Florence + the Machine at the Anthem

This past Saturday I went down to DC to see Florence + the Machine at the Anthem. This was my fourth time seeing Florence + the Machine. Interestingly the venues have been going down in size. The first time I saw her was back in her early days opening for U2 at M&T Bank Stadium. That is the first and last concert I will ever go to at a venue that size. Then I saw her twice at Merriweather Post Pavilion. I was a little surprised to see she was playing a venue as small as the Anthem, but she certainly made up for it with the ticket prices. Totally worth it though.

When they originally announced the concert there was only a Friday night show, which I bought tickets to. Then after that sold out they added a Saturday show. Getting down to DC on a Friday night after work is a bear, so I decided to buy a ticket for Saturday night figuring I would be able to sell my Friday one. I eventually did, but I held onto it for a long time thinking I might wind up going both nights. Even though I have a place to stay in DC, after being out of town for the previous two weekends I decided I only wanted to be away on Saturday night and not the entire weekend.

It worked out well because another Baltimore friend was going down to DC to hang out with the friend I was staying with in DC so I rode down with her and then got a ride back to Baltimore on Sunday with my DC friend as we have season tickets to Center Stage and our play was on Sunday afternoon. They went down to the Wharf with me trying to tour some Viking ship that was docked there for 10 days, but the tickets were all sold out. We tried to grab dinner, but all the sit down restaurants around there had at least 90 minute wait times so that didn’t work out either. I wound up grabbing something at Shake Shack. They kept me company while I ate and then went off somewhere else in the city to find food.

Even though the doors to the venue were open at that point I opted to just sit outside and enjoy the nice evening for about another hour. I had been to the Anthem once before to see Brandi Carlile, but that was a seated show meaning there were a lot fewer people. I was a little leary going in on how I was going to feel about a standing room only crowd of 6000 people in an enclosed space, so I decided to limit how long I had to deal with a crowd of drunken people. I also don’t care about Beth Ditto, who was the opening act so I decided I was going to go in just in time for Florence + the Machine to take the stage. I have to say I love Florence, but I do not love her choice in opening acts. I have not cared for her openers at any show I’ve seen.

My plan worked perfectly. I got in line around 9 and was through security at 9:10. Florence + the Machine went on at 9:15. I just situated myself at the back of the crowd and it was fine for the most part. I definitely did not want to be smushed in the middle of everyone. Plus I’ve often found that with my short stature if I can stand far enough at the back of the crowd I can kind of see over it whereas I can’t see anything if I’m in the middle of it. If it wasn’t sold it, it was close to sold out so I couldn’t get exactly far enough away from other people to see great, but for me at at a standing room only show where I wasn’t in the front I could see pretty well. It also helps that unlike must SRO venues, the Anthem has video screens so when I couldn’t see the stage I could at least watch those to see what was happening.

In all the press about her latest album release, High as Hope, I saw that Florence Welch had gotten sober before recording it. Assuming she’s still sober I was kind of curious how that might affect her live shows since she’s always been sort of out there on stage and I thought perhaps she would be more inhibited if she was sober. Whatever her current state of sobriety I did not notice any difference in her stage presence. She was still just as dancing and twirly and all over the place as she has always been. She spent a couple of songs in various states of running and dancing around in between the stage and the security gate, then standing on top of the security gate, and then finally over the gate and off into the crowd. I’m sure the Anthem’s security detail were thrilled.

The music of course was great. She sang an array of songs from across her four albums. It also just felt like a very positive place to be on a night that otherwise didn’t feel so positive in the midst of a whole lot of days that don’t feel so positive. She emphasized that hope is an action, which really struck me since in all of this hope is something I have very much struggled to hang onto and feel like I don’t have anymore. But she’s right without hope we can’t do anything else. I also forgot how touchy feely she likes to have her audience get. I’ve always been with friends at previous shows and perhaps my introverted self blocked out this out, but as soon as she started asking people to hold hands with strangers and asking people to tell strangers that you love them it all came flooding back. It’s not something I’m keen on doing even with people I know, so I was really not excited about doing it alone in a crowd of people I didn’t know. I just stood there, but the people on either side of me were game, so I went along with it.

It was as always a great show and I look forward to her next album when I will undoubtedly get to see her tour again.

