Tag Archives: This Empty Northern Hemisphere

Gregory Alan Isakov with MYRO and the Ghost Orchestra

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I saw Gregory Alan Isakov open for my beloved Brandi Carlile back in 2009 at South Portland High School and was captivated by his lyrics and airy voice. I waited in a long line after the show that night to buy his 2009 album, This Empty Northern Hemisphere, and was really excited to hear Brandi Carlile’s beautiful voice singing along on so much of it. That album is one that you should listen to right now, actually. I saw Gregory Alan Isakov once more in 2011, but sadly not again until April of 2015. I was in love then, and my sweetie joined me for the show and fell in love with Gregory Alan Isakov, too.

Here’s the problem with introducing people you love to musicians you love—sometimes you aren’t in love anymore, and your ex comes to see a musician you introduced them to with the person they started dating a curious two weeks after you ended a two year long relationship. It was awful. I’d been excited about this show (obviously), and my steadfast concert companion Colin kindly bought us tickets for this reserved seating show at State Theatre the day tickets went on sale and our seats were front row center. Problem was, my ex and his girlfriend were just one row behind us. Thank goodness they were stage left and we were stage right, but eight people between us was really not enough for my concert enjoyment. Anyhow, I am human and I was so upset and jittery to see my manipulative, freeloading ex with his no-longer-new girlfriend that I was shaky for the vast majority of the show. If Colin hadn’t been there, I would definitely have left my front row seat and gone home before the show even started. Thinking back to this night, I feel a pit in my stomach and remember how distracted, sad, and angry I was the whole time. I tried to consciously focus on enjoying Gregory’s enchanting voice, Jeb Bows’ positive energy while he danced with his violin, or the powerful, full sound generated by having the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra and the Ghost Orchestra on stage all night, too, but I failed miserably. Coincidentally, my ex asked to borrow the very Gregory Alan Isakov CD I bought the night I first saw him live all those years ago, and he still has it.


I am grateful that Colin posted the night’s setlist on setlist.fm (his concert schedule is far more impressive than mine, by the way), because you can click on the “play” arrow to the right of the first song of the night, and it will auto play all of the songs in order for you. I am taking this time to hear the show again (pretty much for the first time) right now, and these songs are so layered and beautiful. GAI played five songs from This Empty Northern Hemisphere, which is a perfect album. He is wonderful live—totally not interested in being the center of attention and humble and genuine. I will hopefully feel better next time he’s in town. Or I’ll just go to one of his shows farther away. Either way, he is not to be missed. I’ll close with apt lyrics from one of my favorite GAI songs—“The Moon Song”—“and those broken hearted lovers/they got nothing on me.”

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Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony is available now. Here’s some praise for his new album. Here’s a biographical piece in the New York Times about GAI balancing music and farming.




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Gregory Alan Isakov

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I stumbled upon Gregory Alan Isakov almost exactly six years ago when he opened for Brandi Carlile at South Portland High School. I caught him in Portland again in 2011, but have missed him since then, so was really excited to finally see him live again. My sweetie was able to meet me in Portland and we had a perfect Portland date night—drinks at The North Point, a delicious dinner at Empire, and a cup of coffee before the show where we met up with my steadfast concert friend Colin.

I have a pretty firm rule that I always get to a venue early and grab a spot up close and catch the opening act. Following that rule has been abundantly fruitful, as many of my current favorites are people I first saw as a show opener (Glen Hansard and Brandi Carlile are both good examples). Thursday night, getting to Port City Music Hall early for the opening act didn’t pan out for me because I thought they were terrible. People ask me all the time if I write bad reviews and I usually don’t have only bad things to say about a performance, but this was an exception. Jolie Holland and a guitarist “opened” the show—they bantered with each other awkwardly but mostly ignored the crowd, and she turned her back on the audience and away from the microphone after each song. I didn’t like their mumbled, slightly out of tune songs and their stage presence was ghastly. I was floored when Gregory invited her back out later in the show to do a song together and he spoke about how blown away he was by her when he first saw her live.

Jolie Holland

Jolie Holland

Gregory Alan Isakov (GAI) and his band took the stage close to 9PM and the crowd was ready for him (I’m definitely not the only one who struggled through the opener). I was very happy to see Jeb Bows on fiddle. I’ve seen him play with Brandi Carlile and her band a number of times, but didn’t know (and Colin told me) that Jeb’s home is with GAI. He has a ton of stage presence and really wails on his instrument and such fun to watch. My sweetie has a music background and intended to go into performance as a career, so I was delighted to see the huge smile spread across on his face right from the start when GAI opened with “Monsters” (check out this new song backed by the Seattle Symphony). The fullness of sound those five people (four on strings and a drummer) made together was gorgeous. Gregory’s voice is simple and clear and his folk songs are pretty and evoke times gone by. His songs are brought to their fullest with the addition of strings, harmonies, percussion, and an occasional banjo accompaniment.

From left to right are Jeb Bows, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Phil Parker

From left to right are Jeb Bows, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Phil Parker


Steve Varney and Jeb Bows

Steve Varney and Jeb Bows

IMG_3271 IMG_3274 IMG_3276 I suspect Gregory Alan Isakov is a good guy. I was impressed by how little he put himself in the spotlight (literally, too, when you look at where he’s standing in my photos). He spoke about everyone in the band warmly throughout the night. We sang happy birthday to cellist Phil Parker. They played a lot of Gregory’s 2013 album, The Weatherman, but didn’t leave out 2009’s This Empty Northern Hemisphere and I was so happy to hear “This Empty Northern Hemisphere,” “That Moon Song,” and “Dandelion Wine” live.

Most of the band left the stage at one point and Gregory and Steve Varney played The Stable Song” off of their 2007 release, That Sea, That Gambler. It was beautiful. Soon after, Gregory crossed something off his “list of things to accomplish that people make at the new year” and instead of “growing a scary beard” or “standing up on a surfboard,” he had his “gospel moment” when everyone gathered around one microphone and accompanied him on “Honey, It’s Alright.” IMG_3280

A song in the dark

A song in the dark


"The Stable Song"

“The Stable Song”


"Honey, It's Alright"

“Honey, It’s Alright”

This was one of those special shows that I didn’t want to end. Gregory Alan Isakov and his band are an absolute pleasure to see live. Thanks for hosting a wonderful night, Port City Music Hall!

xo, bree

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