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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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Darlingside with Henry Jamison

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

This was a pretty spectacular Saturday. My friend Kay is fostering kittens (!), and Dan and I got to spend some time snuggling with them in the morning. I made Christmas cookies and watched A Christmas Prince (again) with my girlfriends and adorable almost one-year-old baby Norah, and had a delicious homemade dinner at Dan’s before the show. It was a really good day already, and the icing on the cake was getting to see Darlingside for their once-a-year Maine show.

I made my way over to Port City Music Hall just before 8. I ran into my buddy Aimsel Ponti at the door and met up with Colin and Sean up front along the stage for Darlingside and Henry Jamison. I saw Darlingside for the first time at One Longfellow Square back in 2012 and they impressed me with their rich harmonies and warm audience interaction. This was my eighth Darlingside show, and they are always a pleasure to see live.

I just missed seeing Henry Jamison live back in 2012 at The Oak + The Ax in Biddeford, Maine. I arrived late for a Joe Fletcher and brown bird co-headlining show, just as his Bowdoin College-era band, The Milkman’s Union, was wrapping up their set. I recognized Henry when he took the stage from his days living in Portland working at One Longfellow Square, and it was cool to see that he has become a known musician with a devoted following in the last few years.

Henry Jamison is a Burlington, Vermont native with a massive vocabulary and skillful, layered songs. He chatted warmly with the attentive crowd. He told us he’d done a bit the last few days where he introduced the members of Darlingside by revealing which Winnie the Pooh characters represented them best. He was joined on stage by Eric Maier on keys, Walker Allen on drums, and Willoughby Morse on guitar, and I liked the fullness of sound they produced together.

IMG_6773.jpgI’d never heard a Henry Jamison song before this show, and his songs are heavy and cerebral. I enjoyed him live. I looked him up after the show and saw a lot of praise for his debut album, The Wilds. The Guardian called it “a rare thing:  an unshowy, literate gem.” Henry joked about being the cover of the Portland Phoenix. The title of the article is “The Man, The Myth.” Henry joked that “the myth is that anybody knows about me.” I learned that Henry’s song “Real Peach,” which he closed his set with, has over 40 million streams on Spotify.

Henry’s next album, Gloria Duplex, comes out in February. Promotional material about the album from his publicist’s website says it’s “Henry’s razor sharp-focused look at masculinity in 2018.” I was also not at all surprised after seeing him live to also learn that his father is a classical composer and his mother an English professor. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree as far as vocation goes.

Darlingside took the stage to a pretty full house. I had time between sets to chat with Elise (who I’d met in the very same spot up front last fall at an intimate show with Shovels & Rope) and her sweetie, Stuart, who’d never seen Darlingside before. Darlingside is Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and Dave Senft. Their star is especially rising in 2018 with their first NPR Tiny Desk Concert, first appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, and a run of tour dates opening for Brandi Carlile. Dave thanked Henry for opening the show and told us–“I listen to Elton John when I’m happy and I listen to Henry Jamison when I’m sad, so I’ve come to associate Henry with my own sadness,” which I thought was a beautiful compliment, really.

The guys are a united front and are clearly great friends. They met at Williams College and have been a group for nearly a decade. Sam Kapala, their drummer for the first four or five years as a band, lives in Portland and was at the show, too. Without Sam, Darlingside is four guys with string instruments (and an occasional kick drum and tambourine) around a single microphone. I’d call their genre indie-folk, which is why what happened next was especially frustrating.

Here are a two paragraphs about concert etiquette. We’d all noticed at the end of Henry’s set that two women next to us who were standing at the end of the front row against the far wall were talking a fair amount. It’s always confusing to me when people buy concert tickets and have full voice conversations near the stage when musicians are performing. It’s disrespectful to the artists and to their fans. Someone near us finally said something to them. He asked them to please stop talking so we could hear the band. I heard it. It was innocuous. One of the women broke down sobbing in response. She sobbed for five straight songs. I haven’t seen anything like it at a show. Her sobs were almost as loud as her talking was, and we could all still sadly hear her over the band.

