Tag Archives: Patty Griffin

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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The Dixie Chicks with Anderson East

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, Bangor, Maine

We all have songs that bring us right back to a particular moment in our lives. The first song I ever sang in public on my own as an adult was “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks. I performed at an open mic competition in the pub my senior year of college and thought I was going to throw up because I was so nervous. Instead, I won the competition and tickets to our annual Spring Gala. I’ll never forget how that song pushed me to find my own voice, even when it was terrifying. So, when I saw that the Dixie Chicks were going to tour after a decade-long hiatus, you’d better believe I waited by the computer and treated myself to fancy seats in the 13th row. This was a bucket list show—my first time seeing Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison live—and I couldn’t wait for June 16 to arrive. Since we had three snow days this school year, it turned out that it was my last school night of the year, but well worth my first trip to Bangor’s ENORMOUS Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion (I had no idea my hometown had such an immense concert venue!) for the show. My dad was my date, and he leaned over early in the show to say that they were really good (this is high praise from him) and that Natalie had a great singing voice (that’s really high praise from him). I had no doubt. And I agree completely—the Dixie Chicks sounded fantastic. They haven’t toured in a decade, but they didn’t miss a beat.

Backing up a tiny bit, my dad and I arrived just as Anderson East began his set. I’d seen him open for my beloved Brandi Carlile at the State Theatre in Portland in the spring of 2015. He has grit in his voice, and I liked that his band has a horn section. He played his radio hits “Devil in Me” (a song he introduced by saying it was about “fornicating with a preacher’s daughter”), “Satisfy Me,” and covered Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.” Dad leaned over and told me he sounded like Joe Cocker. I wondered if Anderson East’s girlfriend Miranda Lambert was in town, too. She’d joined him a couple of months earlier on stage for a song, but we had no such luck. He wrapped his set with another song I liked—“All I’ll Ever Need.” At some point during Anderson East’s set, one of my delightful former students and her mom came to sit in the two seats immediately next to us. Such a big venue, and yet such a small world!

A bit later, Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” started playing, and the Dixie Chicks and their band took the stage wearing black and white to bring Maine the long-awaited DCX MMXVI World Tour. Even their instruments were black and white. It was visually impressive, but then a plethora of beautiful background videos and still images filled an enormous screen behind them and made the enormous venue feel a lot more intimate. Natalie Maines opened the show by letting us know they were going to “attempt to entertain us” and that they fondly remembered playing a festival in Maine years ago and it was the first time a big crowd had known the words to their songs. At some point, she joked that she hoped we wouldn’t wait ten years to invite them back.

The Dixie Chicks played a solid 25 songs. Since they haven’t spent the last decade writing new music together, they played most of their big hits and supplemented with some covers of Prince, Bob Dylan, and Beyonce. I thought opening with “The Long Way Around” was an apt choice, and I was pleased to hear three Patty Griffin songs (y’all know wildly talented songstress Patty Griffin is a native of nearby Old Town, Maine, right?)—“Truth #2,” “Top of the World,” and “Please Don’t Let Me Die in Florida.” I was THRILLED to hear “Top of the World” live, but it would have been better if the drunk twentysomethings behind us hadn’t been shouting and taking pictures to share on Snapchat the whole song. CONCERT ETIQUETTE, people. It DOES NOT MATTER that we’re in a huge outdoor venue—you should still let people listen to the songs they came to hear in person. Pretty, pretty please. Oh! The Chicks played a Prince song, too, and it was STUNNING. “Nothing Compares 2 U” was lovely. The twentysomethings were even quiet for that one. That good.

The Chicks came back from a video interlude and sat right along the edge of the stage to play a stripped down “Travelin’ Soldier.” Getting only mildly political, the Chicks performed “Ready To Run” while we were bombarded with fast moving images of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—just to name a few. Confetti cannons spit out tons of red, white, and blue pieces of paper, and we were close enough to catch some (cheesy, but I have a piece on my fridge as a show souvenir). “Landslide” was lovely and the whole crowd sang along. We were all pretty excited to hear “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Wide Open Spaces” back-to-back. They wrapped their set with “Sin Wagon” and the crowd erupted. The Chicks came back to the stage for “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which is a triumphant comeback song. If you haven’t seen Shut Up and Sing, the 2007 documentary about the insane, life-threatening backlash the Dixie Chicks suffered after Natalie made an anti-G.W. Bush comment on stage, I highly recommend it. A decade later, and even though so much has changed, so much still hasn’t. The Chicks ended the night on a hopeful note, closing with a cover of Ben Harper’s “Better Way.” They were joined on stage by about a dozen kids playing instruments under a giant rainbow heart. It’s been ten years, and the Chicks’ message is still the same—and their devoted fans poured into an enormous venue to sing along.

xo,

bree

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