Tag Archives: Maine

Rose Cousins and Mark Erelli

Friday, June 8, 2018

Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield, Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xo,

bree

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All Roads Music Festival

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Belfast, Maine

My best friend’s parents live on the ocean in picturesque Bayside, Maine, which is a tiny village on the ocean right next to Belfast. It’s my favorite place anywhere. When I saw that my beloved Ballroom Thieves were playing the All Roads Music Festival in Belfast, I decided to go. I made it to Bayside with time to enjoy a leisurely lunch and long walk with Beverly and Patrick the pup, and then I made my way over to the Colonial Theatre to see the Festival’s “Legacy” Artist–Maine folk legend David Mallett. Dave played probably eight songs, mostly requests, and took questions from the audience. I asked him if playing “Fire,” a song about a personal tragedy, makes him sad every time he plays it. He said it does if he thinks about his parents, and then he played “Fire” for me, which was a treat. My first concert ever was David Mallett back in 1982 in Harrington, Maine. I was two years old.

Love this photo I snapped before Dave Mallett’s set!

Maine’s own David Mallett with bassist Michael Burd

I found these when I sold my house last year. I know his name is spelled incorrectly, but I was only two years old! Someone else really should have caught that!

I stopped by to visit my friends Sierra and Rob, their kids, and their new baby chicks (!) at their house in Belfast for a bit and made it back to the Colonial to see a new favorite band of mine, Hannah Daman and the Martell Sisters, who are from Portland. I saw them open for Kaleo back in September of 2016, and they opened for Jamestown Revival a couple of weeks earlier on my birthday. They were really excellent that night, too, which I told a very gracious Hannah when I ran into her in the bathroom before their set. They sounded great the third time, too. Hannah and the Martelle Sisters will play the 98.9 WCLZ stage at the Old Port Festival this weekend, and you should really go check them out (I’ll be on Mt. Ararat’s Project Graduation trip, so have to miss it).

I grabbed a delicious dinner at Belfast’s new food truck turned brick and mortar restaurant, Neighborhood. I had to make some tough decisions about how to juggle a handful of shows I was interested in, so I snuck in a few minutes of Chris Ross and the North’s set at Colonial and then went over to the American Legion Hall for the rest of the night. I missed Spose’s high octane set (I’ve somehow never seen him live before), and the crowd was buzzing when I arrived. I ran into a slew of people I know when I got there, which was a lovely surprise, and I spent nearly the entire Mallett Brothers Band set catching up with the fabulous Jay Brown outside. Jay was a favorite student when I was student teaching in his eighth grade social studies classroom, back when he had frosted blonde hair and wore fleece vests. He is a creative force in Maine, having filmed, directed, and produced a plethora of music and promotional videos. His newest project is The Rove Lab. Jay’s been the best forever, and I love that he’s made a name for himself. He introduced me to a bunch of people in the backstage area, and it was great to catch up with him. I also loved seeing musicians catching up back there, too. It was abundantly clear that these bands are friends and relished the opportunity to hang out and see each other play live for a change. I did catch a couple of the Mallett Brothers Band’s songs and their dad joined them on stage for one of them. The audience ate them up. They’re a blast live.

Loved catching up with Jay Brown and his friend Ant. I’m also sporting my Maine Youth Rock Orchestra t shirt! Love MYRO! Thanks for these pictures, Jeff Kirlin!

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The Mallett Brothers Band joined by Dave Mallett

The Ballroom Thieves were the last band of the night, and the tech company struggled to get their sound up and running. There was a really short scheduled turnaround period between bands already, and there was loading in and out to get done in maybe just a 30 minute window. The soundcheck seemed frustrating for all involved, and the Thieves started their set 15 minutes late, which meant they could only play for 45 minutes because of Belfast’s noise ordinance, I assume. I took in the show from the front row with Thieves fans, Erin and Darcie, who both teach at Westbrook High School. We met at a Thieves show a couple of years ago and I like knowing I’ll see them whenever I see the Thieves live. The Thieves basically cut the banter out and played a set of their most upbeat songs. They played hard and the crowd surely enjoyed them, although they didn’t get the full Thieves experience, because they’re actually very engaging when not so rushed. I skipped the after party to get a good night’s sleep and woke up on the ocean in Bayside, which was exactly where I wanted to be.

