Amos Lee at Wolf Trap

Last night I went to my first concert since the pandemic started. If you’ve been around here at all you know how desperately I love and missed live music. I’m trying to take as much as I can in now while there are a lot of shows outside because things do not seem to be going in the right direction COVID wise and I’m not sure how willing I’m going to be to go to inside concerts this winter when there will probably be a lot of young unvaccinated people crowded together.

This was a really nice reentry into the concert world. During June and July Wolf Trap was doing socially distanced shows. You had to buy pods, so we actually paid for a pod of four on the lawn even though there were only too of us. Sadly I don’t know any other Amos Lee fans to take the extra tickets. It’s a shame because he’s great. There was also no opening act so it started at 8 and ended at 9:30, which is just about perfect for me, especially at a Wolf Trap show. I was actually home before my bedtime instead of 12:30 am like usual. I wish all concerts were like that.

Amos is not doing a full tour yet. He just a few random dates here and there, so he was just playing acoustic solo rather than with his band which was a-ok with me. It just felt like a live version of the weekly Instagram Live concerts he did every Thursday night during the first year of the pandemic. It really did help keep me going, and I’m so thankful for him. It felt like the perfect thing that my first concert back was Amos Lee at my favorite Baltimore/DC area venue.

The concert was great. He is super funny joking a lot between songs. He also is one of the few artists I’ve seen that doesn’t come out with much of a set list. He just kind of decides what to play on the fly and also took a bunch of requests from the audience. He played a couple of new songs off his forthcoming album, which has been on hold since the pandemic started. One of the songs he played so much on the Instagram shows that I actually forgot that it’s not already been released.

Amos does a lot of work with Musicians On Call an organization that sends musical artists to hospitals to play for people, and he always seems to be attuned to his fans that are battling a significant illness. He befriended a kid named Jordy over the Instagram concerts and Jordy even came on and played with him one night. Apparently Jordy is from Virginia so he too was at the concert last night and Amos dedicated the song “Kid” to him because they used to play it together. It was a very sweet moment, and I love that song and it doesn’t seem to be one he plays a lot so I was very happy to hear it. He also ended the show with a song called “Charles St.”, which I’m not even sure I’ve ever heard before or at least paid attention to when I did hear it because the Charles Street in reference is actually the Charles Street in Baltimore. He said he had some friends from Baltimore who were also in the audience so he was singing it for them. Most of the song doesn’t have anything to do with Baltimore and you would never know he was referencing that until the very last night until it references Charles Street and I-83 when it definitely becomes obvious to anyone who knows. So that was kind of fun and just reinforced even more that this concert felt like a perfect live music come back.

It definitely reminded me of the joys of seeing live music. Even though it was a limited crowd due to the social distancing they had in place there was a lot of energy in the place. There was a lot of clapping and singing together. All the things that you just can’t experience watching concerts over a computer like I did so often for the past year. I’m so happy to have concerts back in my life. Please go get vaccinated if you haven’t yet, so that I can keep them.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2020

It’s that time of year again where I share my favorite things I experienced in pop culture over the past year. As a reminder these are not necessarily things that came out during 2020 though many of them are. They are however things I enjoyed for the first time this year. This year is a little bit different because some of my standard categories I didn’t really have a choice in thanks to the pandemic. It wasn’t a matter what my favorite thing was. It was a matter of did I even get to do any of these things this year. Although I am sad that I didn’t get to do a lot in the way of seeing things like concerts and theater, which are what I love to do more than anything else in the world, there was thankfully lots of excellent pop culture to keep me entertained while I’ve been stuck at home for most of the year. Let’s get to it.

Movie I Saw in a Theater

This was an easy pick because I saw exactly one movie in a theater in 2020. At least I enjoyed the film, though I doubt it would be sitting in this spot had I seen other movies over the course of the year. It was Birds of Prey, the Harley Quinn movie starring Margot Robbie. Who knew I was going to be enjoying so much Harley Quinn this year, since I also loved the Harley Quinn animated tv series now available on HBOMax. I actually appreciated the smallness of this movie. While I mostly enjoy a lot of comic book superhero movies I hate when they are too what I call smashy smashy where you have long 20-30 minute CGI fight scenes of characters just smashing on things and each other. They bore me to tears. There was none of that in this movie. The fight scenes were at close range and a lot of fun. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I found a lot to like about it and am not sad that it gets to be the lone movie I saw in a theater this year.

Movie I Watched at Home

I probably watched more movies at home this year than I normally do because I couldn’t see movies in theaters. I normally prefer to see movies in the theater as I have a hard time concentrating on them for that long at home without getting distracted by other things. I think my favorites though were two documentaries about collecting, The Booksellers and Vinyl Nation. As you might guess The Booksellers were about rare book dealers and collectors while Vinyl Nation was about record stores and record collectors. I am not a collector. I guess I don’t have that kind of personality, but I enjoyed seeing the worlds of these people who are super into collecting their books and vinyl records. Despite being a librarian and avid reader I have no interest in collecting books. I borrow most of the books I read and am happy to send books back out into the world for others to enjoy. I rarely reread books so I don’t see the point of having shelves full of them. I do often wish I was the kind of person who was into vinyl collecting though. Music is obviously something I consume over and over again and the idea of having a collection of records that I look through, select from, and then sit down and listen to appeals to me. In reality though the record player we have is not even out on the floor and the two vinyl albums I own were WXPN pledge drive gifts. Realistically I am never going to be that person, but I enjoyed living in the world of the people who are for a little while.