Mt. Joy at the 8×10

It’s only the second week in my Friday new music blog post series and I feel like I’m already cheating. I always write about the concerts I got to already, but I’m co-opting my post about last night’s Mt. Joy concert and making it my new music post for today too since I figure most people reading this have no idea who Mt. Joy is. Hey at least I’m writing.

I first saw Mt. Joy at the 2017 Newport Folk Festival. At the time they may have had one song up on Spotify. Whatever it was it was enough to get me to put them on my Newport schedule. As I stood there grooving out to them they all of a sudden started singing about Baltimore in their song “Sheep” and I was like who is this band? Are they from Baltimore? Turns out they are not. They have roots in Philly but fully formed and are now based in L.A. I did find out last night about the Baltimore connection though. The lead singer said that Baltimore has a special place in their heart because it influenced one of their earliest songs and his brother went to college in Baltimore so he hung out here a lot at the time.

Anyway, they finally put out a full album back in March which I really like, so I jumped on the chance to see them again when I saw they were going to be playing the 8×10. The 8×10 is one of Baltimore’s well known little concert clubs and for some inexplicable reason until last night I had never been there. There is no logical explanation for this that I can figure out. As a through line from last week, The Stray Birds, who I wrote about last week even have a song called “Sabrina” all about a fan that used to come see them play at the 8×10.

Usually I try to get to shows early enough to support the opening act and check them out even if I don’t know them. For whatever reason I didn’t make it down there until about halfway through Illiterate Light’s opening set, which turned out to be a good thing because I did not particularly care for them. The rest of the crowd seemed into them though, so good for them.

Speaking of the crowd it was a good one. I was shocked by how everyone seemed to know the words to every song and were singing along. That made me happy. I’m a shorty so I often have problems seeing at standing room only shows unless I’m right up front or standing so far back behind the crowd that I can see over it. Neither was an option last night, so I wound up trying my luck up in the balcony. The rail was only one set of people deep when I got up there, but I still couldn’t really see. I had resigned myself to not really seeing anything, but a little ways into the Mt. Joy set the guy in front of me went and stood behind his girlfriend and waved me up to the rail. So thanks to you random stranger for allowing me to see at least half of the concert. I also felt particularly old at this show. I remember going to shows when I was in college and seeing the random one or two old people hanging out by themselves and thinking weird old people at a club. Well now I am the creepy, weird, old, music loving person hanging out by myself at the club with people at least half my age. Life comes at you fast.

Mt. Joy was good.  They pretty much played all the songs off their album plus a couple of covers. One was a Neil Young song that they played as the first song of their encore. When they went off stage before the encore people started shouting one more song and then someone got people to start saying two more song instead of just one. When they came back on stage they said we were just going to play one more song, but now we’re going to play two. I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m on to you Mt. Joy. I could see their set lists on the stage from my vantage point in the balcony and there were always two songs in the encore. Nice try.

I had a hard time rousing myself to go out on a gloomy Thursday night. The lack of sun always sends me into hibernation mode and my introverted self would often rather just stay home even when I know I’ll have a good time once I get somewhere. I did in fact enjoy myself once I got there and am glad I went.

Dawes at Wolf Trap with Joseph and Shovels & Rope

Last night my friend and I made our annual pilgrimage to Wolf Trap for a summer concert. We’ve tried to pick one concert to go to each summer for the past several years since we both love Wolf Trap and are willing to make the terrible trek there during rush hour on a weekday. Given some of the traffic I’ve sat in on my way there before last night was pretty easy. This year we picked the stellar triple bill of Joseph, Shovels & Rope, and Dawes. I love when three bands I would pay to see on their own are playing together. That’s only partly true. Sometimes I wish the opening acts were headlining somewhere so they would have more time.

I felt like last night was a family night at the concert. There were a lot more children than I’ve ever seen at Wolf Trap before, but also because of the bands themselves. Joseph is three sisters. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst who comprise Shovels & Rope are married, and two of the five members of Dawes are brothers. Family all around up on that stage last night.

Joseph was full of beautiful harmonies as always last night. They were all acoustic for this set. They played a bunch of stuff off their I’m Alone, No You’re Not album though sadly not my favorite, Blood & Tears. I didn’t figure I was going to hear it so I wasn’t too disappointed. They have an EP of cover songs that they put out last year and at one point they said they were going to play a cover song and I was hoping for “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” because I adore that song and love their cover of it. Sadly it was “Moonlight Mile” instead. Oh well. They got a fairly generous set for the first of three acts so I can’t complain too much.