Major Thieves fans right here!

All Roads Music Festival was great overall. I usually pass on music festivals, but this one was chill and well organized. I was impressed.

xo,

bree

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Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Saturday, July 30, 2016

L.L.Bean, Freeport, Maine

I’ve been hard on Grace Potter and on the L.L.Bean Summer Concert Series in the past. On this night, though, I gave them both a chance, and they were amazing. It was great to be wrong. Grace Potter is a rock star, through and through. I saw her live from the front at the State Theatre in Portland back in 2012, and although she sounded great, I found her sensual dance moves distracting. I was positioned basically right underneath her at that show, though, so having a little physical distance and fast forwarding four years, I just saw a tremendous talent.

I have loathed the L.L.Bean Summer Concert Series for ages. I think L.L.Bean needs to build a large amphitheatre outside of town with ample parking facilities. The knoll where shows are located between their stores is wholly inadequate for the caliber of shows they bring to town. I continue to be flummoxed by their policy allowing people to put up chairs for the show at 6AM the day of shows, as well. Back in 2010, I went with my friends Tricia and Rebecca to see Joshua Radin at L.L.Bean, and we got there (they’d driven up from Boston, in fact) at 1PM, picnic packed, ready to hang out on the lawn for the day and save a spot up close to see the show. When we arrived, though, we couldn’t get any closer than 25 rows from the stage, and we were the only people there for hours. People will often remind me that these shows are FREE, and that’s why I’d rather pay good money to get to venue early to get a great spot up front. I have only seen two L.L.Bean shows in five or so years. My friend Andrea insisted I give it another try, so she set up seats for Guster at 6AM the day of the show, and even then, I was so far from the stage (the stage barricade is quite far from the stage–am I right?) that I could barely see their faces on stage. This Grace Potter show was the other exception to my firm L.L.Bean ban. My friend Grace declared she needed a girls night and wanted to go, and then I heard that Grace Potter herself had insisted it be a dance party, so people couldn’t set up seats in the front at all. It was worth a shot, and it paid off beautifully. I think a lot of regular L.L.Bean show goers skipped the show because they couldn’t set up chairs. I would definitely go to more shows if this were the policy. We arrived around and were six rows back. People sat on the lawn until about an hour before the show and a staff member got on the mic to welcome us and tell us it was time to stand up. People spread out, and we were easily able to move right up to second row center.

We stood next to a sweet seven year old girl, who was a huge Grace Potter fan and seeing her first-ever concert. If you saw Grace come down to the crowd and give a guitar pick away, it was to this little girl. Grace totally won me over with that classy move. Her voice was raspy and strong, her banter upbeat, and her energy well beyond what most people could give from start to finish. She brought her dad Sparky on stage to dance (Grace didn’t inherit her dance moves from him) with her, and was an absolute delight. The crowd danced and sang along happily, and we had a blast.

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Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

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A pick hand delivered by Grace Potter to this adorable fan!

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I was very surprised that we had negative interactions with four pushy, loud people all trying to get to the front, especially because they were all people in their sixties. It’s just not what I expected. The seven year old girl’s mom played concert security guard for our whole area, though, and was able to convince three out of four folks to do the right thing and not push their way ahead of us. Overall, it let me just relax and enjoy the show, which I was grateful for, but this is worth noting. If you stake out a spot at a concert, it’s yours. If you arrive later and push your way to the front, that’s never okay.

