyone in the band took the lead on at least one song, and most of them write songs for the band, too. This is a talented group of musicians–with soulful songwriting, multi instrumentalists, and rich, lovely harmonies. They are wise beyond their years.

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SnugHouse is (from left to right):  Laura Pauline, Rosie Borden, Nikhil Dasgupta, and Alex Millan

IMG_6159SnugHouse played some incredibly well-received and creative covers, too–Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and “Philadelphia,” the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” the Commodores’ “Easy,” and “I Can’t Make you Love Me.” I was so glad to hear “Brunswick” and “I Couldn’t Be” in person. I really liked the songs that Rosie and Alex wrote and took lead on, too, including the one that Alex wrote and the group performed on 207 earlier this week.IMG_6162IMG_6206IMG_6215I chatted with Nikhil’s dad after the show for a while, and got to talk to both Nikhil and Alex for a while. This is a creative, talented group of musicians with many musical projects going, but I like the sound and vibe of this particular ensemble A LOT. Check them out!

xo,

bree

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Josh Ritter with Good Old War

Saturday, October 28, 2017

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

What an awesome night! I see a ton of music by myself, but I ended up with a hearty group of friends Saturday night, all right up front along the barricade. It was a truly A+ evening.

The folks at Empire Chinese Kitchen recognize me (it’s my go-to) and know that I’m probably grabbing a quick dinner before a show when I snag a solo seat at the bar, but my friend Colin (who I met years ago at Josh Ritter show) and his friend Meghan met me for pre-show drinks. I picked up my photo pass at the State Theatre box office and quickly made my way to the stage and grabbed a spot in the front row on the barricade. Colin and Meghan joined me, and my friend Bob surprised me by driving up from Massachusetts to join us (he and I met at an Iron & Wine show back in 2011 at the State Theatre). I chatted with Ashley and Marsha who were next to me along the barricade, and when my friend Grace and her husband Trent showed up, they all already knew each other. So what I’m saying is that Josh Ritter brings good people together and it was a delight to see a show with so many wonderful people. My friend Bartlett joined us, and then his friends Nick and Sarah showed up, too. It was a party.

I am a fan of show opener Good Old War, and I arrived when doors open to be sure I’d be right up front. I first saw Philadelphia’s Keith [Good]win, Tim Arn[old], and Dan Sch[war]tz open for Brandi Carlile back in 2010, but hadn’t caught them live since 2015. I supported their Pledge Music campaign to produce Broken Into Better Shape, and I wear the Good Old Warrior t-shirt they sent me often. It was a little strange to see them in such a big venue, because the thing I’ve enjoyed most about them live is how intimate it feels. They played an entire glorious set unplugged standing in the middle of the crowd when I saw them in 2015, but I suppose that’s not something an opening band can pull off when most people are usually only there for the headliner. Folks in the audience listened during their set, and I saw a bunch of people up front singing along to all of the songs, too.  I was so glad to hear “That’s Some Dream,” “Amazing Eyes,” and “My Own Sinking Ship” in person again. I’m pretty sure Good Old War didn’t play “Tell Me What You Want From Me,” which I expected to hear because 98.9 WCLZ plays it regularly. I am eager to see them as a headliner again, and hope they’ll come back to Maine soon.

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Good Old War

IMG_5923IMG_5925IMG_5928I have known about Josh Ritter for ages, and I’ve seen him a handful of times live, but I’ve never taken the time to dig into his music catalog until about a month ago. I’ve mostly gone to see him live because his music matters to people who matter to me and he puts on a great show. What I appreciate most about him as a performer is the joy he exudes in the form of a giant smile while he’s on stage. His music is layered and lyrical, and it’s laden with Bible references and heavy themes that don’t work for me as background music. What I’m trying to say is that his songs really deserve a listener’s attention. I also love a sad song, so listening to his newest album, Gathering, has been right up my alley. “Showboat,” “When Will I Be Changed,” “Train Go By,” and “Thunderbolt’s Goodnight” stick out to me on the album and all strike me as deeply personal, beautiful, and relatable.