Shovels & Rope is always a sight to behold when they play. It’s just two people and they play like every instrument often at the same time. I always imagine them as two different people playing one man band rigs together. I mean at one point he was playing the guitar and the piano at the same time. Who does that? I’m not sure if they were supposed to be co-headliners or the second opening act but they played at least as long as Dawes if not slightly longer. I do enjoy them, but I wish their set had been a bit shorter because Dawes’ set seemed really short.

This is the first time I’ve seen Dawes since I saw their amazing show at the Ryman Auditorium. That spoiled me a bit since they played for 3 hours. I knew we weren’t getting anywhere close to that last night, but it still went by way too fast. Wolf Trap has a curfew though, so they could only play as long as they played. They didn’t play my favorite song, “Right on Time”, but I didn’t expect them to. Other than that I have to say they played a pretty perfect set. It was really a great retrospective of all 6 of their albums. They played at least one song from each one. They obviously played stuff from their new album Passwords and happily they played the songs I would have picked.

Apparently according to Dawes last night’s show was the largest audience they’d ever played to as a headliner. Obviously they had played to bigger audiences at festival and as openers. That kind of shocked me. I wouldn’t have guessed. But they were super excited to be headlining Wolf Trap and it showed. Shovels & Rope said something to the effect of Wolf Trap and Red Rocks man. There’s a reason why it’s my favorite concert venue (I’ve still not managed to make it to Red Rocks. One day.)

It was an excellent show. It was a perfect summer night of music. Until next year Wolf Trap.

Newport Folk Festival 2018

This past weekend was our annual trip to Rhode Island for the Newport Folk Festival. It is by far always my favorite weekend of the year and this year was no exception. I know no one really cares to read a run down of every act I saw over the three days of the festival so I’m always trying to figure out a good way to write a review of it. This year I’ve decided to frame it around the Newport Folk Festival mantra shared by Jay Sweet, the festival’s Executive Producer, every morning before the gates opened:

Be Present
Be Kind
Be Open
Be Together

It’s probably a pretty good mantra for life not just for the folk festival.

Be Present

Every year I’ve tried to be more and more present at the festival. I didn’t spend hardly any time on my phone, mostly just using it to keep track of the last minute set announcements. I think I took like 3 photos the entire weekend. I’m not going to lie and say everyone was as consistently disengaged from their phones, but there was definitely a lot fewer people taking photos and videos than I usually see at concerts. It was nice not to be constantly trying to see things through someone else’s phone screen. It allowed me to really be engaged with the music and have experiences like being moved to tears of joy listening to Jenny Lewis play my favorite song of hers, “She’s Not Me”.

I also tried to be present in the sets I was at and not worry about what I was missing on some other stage. Until I can figure out how to clone myself for the festival there are always going to be known conflicts as well as hearing about special moments afterwards that I wish I had been there to witness. This year I just tried to experience and enjoy the moments I was there for and not be disappointed about the things I wasn’t.

Be Kind

The crowds at the Newport Folk Festival are the kindest I’ve ever experienced. Usually you get large crowds and everyone is just out for themselves, but I have never experienced that at Newport. I had people make sure that they weren’t going to block my view on more than one occasion before they moved in front of me. I watched people offer their blanket in the shade to a family with a baby when they left to go to another stage. I saw people returning things that people dropped. And there were obviously so many more examples as I saw an entire thread on Twitter of kindnesses big and small that people witnessed during the festival. There’s a reason why everyone talks about their “folk family” at Newport.

Be Open

I’ve always tried to make being open something I do at Newport. I always go in with a loose idea of who I want to listen to, but things always change. I always want to be open to where the day takes me. That meant staying for Caamp’s entire set because it was so good and missing out on most of Curtis Harding’s, who I had gone in really wanting to see. It meant giving Passenger a chance even though I only knew his one hit song, which I long ago grew tired of and discovering that he is a hilarious storyteller and great songwriter. It meant abandoning St. Vincent’s set, which I was sure I wanted to see going in because I’ve always heard great things and she canceled her most recent Baltimore date that I had tickets to. I realized there was no way it was going to make me has happy as I would be singing along to Jason Isbell’s songs for the third time in a week. It means dropping everything and running over to the Late July Family Tent when you hear Hiss Golden Messenger is going to be doing a set there. It means passing by the Newport Festivals Foundation tent and discovering Valerie June singing with a bunch of kids from local schools the foundation supports. The beauty of Newport is that wherever you wander you fill find something amazing and if you’re open to experiencing new things you will be greatly rewarded. Almost every year my favorite moments of the festival have come from things I originally didn’t have on my schedule.