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Grace and her dad, Sparky

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Grace designed the colorful dress (I’d call it a shirt, but I don’t have her legs) she was wearing, and it coordinated beautifully with an incredible sunset behind her. She invited us to think about our loved ones who have passed on before playing “Stars,” and wrapped her set with high octane crowd pleasers “Medicine” and “Paris (Ooh La La).” Grace went for it and really blew us all away. She’s playing in her home state of Vermont this weekend at the Grand Point North Festival in Burlington if you need another fix. She rocks.

xo,

bree

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Tricky Britches at the Gardiner Fire Relief Benefit Concert

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Gardiner Waterfront, Gardiner, Maine

Gardiner, Maine—the sweet little town I proudly call home—suffered a major fire on July 16, 2015. Four historical buildings on Water Street (our main drag downtown) were destroyed along with a few businesses and all the possessions of a dozen tenants. The Gardiner Fire Department responded swiftly and decisively, and with the help of many neighboring fire departments, was able to contain the fire.

Aerial views of the fire from Jason Daughtery via WMTW's Facebook page

Aerial views of the fire from Jason Daughtery via WMTW’s Facebook page

Gardiner's Water Street

Gardiner’s Water Street

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Although there was, amazingly, no loss of human life, a cat was reported lost in the fire. As a proud cat lady, my heart was heavy in the days that followed, not just because so many people had lost all of their cherished possessions, but also because Jolene’s cat, Carol Ann, was gone. I cried some tears over it. To my amazement, a few weeks later, I saw this post on Facebook:

Jolene and Carol Ann--reunited! Courtesy of Gardiner Police Department's Facebook Page

Jolene and Carol Ann–reunited! Courtesy of Gardiner Police Department’s Facebook Page

A kind soul in downtown Gardiner spotted a cat wandering around the rubble of the gutted buildings lost in the fire in the weeks that followed. The cat was taken to Kennebec Valley Humane Society, and Carol Ann, hereby dubbed “The Miracle Kitty!,” was found and reunited with her overjoyed mom, Jolene. My heart grew three sizes. I called At Home Veterinary Hospital and covered the cost of Carol Ann’s vet bill so she could be cleared and go home to her mom.

So many people and businesses have graciously supported the Gardiner fire relief fund after this devastating fire. Clare Marron at Monkitree hosted a silent auction that raised over $5,000 in one weekend alone. The Boys & Girls Club of Gardiner hosted a spaghetti dinner fundraiser. There were many others too. It’s still not too late to donate to the fire relief fund hosted by the United Way of Kennebec Valley. I noticed just last week that Gardiner’s Hannaford was collecting donations for the fund, too.

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Gardiner Main Street, with help from generous local sponsors, threw a “Thank You” party for the firefighters who responded to the fire. The Gardiner Rotary Club grilled dinner for all of the firefighters and their guests and then opened up the remains for the rest of us and raised an additional $1,500. Johnson Hall hosted Portland bluegrass band, Tricky Britches, as part of their free summer Waterfront Concert Series that night, and the band provided great entertainment at this wonderful community event. WMTW Channel 8 was on hand to cover the event.

Gardiner Main Street Director Patrick Wright alongside Tricky Britches

Gardiner Main Street Director Patrick Wright alongside Tricky Britches

Mayor Thom Harnett thanking local fire fighters

Mayor Thom Harnett thanking local fire fighters

Johnson Hall Director Mike Miclon with Tricky Britches

Johnson Hall Director Mike Miclon with Tricky Britches

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I was among a handful of people honored during intermission by Thom Harnett, Gardiner’s extraordinary mayor, with a Gardiner Heart & Soul Award for efforts related to the fire relief. My small contribution to helping Gardiner’s “Miracle Kitty” being recognized publicly, and totally unnecessarily, just goes to show what a dear community Gardiner is. I was genuinely overjoyed that night to be cheered as a local supporter of my sweet town. If you are looking for a community that will welcome, nurture, support, and celebrate you, too, Gardiner’s the place! More photos below!

xo,

bree

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A beautiful night on the Gardiner Waterfront

A beautiful night on the Gardiner Waterfront

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A wholly undeserved, but very welcome recognition from my sweet town!

A wholly undeserved, but very welcome recognition from my sweet town!

