Last night I went down to Wolf Trap to see Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter at Wolf Trap. It was actually a show rescheduled from sometime in the summer of 2020 when it didn’t happen for obvious reasons. I actually didn’t have tickets to the original show. It must have been scheduled for a date that theoretically conflicted with some other plans I had, but I was able to make the rescheduled date for this summer. So I guess COVID did one good thing.
It wound up being an absolutely perfect outdoor summer concert. The weather was warm and a little humid, but not uncomfortably so. Sometimes with outdoor concerts I can’t dress appropriately for how warm it is at the start of the show when the sun is still up and how cool it is at the end of the show after the sun has gone down. This was just perfectly warm all the way around. There was also the wonderful ambient sound of crickets and cicadas to add a little extra harmony to the music.
One thing I like about me is that my musical interests are varied enough that I can sometimes go to concerts and be convinced I’m the oldest one there and then other times go to concerts and be sure that I’m the youngest one there. This concert was decidedly one where I felt like the youngest person the audience. That’s not really true because I did see one kid who was probably about five who was definitely younger than me, but for the most part it was a very grey haired audience with most people more like my parents age including Emmy Lou Harris herself who was the most glorious grey hair. I don’t even really have any memory of her having anything but grey hair. It’s rather impressive as someone in the public eye that she’s just owned it. But also she really is grey hair goals. If my hair looked as good as hers, I wouldn’t dye it either.
Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter were co-headlining the show. I felt like it could go either way who was in the actual headlining spot though. Emmylou Harris was up first. I did feel like she should have been in the headlining spot, but it turns out according to Mary Chapin Carpenter she would have been had she not immediately left to travel for something in New England. That also explains why Mary Chapin Carpenter came out and sang a song with Emmylou at the end of her set instead of them singing together at the very end of the show like you would expect. They sang “All the Roadrunning”. I was also amused that it seems like Mary Chapin Carpenter came out to sing that song while she was still getting ready for her set. I wouldn’t have thought anything about it if she had come out for her set with her hair up in a messy bun and in jeans, but when she came back out for her set her hair was down and the jeans had been replaced with black pants.
This was the first time I had ever really seen either one of them in concert. Back in 2015 I did go to an Emmylou Harris tribute concert that had the most amazing lineup of artists ever, which she was also at and joined in singing some of her songs at. Mostly though it was listening to other people sing her songs. This was the first time I’ve ever actually heard her songs really sung by her. Even at 75 she still has a great voice. She has a huge catalog of music, which she did a good job of playing a selection from. Though with so much music to choose from it was inevitable I wasn’t going to hear everything I wanted to. She did sing 3 songs off of the Red Dirt Girl album including the title song, “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “Michelangelo”, which I was happy about. However she didn’t sing “One Big Love”, which I would have liked to hear off that album. I was also happy that she sang “Pancho and “Lefty” but was honestly shocked that she didn’t sing “Wrecking Ball”. We got “Goin’ Back to Harlan” off that album instead. It was still fantastic even if I didn’t get to hear everything I wanted to hear. She just needed a longer set.
Both Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter did a good job of telling stories and talking about the inspirations for their songs. I love when artists do that at concerts instead of just singing. Some artists I’ve seen so many times I could tell the stories behind all their songs, but in this case since I’d never really seen either of them live before the stories were all new to me.
And that brings us to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s set. She told a story that is probably the best thing I have ever heard an artist say from the stage before in all the many concerts I’ve been to. In introducing her band she said that some bands do things like do drugs and trash hotel rooms. They play croquet, and they all have handles they use during their games so she was going to introduce them with their croquet handles. She said whenever they finish sound check some place they find a little patch of grass and set up their croquet set and play a game. I love this so much.
A lot of the songs from her set came from her newest album, The Dirt and the Stars, which was released in 2020. That album completely passed me by as did the fact that she apparently did a live YouTube thing called Songs from Home for the first 62 weeks of the pandemic playing a song a week into her phone which was apparently duct taped to a ceramic jug. That apparently led to an actual live concert with no audience performed at Wolf Trap which aired on PBS as One Night Lonely and won her a Grammy. Obviously there was a lot going on in the first year of the pandemic, but I can’t believe none of that ever made its way before my eyes in all that time. Luckily it looks like she still has all the YouTube videos up on her channel and you can watch the PBS special if you’re a Passport member, which I am. So I’ll have all that to go back and watch now. Anyway, all that is to say that I didn’t actually know a lot of the songs that she played. It didn’t really matter because they were great even if I wasn’t familiar with them. She did in fact play the three songs that I wanted to hear “Passionate Kisses”, “I Take My
Chances”, and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”. So I can’t complain at all.
There was nothing at this concert that made it particularly special. It was really just two legendary musical artists doing their thing. But the simplicity of it, the beautiful venue, the wonderful summer weather all just came together to create a perfect concert.