Another group of people pushed their way to the front between sets as people often do. If you really love a band, you should always get to the venue early and get a spot you’re happy with. It’s not fair to fans who arrived early to push your way through the crowd and cut in front of anyone. In this case, a family with young children was front row center, and this trio pushed their way right up to them and hovered immediately over them for the rest of the night. You might assume this move meant they really love and respect the band and wanted to be closer, but I know from experience that it usually doesn’t. They chatted loudly with one another from their front row center spot immediately underneath the band while Darlingside played and while fans nearby tried to listen. When members of the band bantered with the crowd, one of the women in the group responded back very loudly to every single comment as if she was having a private conversation with them. Don’t be that fan who demands attention from the band and interrupts their flow. Wait until after the show and say hello to the band at the merch table instead.

I’ve got to say that for a folk-ish show, I had a really hard time staying focused on the music, and I was touching the stage in the front row near the band. An audience has the power to make or break a concert experience. Towards the end of their lovely set (distracted or not, they’re amazing), Darlingside unplugged and jumped off stage to play a new song from the center of the room in the crowd. They’d played many songs from their 2018 album, Extralife, but closed with “God of Loss,” which is a favorite of mine. They came back to the stage and left us with “Best of the Best of Times” from Extralife, and you’ve got to check out the awesome (as always) video.

IMG_6785IMG_6796IMG_6805IMG_6818Darlingside is always a treat to see live and I feel lucky we’re still able to see them at an intimate venue like Port City Music Hall. See you guys next year!

xo,

bree

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SnugHouse

Friday, November 9, 2018

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I’m a big fan of Portland’s SnugHouse, and based on the love in the room at this near sell-out EP release show, many of you are, too. SnugHouse’s star has risen quickly in the year they’ve been a band. They played the WCLZ stage at the Old Port Festival in June, are played in regular rotation on Aimsel Ponti’s Music from 207 show on 98.9 WCLZ, and have been featured on 207 twice. If you somehow haven’t heard about SnugHouse yet, let me introduce you. Nikhil Dasgupta, Alex Millan, Laura Pauline, and Rosie Borden came together as solo artists and regulars at the open mic night at the Dogfish Bar in Portland. What they’ve created together is really special.

I was surprised to learn this was only my second SnugHouse show, because I like them so very much. I ran into Nikhil and Sam Kyzivat from Maine Youth Rock Orchestra a week earlier at a Mipso show at Portland House of Music and Events. Sam told me that he was joining SnugHouse on violin and keys for their upcoming tour, so I was even more excited for their Like Water EP release show at One Longfellow Square. I asked Dan to join me and he surprised me by making my favorite Indian dish and pakoras at home before the show. We made our way over to OLS and it was crowded when we got there at the end of the show opener’s set. We grabbed a front row balcony seat, and I got to say hello to Kevin Oates of MYRO and Geneviève Beaudoin (my delightful former student!) of Dead Gowns during intermission.

The energy in the room was supportive and warm. The audience was clearly full of friends, family, and fans, and the band obviously felt the love and were all smiles all night. They told us a bit about some of their songs, their recording process, and highlights from their EP release tour. I always appreciate storytelling on stage–it makes a show more of an experience. Something else I like about SnugHouse is that everyone in the band is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. They share the lead depending on who wrote the song they’re playing and move about the stage from instrument to instrument.

I thought their cover of “Fever” was fun and Laura debuted a new song she wrote called “A Love I’ve Never Had Before.” Laura told us that they didn’t have time to arrange it to play with the full band, so everyone cleared the stage while she sang and you could feel the positive energy her bandmates sent her way from the wings. It makes me happy to see a band that genuinely likes and supports one another. SnugHouse covered a sad, beautiful song by Donovan Woods called “I Ain’t Never Loved No One.” The original song features Rose Cousins, who is one of my top favorite artists.

Take a few minutes and check out SnugHouse. They’ve just put out videos for “Firefly” and “Glass” from Like Water.  They’re a treat in person.

xo,

bree

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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, 2018

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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