Surely one of Gardiner's cutest little ones

Surely one of Gardiner’s cutest little ones

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Max Garcia Conover

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Frontier, Brunswick, Maine

I got home from a long and relatively taxing trip to see U2 with just moments to spare before Max’s show started at Frontier. I love seeing shows at Frontier—it’s an intimate theater space, and it encourages performers to interact with the audience. It often feels like seeing a show in someone’s living room. After a challenging few days full of jam-packed travel and a disappointing U2 show, I was relieved and nearly teary, to get home to see Max play. I’ve seen Max perform easily a dozen times, but this was his best show. He spent the bulk of the summer on a national tour with Ghost of Paul Revere, and he’d clearly hit his stride. His older songs sounded stronger than ever, his banter was comfortable and jokes well timed, and his new songs revealed an innovative, powerful one-man band sound with a kick drum and tambourine. I snuggled up to Sophie in the front row for the duration and requested “You’re The Farthest I Go,” which Sophie graciously joined Max to sing unplugged from the floor. I hadn’t heard them sing together for a long while, and even without practicing, they sounded beautiful.

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Max Garcia Conover

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Max and Sophie, by request

Max and Sophie, by request

Max sent me home with a recording of ten of his new songs, and I have listened to them again and again. I love “Motorhome”—Max’s tribute to his and Sophie’s now deceased motorhome and their life together on the road. “If I’m staring out at the road/It’s probably her that I’m missing/Our dear departed motorhome.” There’s also a different energy, a darkness even, in a couple of the new songs. “My Neighbor Joe” is heavy. There’s a lot to digest there. He wrote another song that makes you think twice—“As Much A Rising Sun As A Setting One Pt. 2” while on a break during a show in northern Maine. The folks there were having a bad week and some of that energy is processed in the song. It’s interesting to hear how Max’s style evolves over time. It’s always a pleasure to see him play live. It’s like being home. Thanks, Max! (More pictures below).

xo,

bree

P.S.—You can support Max’s effort to write a new song a week here!

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Chris Smither

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Johnson Hall, Gardiner, Maine

This was a perfect Gardiner evening. I love my sweet little town, and living a quarter of a mile from downtown is the best. My dear friend Dot came up to join me and we had a delicious dinner at the incomparable A1 Diner, joined a handful of Gardiner friends for a glass of wine at Vintage Wine Bar, and made our way over to Johnson Hall to grab seats for the sold out Chris Smither show just before show time at 7:30.

Gardiner's A1 Diner on Bridge Street

Gardiner’s A1 Diner on Bridge Street

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Johnson Hall’s director Mike Miclon took the stage and welcomed us warmly. He let the crowd know that this is Johnson Hall’s 150th year and there’s an active capital campaign to renovate the beautiful 400-seat opera house on the top floor of the building. Mike would love Lyle Lovett to be the first to perform in the renovated space in 2019 when the space is complete. I’m enthusiastic about this project and know it will happen thanks to Mike’s leadership and the dedication of a loyal board of directors.

Mike explained that he’d stumbled across a CD of Chris Smither’s years ago at his former arts venue and has booked him time and again. Chris Smither took the stage solo and charmed us immediately. I was taken by his distinctive, raspy voice, toe tapping percussion, and impressive command of the guitar. I am not a huge fan of the blues (sorry, but true), but Chris Smither does it right. He was notably unassuming on stage and made me feel a bit like I was in his living room. Chris engaged the crowd throughout the night. He joked with us before playing “Origin of Species” that “evolution’s not something you believe in—you either know about it or you don’t.”

 

I snuck backstage to take a couple of pictures of Chris Smithers with my iPhone

I snuck backstage to take a couple of pictures of Chris Smithers with my iPhone

Dot, Clare (of Monkitree), and I took a tour of the beautiful upstairs of Johnson Hall during intermission. It’s going to be amazing when it’s renovated. It’s pretty phenomenal already, but probably not up to code.