Be Together

Togetherness is what Newport is all about. I don’t know any other festival where artists playing come together as much as they do at Newport. There is constant collaboration between artists playing the festival. There’s even an unofficial award, “the Jim James Award”, for the artist who sits in on the most sets over the weekend. This year that went to Brandi Carlile, who did have her own set on Sunday, but was there the entire weekend playing with seemingly everyone starting with singing “9 to 5” with Margo Price on Friday afternoon. Lucius who actually had their own set this year came in a close second and probably would have taken the crown again if they hadn’t had to leave for a gig on Sunday. They’ve showed up every year since their first whether they’ve had an official set or not. Hiss Golden Messenger also showed up a ton of places over the weekend. The Lone Bellow were only there on Sunday, but popped up numerous places throughout the day. I know I’m leaving out a ton of other collaborations, but this could go on forever.

And those are just the people who actually had official sets that sat in with others. There’s a whole other long list of people who just showed up to sit in on a song or two including John Prine with Margo Price, David Crosby with Jason Isbell, and all the people who came only for the closing set, “A Change is Going to Come” dedicated civil rights music including Mavis Staples, Chris Thile, and Leon Bridges all who I’m sad didn’t actually have their own sets to play during the weekend.

The Saturday headliner was unannounced. It turns out it was Mumford and Sons. People would have been a lot more excited about them a few years ago. They haven’t put out a new album in a while and the pop music fad they were riding high on has since passed them by. For several years Jay Sweet kept telling people to quit asking for Mumford and Sons because the festival is a small, non-profit and could never compete with the bigger festivals to get them. Their star has obviously fallen some such that Newport was able to get them, though to be affordable they still had to be unannounced due to radius clauses. I heard a lot of speculation about Paul Simon finally playing Newport before he retired (I was shocked to discover he never did) and a lot of people thinking it was going to be Neil Young for some reason. But Mumford and Sons truly made themselves worthy of the festival. Given all the things they have done to support musical collaboration like their Railroad Revival Tour, the Gentlemen of the Road shows they put on, and Marcus Mumford’s participation in the New Basement Tapes I always felt like they live by the Newport ethos and it was a shame they hadn’t played there. Their set was wonderful and exactly one that is the epitome of the Newport spirit. They had so many people out on stage to sing with them. They even took backstage and played back up to Maggie Rogers so she could sing her song “Alaska”. The best part of the set and my favorite part of the entire weekend was them bringing out Mavis Staples to sing “The Weight” with a whole bunch of other people including Brandi Carlile, Maggie Rogers, Phoebe Bridgers, and Hiss Golden Messenger. It may be one of my favorite Newport moments ever.

There’s also just the message of togetherness I felt like I heard throughout the weekend from many a stage. It’s a folk festival so it’s going to get political, but the overwhelming political message I heard this year was the need to bring people back together while still fighting the good fight. I left the festival feeling some hope for humanity for the first time in a long time. There were musical moments just perfectly made for bring people together. I had been waiting since the first time I heard it to sing Brandi Carlile’s “Hold Out Your Hand” with a Newport crowd and the moment did not disappoint. And the festival ended with a giant sing-a-long with a billion people on stage singing “Freedom Highway” fronted by the queen Mavis Staples. We’ll keep marching down freedom highway.

Jason Isbell at Wolf Trap

Tuesday night I went to see Jason Isbell at Wolf Trap as the second stop in my week of Jason Isbell in which I see him in concert 3 times in one week in 3 different states. As you know if you’ve been around here for any amount of time Wolf Trap is one of my favorite venues. I love sitting out on the lawn and picnicking there during shows. I put my husband in charge of buying these tickets and he bought us pavilion seats, which I was kind of annoyed at but turned out to be a good call because of the never ending torrents of rain that have been plaguing us for the past 5 days. I think the lawn people got lucky though because it might have sprinkled, but it never poured during the show though we definitely hit some downpours on both our drive there and back.

