Wednesday, June 22, 2016
The Red Room at Café 939, Boston, MA
My friend Mac first introduced me to The Civil Wars on a cold winter’s night in 2009. John Paul White and Joy Williams were captivating. Their April 2009 set at Eddie’s Attic was recorded and released online as a free download a couple of months later on The Civil Wars’ website. The pair had undeniable musical chemistry and their songs resonated with me. I made a friend at an Iron & Wine show in 2011 who invited me to join him for Adele at the House of Blues in Boston a month later. Those tickets were impossible to get, so I was thrilled. I squealed out loud when I found out that The Civil Wars had been added to the bill and that I was going to get to finally see them live. I stayed after the show and approached John Paul White at the merch table, which is something I rarely do. I was sure he is a genuine person who would be kind (doesn’t it ruin it for you when you meet an artist whose music you care about, and they’re not?), and he was a dear. I told him that I’d been hoping to see them for a couple of years, and that I was actually more excited to see them that night. He glanced at Joy and said “don’t you think that deserves a group hug?” And then they hugged me. It was very, very sweet, and a moment I still recall fondly. I was lucky to see The Civil Wars again a handful of months later at Berklee’s Performing Arts Center in Boston from the fourth or fifth row. They were spellbinding. Then they broke up.
I was thrilled when I saw that John Paul White was writing music and was planning a tour. He produced Penny and Sparrow’s beautiful album, Let a Lover Drown You, which I’ve listened to countless times. I bought my ticket to see JPW at The Red Room at Café 939 at Berklee College of Music in Boston the minute they went on sale. I would not pass up an opportunity to see him live in such an intimate setting. My friend Jan and I drove to Boston and grabbed an early dinner at Bukowski’s and lined up before doors opened so we could be front and center, and it paid off, because we were able to stand a foot or two away from such talented musicians all night.
I’d first seen Laura and Lydia Rogers, The Secret Sisters, open for my beloved Brandi Carlile (she and the Twins are producing their upcoming album, too) about six months after first seeing The Civil Wars back in November of 2011 at Berklee in Boston. I loved their vintage vibe, beautiful harmonies, and funny audience banter. I got to see them again a couple of years later with my concert friend Bob (who’d taken me to see Adele and The Civil Wars) when they opened for Iron & Wine at State Theatre in Portland, Maine. The Secret Sisters played a half dozen songs and told stories and entertained thoroughly. I particularly liked “Carry Me,” which was such a sweet song about being daddy’s girls and having a wonderful father. I also really wish I could find a video of “He’s Fine” to share with you because I loved it and would love to listen to it again. I guess I’ll have to wait for the next album! Here they are on Jay Leno playing “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder,” which is on The Hunger Games sountrack. Check out “Rattle My Bones” to get a sense of their more upbeat side. They’re great.
John Paul White and his band took the stage and he poured his heart out for us. He played fifteen songs for a captivated audience (I still can’t believe I got to see him play in such a small venue from the front row!). He talked a lot with us about feeling conflicted about the songs that started to pour out of him because he knew he’d want to share them with the world and touring meant he’d have to spend some time away from his family. He asked us to come talk to him after the show to give him feedback about what resonated with us and what didn’t. I can’t think of a time a musician wore his heart on his sleeve more at a show. It was humbling to witness someone who so desperately wants his music to connect with people. His voice was clear and haunting as ever, and The Secret Sisters joined him throughout his set and added beautiful harmonies that amplified the message.
John Paul shared with us a song about his grandparents. He said he appreciates music you can step inside and become the character in, but didn’t know how to feel about this particular song because “I loved my grandfather and thought he walked on water, but he did not. He had a lot of demons and my grandmother raised fourteen children by herself.” He played “No One Will Ever Love You,” which was featured on season one of Nashville. It’s easy to be a character in this song, John Paul—“Don’t you try to tell me someone’s waiting/They’re not waiting for you/Oh and don’t you try to tell me that you’re wanted/That you’re needed/Cause it’s not true.” Oh my heart. Check out “The Martyr” on NPR Music and “What’s So” at Rolling Stone. I am so eager to have my hands on John Paul White’s upcoming album, “Beulah,” which will be released August 19. Thanks for coming back into our world and putting yourself out there so honestly, John Paul. You’ve been missed.