Johnson Hall's incredible and not yet renovated third story

Johnson Hall’s incredible and not yet renovated third story

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Chris took the stage after intermission and told us about the first time he met fellow singer-songwriter Dave Carter at a music festival in Oregon. Chris said he rushed off stage after playing a set hoping to make it over to Dave Carter’s tent elsewhere with time to meet and talk before Dave’s set. As he ran, someone behind him called his name and it was Dave Carter—who’d gone to Chris’ set. Dave told Chris “you sure have a lot of words in your songs,” which Chris said was like the pot calling the kettle black. He covered Dave Carter’s “Crocodile Man” and showed us just what he meant. They both sure can fit a lot of words in one breath.

Chris Smither is a storyteller. I particularly enjoyed the funny stories he told in song—especially “Get A Better One.” We laughed a lot throughout the night. Chris talked about his family a lot during the show and wrote “I Don’t Know” using phrases his then four or five year old daughter said that he jotted down. He adopted a baby from China when he was 60 years old. She’s ten now, and even though he said his friends joked with him that parenthood would change his songwriting forever (and for the worse), but he feels like he hasn’t lost it. “No Love Today” is inspired by the roving produce seller (Mr. Okra’s dad, maybe?) who came down the street Chris grew up on in New Orleans singing about his fruits and vegetables twice a week.

A packed house at Johnson Hall

A packed house at Johnson Hall

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I’m glad I had the chance to see Chris Smither live. He is an American classic who has been writing music and performing for 50 years. His newest recording (his sixteenth), Still on the Levee, is a compilation of songs from Chris’ impressive career. He joked with us that he used to think he had to put new music out every three or so years or people would think he’d died, but now he’s not so worried about that.

Chris wrapped his set with “Leave the Light On,” which he recorded with Rusty Belle on Still on the Levee. I really enjoyed Rusty Belle when I saw them live with two of my favorites Caitlin Canty and Darlingside back in 2013 and am delighted that this intergenerational team is making music together. The engrossed crowd was on their feet after the last song, and Chris treated us to one more song before sending us on our way.

Thanks for hosting, Johnson Hall. I love seeing shows in this intimate space!

xo,

bree

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Eric Hutchinson, Tristan Prettyman, and Nick Howard

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

This was the kind of grey and dreary Tuesday that felt like it should have been a Thursday already. I was so ready for Daylight Savings Time, and I think the dark weather sadly ended up clouding my show experience. I had a sluggish afternoon after school holding my dear friend’s two-month-old baby girl for a few hours before heading down to Portland to catch this show. I got to Sarah’s house just as Eric Hutchinson and Tristan Prettyman’s Studio Z interview on 98.9 WCLZ began and listened while I snuggled baby Isabelle. I’d seen Eric live back in 2012 on his “Almost Solo Tour” with accompanist Elliott Blaufuss, and he was a supreme entertainer—as much a stand up comedian as a singer-songwriter. I was happy to hear that he was just as engaging over the radio, joking that the way he and Tristan co-headlined this tour was by each playing their set simultaneously on opposite sides of a curtain and seeing who gets more attention from the crowd. Tristan and Eric talked about being good friends for over a decade and how excited they were to put the City & Sand Tour together (she’s from San Diego and he’s living in NYC). Tristan talked about going through a lot of transitions—being dropped by her label, firing her manager, becoming a one-woman operation, and getting married in August right before spending two weeks in the studio after her honeymoon recording her new EP, Back To Home. They sounded like they were already having fun together on the road (the tour just started the night before in Boston), and they played a fun cover of “All About That Bass” together that got me geared up for the show.

Isabelle is quite snuggly

Isabelle is quite snuggly

She's so snuggly that we fell asleep together for a little while before I took off for the show

She’s so snuggly that we fell asleep together for a little while before I took off for the show.