I am apparently doomed to only ever see Hiss Golden Messenger in rainy weather despite their music being the perfect warm summer outdoor concert music. I told my husband last night that the three times I’ve seen them I’ve been wearing my rain boots. They’re also playing at the Newport Folk Festival this coming weekend, so I hope that’s not an omen for rain. They had an unusually short opening set given that they were the only opening act. They only got 45 minutes, which limited what they had time to play. I was bummed they didn’t play “Saturday’s Song”, which is my favorite. Hopefully with a little bit longer at Newport they’ll get it in for me.

As soon as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit came out on stage I was a little bit bummed to see that Amanda Shires wasn’t with them. She’s Jason’s wife and plays fiddle in his band sometimes when she’s not off doing her own thing. She has a new album coming out in a couple of weeks so I knew she would probably be off on our her own tour soon but figured since she was there Friday night and will be there at Newport since she has her own set there as well that she would still be around at this concert. There were a couple of songs that I think are forever doomed to be poorer without her there. “Cover Me Up” and “If We Were Vampires” will never have the same impact without Amanda there on stage with Jason singing to her. But even though she wasn’t there it was an amazing show and I enjoyed it even more than Friday’s show in Canandaigua.

Part of the reason this show was better was the sound. I have no idea who was in charge of the sound in Canandaigua, but it was terrible. The volume got cranked way up between Brandi Carlile’s set and Jason Isbell’s set for some reason to an uncomfortable level. Even with my earplugs in, which I always wear at every concert (save your hearing kids), the loudness wound up setting off my tinnitus for days. Also the sound mix seemed way off. The drums seemed over power everything else. I was almost a little reluctant to go last night knowing we would be close in the pavilion again because I didn’t want to traumatize my hearing again, especially so close to the last time. Last night was much better and made me realize even more how terrible the sound was at CMAC.

This was the fourth time I’ve seen Jason Isbell while he’s been touring his The Nashville Sound album so I  knew his set would probably be slightly different from Friday night, but figured it would mostly be the same with most of it coming from the new album. Turns out last night’s set was hugely different from Friday night’s, which was awesome for me. He didn’t play nearly as many songs from the new album as he has at the other shows I’ve been to on this tour. I theorized that the new album has a lot of fiddle from Amanda in it, so without her there he decided to go back to more of his older stuff. I have no idea if that’s true, but it was my best guess. He pulled out more from his Drive-By Trucker days than I’ve ever heard him play before and even several songs from his first three solo albums, which he rarely plays much from. He played a lot more from Southeastern than he has at any show I’ve been to recently including “Elephant” which I can’t hear anymore without thinking about this delightful video.

It was a really great show. Jason Isbell and Wolf Trap never disappoint so I should have known it would be wonderful night of music.

Finger Lakes Weekend

This past weekend my husband I went up to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York for a long weekend. It began what I’m calling my week of Jason Isbell, in which I see him in concert 3 times in one week in 3 different states. I had already bought tickets to see him at Wolf Trap in Virginia which is one of my favorite venues when it was announced he was going to co-headline two shows with my other favorite artist Brandi Carlile. How could I not go to that? So I asked my husband if he preferred to go to Canandaigua, NY or to Portland, ME. He choose Canandaigua and because he’s awesome didn’t even question me. The third and final show will be at our annual trip to the Newport Folk Festival next weekend as he was announced as the Friday night headliner long after I had bought either of these tickets.

We drove up on Friday and arrived in Canandaigua in just about enough time to grab an early dinner before heading to the concert. Brandi Carlile was up first. It turns out I’m very glad that my husband chose Canandaigua over Portland because I compared the setlists and we got an entirely different set than what has been her more standard setlist that she’s been playing on this tour and I’ve seen multiple times already. For whatever reason instead of having the whole backing band plus the string quartet that they’ve been traveling with on this tour, it was just Brandi and the Twins up there playing acoustic guitars. I’ve seen them do that before, but it’s always awesome. They still played a decent amount of stuff from the new album, but not the whole thing like they have been doing. It was interesting to see how they filled in the string parts with the piano. They also played some different older stuff than they’ve been playing at other recent shows I’ve been to. I’m sort of curious what the actual written setlist was because there was a couple of times she said she was making a decision to change and play something not on the set list. One of those times was probably my favorite parts of the evening in which they did a sing-a-long medley of John Denver songs, “Country Roads”, “Sunshine on My Shoulder”, and “Rocky Mountain High”. It was glorious.

