Tag Archives: Lori McKenna

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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Penny and Sparrow with Rose Cousins

Sunday, April 24, 2016

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I sold my house! I moved ten years of my possessions to my new place, which is half the size of my beloved old place! I also threw a senior prom for almost 250, senior awards night, graduation for almost 180, and went on the Project Graduation trip with my seniors. Now I’m feeling settled in my new place and am SO READY to get back to more live music in my life. I don’t know about you, but times are heavy and music helps me through. I offer you “Rise Up” from Andra Day at Austin City Limits, just in case you need a boost right this minute.

I have pondered what to write about the incredible Penny and Sparrow show I saw back in late April at One Longfellow Square for a long while. It was incredible and one of the BEST SHOWS I HAVE EVER SEEN. That’s a little hard to process, just like the show still is. I wish I could relive every moment. I am so glad my steadfast concert companion Colin joined me, because I needed backup. This show was intense. Overwhelming. Wonderful. It hit me so hard in the feels that I needed a tissue.

I’d been lucky to see Canada’s talented Rose Cousins back in March in my former sweet little town of Gardiner, Maine at Johnson Hall. She is hilarious and gritty and open live and is a true entertainer. Juxtaposed with her beautiful, depressing songs, it’s a lot to see her perform. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster between the sad songs and her sharp banter and storytelling. It prepared me really well for this night, though.

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Rose Cousins

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Rose Cousins took the stage and gushed about Austin’s Penny and Sparrow. She told us they’d met in January at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival and that “these men have more feelings than me.” And listening to them is like “wearing your favorite hoodie right out of the dryer.” She joked that it was nice to be touring with people who just play sad music “so I don’t have to explain myself.” Rose opened with a cover of Lori McKenna’s “Shake” (I haven’t seen Lori in ages, but her songs are so good) and “Go First,” which was featured in the finale of season 9 of Grey’s Anatomy (but not in the kind of scene Rose envisioned for her song).

We all sang along with Rose’s cover of “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and Rose told quippy stories in between these somber songs, including “Farmer’s Wife,” which she told us was inspired by her sister, who is (in fact) a farmer’s wife. Rose told us about her trip to Ireland last May to write and record a forthcoming album, which I am eager to hear. Rose wrapped her set with “Heart Be With Me Now,” “I Make Way For Love,” and “Tender is the Man,” all of which I assume/hope will be on her new album. She left the stage by telling us that there are “no tenderer men” than Andy and Kyle of Penny and Sparrow.

Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke took the stage and warmed the crowd immediately with light humor about our “summer” weather in Maine that had them both wearing double coats. Then, Kyle quietly strummed his guitar, Andy put his hands in his pockets and leaned toward the microphone, and “Gold” sprung from their mouths. It was one of those rare moments at a show when you start to get sad because you realize the night will end. I felt like that from the first note.

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Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke are Penny and Sparrow

I was not the only one entranced by Penny and Sparrow. Their sparse, evocative songs—Andy’s straightforward voice and Kyle’s gentle strumming and harmonies—are stunning. Kyle read our group response beautifully and told us our “give a damn” meter was high and it was a huge compliment to them and thanked us for listening. I laughed out loud in between songs at Kyle’s jokes, and then teared up during the songs. It was a lot to take in. Kyle told us that he gets it’s “taxing” (that’s the word he used) to listen to their music and genuinely appreciated we were along for the ride. He said it’s good to “shake your emotional snow globe” from time to time so that you don’t harden and can process your feelings. No kidding.

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Penny and Sparrow hit me in the feels with “Finery” and “Catalogue,” did a complete turnaround to sing a few lighthearted bars of “Hero” by Nickelback, and then got right back to it with Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.” Seeing them live is a ride I would have lined up for again immediately after the show. I wish I could relive the magic of this night. I wish you were all there, too.

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Kyle gave us a lengthy scenario about running into an ex at a dinner party to introduce “Bed Down.” He talked about a kind of love where you are intimately aware of the struggles but don’t leave—a love with “no escape hatch.” I’d seen NPR Music feature “Bed Down” as a “Song We Love” back in February, and that’s when I learned that my beloved John Paul White (formerly of The Civil Wars) produced their album. I got to see John Paul again a few weeks ago from the front row at Cafe 939 in Boston and he is so incredibly down to earth and talented. What a pairing for Penny and Sparrow’s third studio album.

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Rose Cousins joined Andy and Kyle for “Duet.” Andy introduced the song by saying there just weren’t enough songs about married love, so they wrote one. He said it’s about being together for a long time and still being into each other. The lyrics show resolve “Because I’ve seen you/And I know you/And I’m not going anywhere.”

This was a perfect night of music and easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I wish I could do it again. Thank you, Rose, Andy, and Kyle for a cathartic night of music, storytelling, and laughter. I am in awe of all of you. You shook my emotional snow globe, and I feel better for it. Please come back to Maine again. Come together, too, if you can.

xo,

bree

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Rose Cousins, Carol Noonan, Duke Levine, and Kevin Barry

Friday, March 18, 2016

Johnson Hall, Gardiner, Maine

Talk about a delightful night full of rock solid good music, plentiful laughs, and pro-community spirit. This show was a gem. Johnson Hall Executive Artist Director Mike Miclon handed out CDs full of music from this season’s Johnson Hall artists last fall during the season reveal event, and Rose Cousins’ “Go First” played on repeat in my car for weeks. Her voice is all the best things—soulful, clear, ethereal, and evocative. I had this show circled in permanent marker on my concert calendar for months. I feel lucky to have been there.