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Josh Ritter

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Zack Hickman

Josh posted on Facebook when his album dropped that “I have never lived in times like these. That music somehow manages to survive and matter amidst the chaos seems ever more miraculous, ever more something to celebrate and be grateful for.” We are living in strange, dark days, but Gathering helps me feel a bit better, because Josh eloquently captures the sadness and makes the darkness feel less isolating.

This was by far the most engaged I’ve been at a Josh Ritter show. I’d listened to him a lot in the weeks leading up to the show, and it was the first time I knew a lot of the words and could sing along. The crowd was awesome. I remember a few moments during the show when I realized I could only hear Josh–which is incredible in a big venue with multiple bars. People who love Josh listen to him, too, I guess, and it was a welcome treat to really hear an artist like that. Since no one was pushy or drunk or yelling I could relax. I took pictures during the first three songs of both sets, but I danced, had a few drinks, and enjoyed every moment.

Josh didn’t say a whole lot during the show, but we did learn that “Train Go By” was about a stint living in the country, where the only entertainment was to go park by the train tracks and watch the trains go by. That adventure didn’t last long. Josh humbly expressed his gratitude for having the opportunity to write music and perform for a living. Josh did three songs acoustic in the middle of his set, and Zack joined him for “Hopeful,” which is one of my favorites. Check out these lyrics–“How many times did you give all your love/And find out it was so far from enough?/I followed her out into the street in the rain/And the whole world stopped spinning and just went up in flames.” I have a lot of respect for an artist that will bear their soul, and Josh is one of them.

IMG_5989IMG_5992IMG_5994I loved the energy at the end of their set. They wrapped up with “When Will I Be Changed,” “Homecoming,” and “Getting Ready to Get Down,” which punctuated the night’s messages of hope and optimism and brought the energy up enough to encourage a dance party to end the show. I love acoustic music best, and loved the three song acoustic encore, especially “Roll On,” which is a song I didn’t know before. It has a particularly beautiful line in it, too–“Somewhere out there I believe in me.” Josh closed the night solo acoustic with “Girl in the War.” I loved this show and it hit me right in the feels to hear sadness, honesty, and hope mingled together in the air.

My friend Aimsel Ponti interviewed Josh a week or so before his Portland stop and asked some great questions that I wanted to know the answers to. Also, here’s a 45 minute set that Josh and bassist Zack Hickman played for 75 lucky fans at The Clown Lounge in St. Paul, and it captures their energy and current set list nicely.

To the woman in the bathroom who told me you liked my highlights–you made my night! I don’t have highlights, just a lot of gray hair.

My night wrapped with Bartlett, Nick, and Sarah over slices at Otto, and I ran into my friend Kevin Oates (the talented director of the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra) for hugs and catching up on the sidewalk on my way back to my car. This was such a fun night that was full of surprises from start to finish.

xo,

bree

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An Evening with Shovels & Rope

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

Some nights are good for your soul. This was one of them. It was just what I needed, actually. I guess that’s what makes this a longer post than I’d intended to write. Here goes!

I booked my ticket to Florida to visit my dad in February, introduced my beloved rescue cats Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher to friends, and made my way to Portland in time to grab a quick dinner at Empire with my friend-in-music, Aimsel Ponti. I actually saw husband and wife duo Shovels & Rope upstairs at Empire for the first time back in March of 2012. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst are a force. I was really glad to have the chance to see them again in Portland.

Aimsel and I nerded out about our favorite new albums, recent shows we’ve seen or booked, and bands we love over a delicious dinner, and we got to Port City Music Hall when doors opened. Port City graciously posted on Facebook to remind us that this was an intimate sold out “Evening with” Shovels & Rope, and that there was no opening act. I was psyched about that, too. It was awesome to be home and in bed at 10:30 on a school night.

Thanks, Aims, for taking this selfie. I am never in show pictures!

Aimsel and I grabbed a spot front row center next to preschool teacher Elise (she’s a regular Newport Folk Festival goer) and we all chatted about bands we love (man, that is good for what ails you). Charleston’s Cary Ann and Michael took the stage right at 8 o’clock, and they wowed for two solid hours. Their music is a powerful Southern folky rock and their mastery of so many instruments–their voices, guitar, kick drum, snare, tambourine, harmonica, shaker, and keys–are downright impressive. If I could sing like someone, I might just pick Cary Ann. Her raspy, powerful voice cuts right through. It was an absolute pleasure to be in their company. It was a real treat to be just five feet away, too, because I was clearly able to witness their passion and chemistry.