Having also seen Jason Isbell twice since he’s been traveling around touring his most recent record over the past year I wasn’t sure different this set list would be either. It was of course a lot the same, but he definitely mixed it up on the older stuff. He of course played a lot of stuff from the new album, plus the same three songs that he seems to be playing from the Something More than Free album, which are probably my three favorite so I won’t complain. He mixed it up a bit more with stuff from Southeastern and before. I’ll be curious to see what if anything differs in the next two times I see him this week.

I’d never been to the Finger Lakes region before so I decided we should stick around and explore a little bit instead of heading home first thing on Saturday. We drove down Seneca Lake and stopped in a little park and stuck our feet in. Our ultimate destination was Corning. I wanted to go to the Corning Museum of Glass. It was a cool museum, though I wished they had more about the actual history of Corning glass itself. All the art, innovation, and other history exhibits were cool though. They also have live demonstrations so we got to see some glass blowing as well. I was very interested in the fact that there seemed to be a high Chinese tourist population that goes to the museum given that the demonstration had a Mandarin interpreter and the signs in the museum cafe had Chinese translations on them. I was terrified of the gift shop. I was so afraid I was going to knock into all the glass displays and break everything. I managed to snag a Christmas ornament and get out without breaking anything.

The Corning Museum of Glass had a joint ticket with the Rockwell Museum. I didn’t really look into what the Rockwell Museum was. I just wrongly assumed that it was a museum of Norman Rockwell’s works. Turns out it’s actually a museum based off of a collection of American art started by a family with the last name Rockwell. I’m not sorry we went. It just wasn’t what I thought I was going to.

Despite the forecast when I packed on Friday morning saying it was going to be sunny and in the low-80s every day while we were there, the weather completely changed while we were inside the glass museum. It go much colder in the mid-60s and started raining. I would have packed much differently had I known. The weather kind of put a damper on my desire to do much else. We did walk up and down Market Street in downtwon Corning, but didn’t look into doing anything else that day or Sunday before we left because the weather was so gross and most of what there would be to do would be outside.

We ate dinner at a place on Market Street called Sorge’s, which is an old school Italian restaurant, and it was delicious. It was probably the best Italian food I have eaten in a long time. I liked they had sort of build your own pasta plates in which you could choose your pasta from a few options, which you could add additional toppings to. I got spaghetti and added meatballs, mushrooms, and threw some melted mozzarella cheese on top for good measure. I was very pleased with my decision.

We headed back to Maryland after breakfast on Sunday early enough that we were able to swing by a friend’s 40th birthday party before going home so even though the weather put a damper on our New York activities it worked out so we could celebrate with a friend.

Sugarland at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Last night I went to Merriweather Post Pavilion to see Sugarland with Clare Bowen and Brandy Clark opening. It was a perfect summer night for an outdoor concert. Warm, but not humid. Just lovely. Beautiful summer nights with live music under the stars are one of my favorite things in the world and last night was an A+ all around.

It’s the first time I’ve been to Merriweather this season, so the first time I’ve seen some of the changes they made over the off-season. The most obvious one on the public side was the raising of the roof, which you can definitely tell. The higher roof makes the view from the lawn a lot better so that was a welcome change.

This tour is the return of Sugarland after a five year hiatus in which Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush went their separate ways for awhile. They finally put out a new album ahead of this tour, which as seems to be the practice now I got a free download of with the purchase of my concert ticket. I really like the new album a lot, so I was excited to hear them play some of their new music. Apparently they lost a lot of momentum during their break though because unlike when I saw them at Merriweather on their previous tour this one was pretty sadly attended. The pavilion was probably about 1/3 empty and the lawn probably close to 1/2 empty. I also joked that people didn’t come because there were too many ladies on stage since it was 2 female opening acts and a female fronted main act. Apparently country music, especially these days, is highly misogynistic. Women get like a 1/4 of the air play on country music radio as men, which they try to explain away as what the people want, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a self fulfilling loop in which women don’t get played, so people don’t know the music and thus don’t want it, and then don’t go to the concerts because they’re not hearing the music. Repeat.