Carol Noonan is a name you know in the Maine music scene. A singer-songwriter with a long career, she is also the mastermind behind Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine. One of the things that I was struck by on this fabulous night was how complimentary she was of Gardiner and our effort to bring live music and new life to our community. When Mike welcomed everyone to the stage, he also announced that Lisa’s Legit Burritos, The Craft Beer Cellar, and Niche, Inc. (Gardiner’s new record store) were staying open late after the show and we were all going to go to all three places to support these local businesses. Carol was on board wholeheartedly. Before Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield wasn’t even a blip on the map, she said. Now, it’s a music destination that has inspired a lot of growth in the area. She said “music brings a community to life.” Johnson Hall has been a tremendous part of Gardiner’s growth with Mike Miclon at the helm. Gardiner’s time is now, and we have a wonderful community—one I feel proud and fortunate to be part of.

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From left to right–Rose Cousins, Carol Noonan, Duke Levine, and Kevin Barry

Rose Cousins, Carol Noonan, Duke Levine, and Kevin Barry took the stage together and played together the bulk of the night—alternating between Carol’s songs and Rose’s songs. Rose Cousins is a singer-songwriter who grew up on a potato farm in Prince Edward Island. The baby on stage that night, Carol joked that she graduated from high school the year that Rose Cousins was born. They met because Rose sent Carol her CD If You Were For Me (2006), and even though Carol receives so many submissions at Stone Mountain that she can’t listen to many, she picked up Rose’s album because she was drawn to the horse on the cover. A decade later, and they’re friends who play music together.

 

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Duke Levine is maybe best known for touring with The J. Geils Band and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Kevin Barry is an assistant professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston and has played with Paula Cole and Mary Chapin Carpenter, as well. Duke and Kevin have played together for ages, and have both played on both Carol and Rose’s albums, too.

I particularly liked Rose’s song, “Farmer’s Wife.” Rose spoke about growing up on a farm—one of five kids—and not really having a full appreciation of her mother’s role until her sister married a farmer and started her own family. Her 2014 Stray Birds EP includes a cover of Lori McKenna’s “Shake,” which the group played for us. Lori McKenna is a folk rock star. I just wrote about hearing her song “Girl Crush” that won a Grammy for Best Country Song covered by Ellis Paul at One Longfellow Square on January 1. I’ve only managed to see Lori live a couple of times, but sadly not since 2012 at One Longfellow Square in Portland with Mark Erelli. Rose was as much a storyteller in word as in song. She introduced “Chosen” by talking about how incredible it is to be chosen by someone but how it also gives you pause to think about all the things you don’t like about yourself. Her honesty was refreshing.

We cheered at the end of this night, thoroughly entertained by the stories and songs of these four talented musicians who are also friends and so supportive of each other. They took the stage for an encore and did an awesome cover of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” that we got to sing along with. It was a lovely way to bring the night to an end together.

I’m seeing Rose again on Sunday night (April 24) at One Longfellow Square opening for Nashville’s Penny and Sparrow. I’m really looking forward to it!

xo,

bree

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Going upstairs to see the concert hall at Johnson Hall never gets old! Just wait to see how it looks fully restored!

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Ellis Paul and Friends with Betty Soo

Friday, January 1, 2016

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

When I went to this show—my 45th Ellis Paul show—I knew my two-year-long relationship was essentially over (I respect that this is minor in the scheme of the universe), and I was feeling all the feelings. I also hadn’t really shared this information yet, so I was trying to hold it all together. I’m someone who doesn’t have a lot of interest in major holidays, but I’ve always loved the clean slate that comes with a new year, and I really wanted to make this night—the first of 2016—as happy as I could muster. I am so grateful for dear friends and the comfort of music. If ever there was someone I’d want to see perform while tending a broken heart, it’s Ellis Paul. His songs are vignettes—stories from many people’s lives—full of love and loss and change. Seeing an Ellis show, for me, is like being home wherever I am, despite whatever is going on. This was a well-timed night for this very uplifting show. I left feeling much better than I did when I arrived. That’s pretty high praise.

I had a lovely dinner at Empire with my friend Megan and her parents. She’d gifted them dinner and their first-ever Ellis Paul show for Christmas, and I got to tag along with them for the night. Colin, my steadfast concert friend, joined us and we filled in the middle of the second and third rows at One Longfellow Square. It was already pretty full when we got there fifteen minutes after the doors opened, so we were lucky to get such good seats at cozy OLS.

Austin, Texas’ Betty Soo opened the show. She was personable and seemed glad to be with us. She told us some of the gross band names she’d seen written on the walls downstairs in the green room (I’ll spare you). I particularly liked the song she wrote for her husband (who is her roadie and merch guy, too), “Whisper My Name.” Betty is a celebrated songwriter and was even named Kerrville New Folk Winner at the Kerrville Folk Festival.

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Betty Soo

I was so glad to see Don Conoscenti and Radoslav Lorkovic take the stage with Ellis Paul. From that moment forward, I soaked in the familiar songs, the friendly banter, and the opportunities to sing along (when invited). It was the best I’d heard Ellis sound in a while. Laurie MacAllister from Red Molly joined the gang for about 1/3 of the songs, including a heart wrenching cover of “To Make You Feel My Love” and a cover of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” which Massachusetts-based folk singer-songwriter Lori McKenna co-wrote and won a Best Country Song Grammy Award for. Colin kept track of the night’s set list, which is helpful now that I’m finally emerging from hibernation and writing this four months later. I was grateful to hear some of my favorite “older” Ellis songs like “3,000 Miles” and “Martyr’s Lounge,” peppered with great covers by the whole gang (Don sounded awesome on “What a Fool Believes”), and Ellis reading his book The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas. This show gave me exactly the escape I needed and helped me feel at least a little glad to see 2016, after all.

xo,

bree

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Don Conoscenti and Ellis Paul

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Ellis and Radoslav Lorkovic

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Rad

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The Nights the Lights Went Out on Christmas

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