I arrived early to grab my press ticket and a front row spot. My friends Andrea and Cory were already at Port City Music Hall by the time I arrived, but sadly couldn’t stand up front with me because Cory was injured and needed to sit for the show. For whatever reason, being solo at this show made it less fun. I ended up in a pocket of obnoxious people—drunk people, loud talkers, adults waaaaay too old to be grinding on each other like that, and between that and the dreary weather, I think my positive show experience was over before it began. Most of those annoying people arrived only after Britain’s Nick Howard performed, so I did get an uninterrupted chance to enjoy at least part of the show. Nick was engaging—as far as an opening act goes, he did everything right. He chatted comfortably with the crowd, complimented the area (he joked about being able to see why so many presidents vacation in Maine), sang a few songs we knew (his cover song medley included “Wake Me Up” and “Save Tonight”), asked us to clap, whistle, and sing along, and didn’t play for too long. Well done, Nick. I especially liked his original songs “Can’t Break a Broken Heart” and “Falling for You.”

Nick Howard

Nick Howard

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I was impressed with the speedy set change (it being a school night and all), and Tristan Prettyman and her band took the stage in no time at all. I hadn’t seen her since 2011 at the Life is Good Festival in Canton, Massachusetts, and was glad to see her again. Her last album, Cedar + Gold, got a lot of play on long road trips in my car in 2012. It’s definitely a breakup album (this summer, my break up album was Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour) and was written about her broken engagement with Jason Mraz. Here’s Tristan performing a stripped-down version of “I Was Gonna Marry You” that she didn’t play at the show, since a lot has happened since then. Tristan told us she’d gotten married in August (her husband, Google Venture managing partner, Bill Maris, was in the crowd proudly taking photos). Her new EP, Back to Home, released the day before the show, is a much happier album, and Tristan told us she was playing these songs live for the first time on the City & Sand Tour with Eric. She joked about how all of her songs are about stupid men, and so she really didn’t have anything appropriate to play when she visited her friend’s sixth grade classroom, so she wrote a “namaste” song, “Open Up Your Eyes.” I was glad to hear “Say Anything,” “Madly,” and “My Oh My,” all songs that 98.9 WCLZ has played regularly for ages. Tristan surprised us with a fun cover of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” during her set, which had people happily singing along.

Tristan Prettyman

Tristan Prettyman

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The last time I saw Eric Hutchinson was a real treat. He told a ton of stories about his songs and interacted comfortably with the friendly crowd while playing stripped-down, acoustic songs—my ideal concert-going scenario. This show was different. Eric hopped up on stage with a full band and rocked from start to finish. He didn’t say a whole lot to the crowd, but he and his happy bandmates had great energy and put on a fun show. Eric has a lot of hits from his decade-plus-long career, and he played them all. The crowd was clearly excited to hear “Watching You Watch Him.” During “The Basement” he sampled a little Aretha, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Amy Winehouse. It was a big hit with the crowd and Eric and the band really went all out on it.

Eric Hutchinson

Eric Hutchinson

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Loved seeing this camaraderie

Loved seeing this camaraderie

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Look at the fun they're having!

Look at the fun they’re having!

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Eric called Tristan up on stage and they did one of her songs, “Love Love Love,” together. He told us that the first time he heard that song, he listened to it on repeat for an entire two hour drive. Eric tested out the security of the big speaker on the floor right next to me and then hopped up onto it to start singing “OK, It’s Alright with Me.” I physically had to move to get out of his way. That’s how close to a performer I want to be during a show! (It’s also why I didn’t move to a new spot when I probably should have to get away from the folks I was standing around. Lesson learned.)

Tristan and Eric on her "Love Love Love"

Tristan and Eric on her “Love Love Love”

Eric up on the speaker right next to me. This is the kind of stage proximity I look for!

Eric up on the speaker right next to me. This is the kind of stage proximity I look for!

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I appreciated the way that Eric gleefully interacted with his band on stage. He took the time to introduce all of them and to give them time to highlight their skills, which they especially did during “You Don’t Have to Believe Me.” The show is clearly not all about him to him, and that’s great to see. Eric talked about getting dropped from his label years ago and using the money to make his 2008 album, Sounds Like This. His newest album, Pure Fiction, came out in April of 2014. Eric sampled Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” during “A Little More,” one of his newer songs. I stayed through “Rock and Roll” and then decided to head home before the encore so I could be in bed before midnight on a school night. Eric’s so fun live. Next time I see him, I’ll try harder to bring my dancing shoes!

xo,

bree

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