I on the other hand am a much bigger fan of female country artists or female fronted bands. Aside from my OG country love Garth Brooks and the very earliest of Tim McGraw, I can’t think of a single male country artist whose albums I’ve bought or who I’ve gone to see in concert. I’m very happy that Merriweather snuck in as the last venue on this leg of Sugarland’s tour because apparently it was the last night for Clare Bowen and Brandy Clark as the openers. They pick up Frankie Ballard, who couldn’t care less about, for the back half.

Clare Bowen had possibly the shortest opening set I have ever seen. She only got about 20 minutes. In case you’re not aware, Clare Bowen is the actress who played Scarlett on the TV show Nashville. It turns out that I like the character of Scarlett O’Connor and the music she sings way more than I actually like Clare Bowen. I liked the one Nashville song that she sang, but I didn’t much care for the 4 songs she wrote along with her husband who backed her on guitar and sang with her.

Brandy Clark is someone who whenever I hear her music I think I really like her I should listen to her more and then never do for whatever reason. In some ways she felt a little like the odd woman out on this tour with Clare Bowen covered in glittered and wearing a flowy white princess gown and Jennifer Nettles wearing a sparkly body suit and sparkly fish net tights around which she wrapped various out coverings throughout the show. Meanwhile Brandy was dressed in all black pants and shirt. Her music feels a little more outlaw country and rock country than Clare Bowen or Sugarland. I really do like her. I just say all that because I think she would be awesome to see in a smaller venue with a crowd that was there to see her rather an audience who didn’t particularly seem to know who she was or care. In the right place her music seems like it would be a raucous good time, whereas everyone just sat through her set here. I still really enjoyed her music though.

Last time I saw Sugarland their stage set was much more elaborate than it is on this tour. There was still a lot more going on than in most of the shows I see, which I don’t super love actually. Even though I love actual theatre I don’t love theatrics in my concerts. It’s why I am not one for big stadium and arena shows for the most part because in order to make them even remotely enjoyable for the fans millions of miles away from the stage there has to be a lot of elaborate spectacle that often times just comes across as cold and distracting from the music for me. This concert wasn’t that, but I could have done without the music videos playing in the background of a bunch of the songs. I want to watch what the performers are doing not some prerecorded video that goes along with the song. That’s what YouTube is for.

Despite what I just said I thought it was a great concert. Jennifer Nettles is just such a fun presence on stage. She looks like she’s having so much fun and even though they don’t do a ton of audience engagement during their set her joy just draws you in. Also I just love the power of her voice. She’s a really great performer and I’m glad to have her back with Kristian in Sugarland. You would figure I would like her solo stuff too, but I just never connected with it. I don’t know what it is about the two of them together that makes the music so much more than when they’re apart but I’m really happy they’re back.

They played a handful of songs from their new album and a whole bunch of old stuff. It’s been awhile since I’ve just sat down and listened to my Sugarland albums. Aside from listening to the new album, I’ve mostly just heard whatever comes on the radio by them over the past few years. I realized last night that for the most part country radio plays my least favorite songs by them. I had kind of forgotten how much I love some of their other songs until I heard them again last night for the first time in a long time.

I always love when bands have fun with covers and remixes during shows. Sugarland did not disappoint. They, I think smartly, did some remixes with a couple of their newer songs which I think helps people who don’t know them yet engage with them. They ended “Lean It on Back”, which is my favorite song from the new album, mixing it with Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. This also did a nice long remix break that included “We’ve Got the Funk”, “Billie Jean”, and “Express Yourself” among other songs I’m forgetting during the middle of “On a Roll”.

Probably my favorite part of the evening was their cover of Patty Griffin’s “Tony”, which is about a gay high school boy who commits suicide because of all the abuse he receives at school. They accompanied with stats about LGBTQ suicides and asking people to think about what their kids are hearing in their homes, their schools, and their churches. In the country music community this is such an important message and I’m happy for every little step country music seems to be taking in the right direction in this regard even though country music and the majority of country music fans have a long way to go. I actually found a professionally recorded version of this song that Sugarland posted on their YouTube channel. I encourage you to watch.

It was an absolutely perfect night and I’m so glad to have Sugarland back even though many of their fans seem to have moved on while they were gone. I’m still here.