Friday night I dragged my husband up to Philly to see Brandi Carlile with Mavis Staples at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. He’s a good guy and indulges my whims to travel places to see concerts even though it’s not his thing. If you’ve been around this blog at all you know how much I love Brandi Carlile and that I’ve seen her many, many times in concert. Having already seen her in Baltimore this summer I probably would have skipped this one until I found out that Mavis Staples was opening. That tipped the scales and made me decide I had to go. The show being on a Friday made it totally doable.
This was my first time at the Mann Center. It’s a really pretty venue. It’s in the middle of a park and has a gorgeous view of downtown Philly.
Had we been in different seats I probably would have been a lot happier with it. I usually have great seats at Brandi shows because I buy them through the fan club presale, but in this case I didn’t decide to go until well after tickets had gone on sale so I missed out on anything close in the orchestra level of the pavilion. In my experience usually sitting in the front row of the balcony is better than sitting in the back of the orchestra. Not so in this case. My husband called it the poor man’s Filene Center (the outdoor pavilion at Wolf Trap). They do share a lot of design elements and the Mann Center was built about 10 years after the Filene Center so I do wonder if they share the same DNA. Anyway, like at the Filene Center the upper level has box seats at the front, an aisle, and then the balcony seats. At the Filene Center though the balcony is raised up enough such that people walking in the aisle are essentially below where you’re sitting so they don’t block your view. Not so at the Mann Center. If you’re sitting the front of the balcony you just get a steady stream of people walking through the aisle in front of you (though it did taper off a lot during Brandi’s set). Also the part of the balcony we were in really should have been marked as obstructed view seats anyway. That end of the venue had the ADA seating on the aisle behind the boxes. At best you had railings and empty chairs from the little ADA alcoves in your view if no one was sitting there and if anyone was actually sitting in them there was no way to see at all.
I would have been marginally less annoyed if anyone sitting in that area throughout the night actually needed ADA seating. At both Merriweather and Wolf Trap if I’m sitting in the pavilion I’m used to having to show my ticket like 80 times on my way to my seat. I remarked on the fact that we didn’t have to show our ticket at all to get to our seat. Now I understand the problem with that because it was just madness. Some people who decided they didn’t like their actual seats or possibly even people from the lawn (it was kind of rainy thanks to Dorian so not a great lawn night) came in and sat down. As they obviously didn’t have anyone who needed ADA seating with them the usher did stop and ask, but then let them stay and told them they’d just have to move if anyone came for those seats. Then apparently some people from the lawn paid to upgrade to get into the pavilion and out of the rain and the usher just put them in those seats. Those people left early. Meanwhile back in the balcony people were just moving all over the place trying to be able to see anything. The girls who wound up sitting next to us for awhile moved down to the ADA seating when it opened up, which annoyed me the most of everything because they knew they were going to be blocking everyone’s view. Once they got down there they realized there were some open seats in the box below and went down there and left me to see about 3/4 of a song as unobstructed as it was ever going to get before 3 random guys appeared from nowhere and sat there. I’m really annoyed with the venue for not indicating that the view was obstructed when I bought the tickets because I never would have bought them and also for not enforcing where people were sitting and letting people who didn’t need ADA accommodations sit in those seats.
It was like the worst show to have terrible seats for too because it was so amazing. I finally realized at some point last week that I was going to see this show on the same day that The Highwomen, the new country super group Brandi Carlile is a part of along with Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby, were releasing their album. I figured there was going to be some fun around that, but this was beyond anything I could possibly have imagined.
First up of course was Mavis Staples. She just an amazing legend. She turned 80 this year and has been doing this since was a kid as part of her family’s band The Staple Singers. Now she’s pretty much the only one left, and she’s still out there doing her thing. She put out a new album this year and is still touring. She’s joy personified and I just love her.
Brandi’s set was amazing and full of so many surprises. The setlist was largely the same as when I saw her at Merriweather earlier in the summer aside from the songs she sang as collaborations with all her surprise guests. I knew she and Mavis would sing at least one song together, which they did a cover of Mavis’ father, Pops Staples’s, song “Friendship”. What I was not expecting was Lukas Nelson joining them on the guitar. He apparently was playing the BB&T Pavilion the following night and got into town in time to come over and join Brandi for a few songs. It was obviously unclear whether he was going to make it in time because Brandi welcomed Mavis to the stage and then a stangehand walked over to her and obviously told her that Lukas Nelson was indeed in the house.
Country music legend Tanya Tucker was also there. Brandi produced her newest album and has been doing a lot of promotion of it with Tanya. So of course Tanya came out and sang “Delta Dawn”. Her dog even came out on the stage at one point.
That was not nearly the end of the surprises though. Fellow Highwoman Amanda Shires flew in from Nashville for the night to help celebrate the release of The Highwomen’s album. She joined in for about half of Brandi’s set playing the fiddle. When she’s not off doing stuff for her own career she plays in her husband Jason Isbell’s band the 400 Unit. I’m always disappointed when I see him in concert and she’s not there. I told my husband now I have to be disappointed every time she’s not backing Brandi on the fiddle too. They finally sang some Highwomen songs as the first two songs of the encore. In between there was yet another surprise with Tan France from Queer Eye coming out on the stage and talking about how much he loves Brandi. They invited everyone back out on the stage to sing The Highwomen’s first single “Redesigning Women”, complete with cardboard cutouts of Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby the two Highwomen that weren’t there. Then Brandi sang “If She Ever Leaves Me”, which is one of the Highwomen songs that she sings. I had pretty much already figured she was going to sing at least that one. I wasn’t sure about any of the other songs that are sung by the other Highwomen or as collaborations, but “Redesigning Women” makes sense because that song can be a singalong with just about anyone.
It was a magical show, and I’m so happy I went up for it. I would have been so disappointed to have decided not to go and then heard about all of the amazing things that I missed out on later. I can’t wait to see Brandi again in January at the Ryman where I’m sure so much more magic will happen.