Allison Russell at The Barns at Wolf Trap

Last night I went to my first indoor concert since the pandemic started. Last summer in that glorious six weeks when we all delusionally thought COVID was over I did go to see Amos Lee at Wolf Trap and went to the Newport Folk Festival. Then Delta hit and things got worse and my doctors all made me paranoid about doing pretty much anything, so I bought a lot of concert tickets and then didn’t go to any of them for the rest of the year.

Last night I decided to finally brave going to see another concert. I don’t know how much people understand how big of a step this was for me, since most people have been back to living their lives mostly like normal for awhile now. I literally don’t do anything with crowds, and don’t do anything indoors at all except go to work and doctor’s appointments. I could probably count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve gone into stores and half of those were probably during that brief window last summer when things felt good. I don’t hang out with friends inside. Pretty much nothing. So to go to a crowded indoor space was a huge leap.

There were a couple of reasons I decided to make it at this point. Case counts are pretty low at this point. I’m newly topped off with anti-bodies since I qualified for a fourth vaccine dose. I would qualify to take some of the anti-virals now on the market if I did catch COVID, though I’ll feel better about that when they are more readily available. Also, Wolf Trap still had all their mask and vax requirements in place last night, which most concert venues have now dropped. It’s also a pretty small venue, fewer than 400 people seated, and they shared all the things they’ve done to upgrade their ventilation system. Like I have concert tickets for this coming weekend that I bought last May, when again we all thought COVID would be history by now, and I’m not going to that because all the precautions have been dropped, it’s sold out, standing room only, and I’m not ready to go stand smushed up against 1,200 other maskless people who may or may not be vaxxed.

I am so very glad I set aside my anxiety and went. It was a glorious night. Everything I love about live music and have missed so much. It really sucks when the thing you love most in the world becomes one of the most dangerous things you can do. I’m hoping we’re really at a detente with COVID for awhile, so I can start doing this more regularly.

Kyshona was the opening act. It was just her and an acoustic guitar, but she was crazy powerful. I was already somewhat familiar with her because some artist I follow was promoting her at some point, and I pay attention to who people I love are telling me to love. So I’ve already been following her on Instagram and listening to some of her music for awhile now. She was also part of the Once and Future Sounds set that Allison Russell curated to close out the Newport Folk Festival weekend last summer. So I wasn’t completely surprised, but it was one of those amazing sets where most of the people in the room had no idea who she was when she took the stage and now they’re all fans for life. I love those moments. They don’t happen too often, but when an opening act just blows an audience who doesn’t know them away there’s just nothing like it. She got a standing ovation and people were literally flying out the door to get the merch table as soon as she left the stage. She told the audience that she used to be a music therapist, but now she does music therapy for everyone and wow was that some therapy last night. Her voice is incredibly powerful, and her songs bring such a powerful message about loving yourself and other people. She was great at involving the audience and getting us to sing along with songs that almost no one knew. Another delight, the joy of singing along with an audience, something I have missed so much. She was the perfect opening act, and I can’t wait to keep following what she does next. Go acquaint yourself with Kyshona if you don’t know her already.

Allison Russell’s set was just as wonderful and full of joy and positivity. Her first solo album, Outside Child, which is what she’s promoting on this tour is up for several Grammy’s and was in the top of every best of 2021 list out there including mine. It’s about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-father and how her mother turned a blind eye, which led her to run away from home and spend her teenage years homeless. She was joking about trying to tell people about how they should go listen to this album about her childhood trauma, but it’s really not about that. She said it’s about survivor’s joy. She just has such a wonderful spirit in her music and the positivity and forgiveness she puts out into the world.

She talked a lot about how Brandi Carlile pulled her up and helped move her career forward after years of struggling to make it as an artist and now there’s all these doors in the walls she once face and how she wants to continue that and bring up the people behind her. She had four other women on stage with her in what she said she didn’t want to call her band but her circle because the term band sounds hierarchical to her. I have never seen someone introduce her bandmates with such joy and love for what they do with her and the other music their creating. She did the same thing for all the other people in her crew. She talked a lot about that closing set she curated at Newport last year and how she wants to take that on the road and do it in different cities to help introduce people to more new artists especially those people who have a hard time getting their foot in the door. I hope she does it and comes near me because I would love that. She was just so giddy and excited. It was so much fun. You would have thought it was her first time out on stage since the pandemic with how excited she was about everything.

There was also actually some music in her set too. Since she only has the one solo album at this point she pretty much played everything off that plus the songs she wrote for the Songs of Our Native Daughters album with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Amythyst Kiah. She also covered a Sade song and Tracy Chapman song for her encore. It was such a lovely night, and everything I could have hoped for.

One thought on “Allison Russell at The Barns at Wolf Trap

  1. I was at the concert, too, and I concur with everything you said. My wife was one of those who rushed out to the lobby at intermission to buy a Kyshona CD. She was a powerhouse!

    I loved that Allison and her band were fresh (early in their tour) and clearly excited to be at the Barns. They weren’t just going through the motions; their enthusiasm and joy shone through the entire set.

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