Cary Ann and Michael opened with a cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” that gathered our attention beautifully. Cary Ann told us about a trip to New Orleans for a wedding they went on where they got mixed up in a pedestrian parade of revelers by the river dressed in beautiful costumes. There was a moment at the river before the wedding where the revelers sang to say goodbye to people they’d lost in the year. She said it was a full circle moment of seeing life and death celebrated together, and it inspired “St. Anne’s Parade.”

This blurry picture sums up Shovels & Rope quite nicely

Times are hard for those who care about others these days. Cary Ann told us “We will be hopeful for you. You just hold on. We will keep holding on and will be holding onto it for you for when you’re ready to come back to the hopeful side.” It was nice to hear. Michael introduced “San Andreas Fault Line Blues” by telling us about driving their van from California to the east coast listening to Grapes of Wrath. The book was inspired by that part of the country, and they started to get loopy from the drive and imagined being able to hop into the book to tell the characters to watch out for the dangers in the book.

A newer song, “Come On Utah,” imagines a hero horse named Utah that helps people reconnect after a wall that was put up comes down. Cary Ann told us that they used to play four hour rock ‘n roll cover gigs in Charleston and used to depend on Tom Petty’s “Anything That’s Rock ‘n Roll” to propel them into the third set. She said “It was a dream back then that we would be out of that club and here playing for you someday. And on Tom Petty’s wings we will sail into the future.”

I go to shows because I want to have a concert experience. When musicians tell us the inspiration for their songs, I am happy to listen and learn. It makes the music mean more to me. Michael spoke for a bit about his dad, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. He told us that they’d recently had to move his dad into a place, “and that’s terrible. My parents have been married for 56 years and my dad is a musician. We used to jam with him a lot, and we still do, just in a new, weird way. He used to rope my mom into playing music with him and would buy weird instruments like an autoharp for her to play. We wrote this song a couple of years ago when he was a little bit better than he is now. We wrote it for my mother. Cary and my mom are besties. This is called ‘Mourning Song’ and it’s kind of weird to play because there’s real human stuff going on. . .”

Someone in the crowd responded “People can relate!”

Michael heard her and nodded, and said “and for that reason, we wanted to share it for you, to have a moment, whether it’s dark or joyful or whatever with you. And the idea of the song is that after he has left, he left my mom a few chords and a tune to remember him by, which I think would be a sweet thing for somebody to do. Anyhow, thank you for the indulgence.” Check out the lyrics:

Morning song, mourning song/You were always on my mind and even though now I am gone/I taught you these four chords so you could sing your mourning song.

It cuts right to the heart of everything, doesn’t it?

After a high octane, personal, interactive set, Shovels & Rope left the stage. They came back for a few songs, including a brand new one. They grabbed a piece of paper with typed lyrics and sang a powerful song for us (they’ve since started calling it “Oh Great, America”). Cary Ann told us that it is a reflection on the current state of affairs. There was a collective sigh. Michael told us, “Some of you might not agree with all of this and that’s fine. I’m just glad we are all here together in one room trying to celebrate something and have fun together, and I think that’s important given everything that’s going on. If it pisses you off, maybe just laugh it off and have a drink.” Check out some of the lyrics:

There’s a steady stream of insanity/In 2017/There’s a dog with the nuclear bomb in his mouth/ Everybody’s scared, everybody’s inspired/The world is under water/It’s also on fire/In 2017/You talk this, but you live like that/It says “Go back home” on your welcome mat/There’s constant unchecked brutality/A brave man takes a stand by dropping to a knee.

It’s heavy and timely, and gets right to the point. It would piss off my Uncle Steve, too. Oh well.

Oh Great, America!

This was an evening that I didn’t know I needed so much. It was really edifying. If Shovels & Rope come to your town, you owe it to yourself to check them out. If you think a wall between the US and Mexico is a good idea, maybe you won’t like them in person. I think you should check them out anyway.

xo,

bree

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