Fiction Book

Without actually meaning to or seeking them out I feel like I read a number of books having to do with various wars or people living under the constant threat of violence. Although it is to some degree an entirely different thing I also felt like there were a lot of parallels to our current state living through a pandemic with lots of death, living in a constant state of fear, and not knowing if or when it’s ever going to end. The best of these books and the one that is the best fiction book I read all year is Apeirogon by Colum McCann. I am just going to share my review on Goodreads because I don’t think I have anything better to say about the book than that.

“An apeirogon is a figure with an infinite number of sides and that is actually the perfect title for this book. I don’t even know how to describe it. At its basest level it is a fictionalized story of the real men Palestinian, Bassam Aramin and Israeli, Rami Elhanan both of whom lost their daughters to violence but who come together to try and fight for peace in the Middle East. It also includes non-fiction passages at the heart of the book written by both men. The story if you can really call it that moves and folds back and around itself while weaving in other facts and histories all written in short vignettes ranging from a mere sentence to several pages. It’s masterfully written and creative in a way that compares to no other book I can think of save for maybe Lincoln in the Bardo, which I more admired for what the author did than I actually enjoyed reading it. Here I think everything comes together perfectly. It’s definitely not a book for anyone who needs their books to have a straight narrative story, but this is beautifully written and full of so much meaning that it is a true masterpiece.”

Non-Fiction Book

I have two books that qualify for my favorite non-fiction book of the year. Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of thee Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban was the first book I read in 2020 and even then I said this is probably going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I was not wrong about that. It’s the informative and horrifying true story about how generic drugs are made and why there can be so many issues with them. This has made me question everything when it comes to the medications I take.

The second book, which was no surprise, was Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. I was very much looking forward to this book as I loved Wilkerson’s previous masterpiece The Warmth of Other Suns. Caste looks at how the United States really operates on a caste system based on race. She delves into the history and the effects on people and our country. She offers the best explanation I’ve seen as to why it’s important for us to actually address this issue and do what we need to do to repair rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or say it’s not our problem because we’re not the ones who caused it. If you read one of the three books I’ve mentioned here make it this one.

TV Show

I have a few tv shows I want to mention that were the highlights of a year in which I watched a LOT of television and that’s saying something given how much I watched before this. I already alluded to Harley Quinn in the movie section. It’s a fun adults only show that I was sad when I ran out of episodes of.

The first show I watched in 2020 was Schitt’s Creek. I binge watched it over my winter break last year. I had not watched it for a long time thinking it was not something I would enjoy. I was never into all the Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara movies and I generally don’t like shows where people are just awful so on the face of it this show was just not for me. But I had heard so many people talk about how much they loved it that I decided to give it a chance. I’m so glad I did because it is such a delightful show full of so much heart. It is a little rough going in the first half of season one where it felt more like what I was expecting, but eventually the show grows and the characters grow and it’s something that brings me so much joy. If you haven’t watched this show yet please do yourself a favor and do it.

My second favorite show of the year has sadly already met an untimely death after only one season. Thanks Netflix. It’s Teenage Bounty Hunters. I love this show so much! Talk about a show with so much heart. In some ways it shares a lot of DNA with Schitt’s Creek in that it is a ridiculous over the top story with characters that are somewhat caricatures but who have such heart that you just fall in love with them. Everyone I have convinced to watch this show has loved it and I know the many other people I’ve been telling to watch it but who have been resisting my efforts (you know who you are) would love it too. I saw it on a lot of year end best of television lists too. I wish Netflix had let it stick around and grow an audience because get why based on the name and description it wasn’t something people jumped right into when Netflix put it out, but it’s definitely a show that would have grown an audience through word of mouth if it had only been given time. Even though it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger I still highly recommend treating yourself to the one season of this show that we were gifted.

I also fell in love with the show Wynonna Earp this year. It’s not a show I had ever really heard anyone talk about aside from one guest on a podcast I listen to. Apparently her love of the show was enough to get me to check it out and I’m glad I finally did. I tell people if they were Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans than this show is probably for them. It’s got a strong female lead, actually lots of strong female characters, love stories, and supernatural fun. I can’t wait for the second half of the most recent season to air hopefully sometime soon.

TV Episode

I have two episodes to talk about in this category. First Season 4, Episode 8 of Insecure, “Lowkey Happy”. This is one of those pay off episodes that I love from long running tv shows. Season 4 was mostly about Issa and Molly’s friendship and was an excellent season looking at the fading of friendship, but this episode was about Issa and her ex-boyfriend Lawrence. They reconnect over a long night spent together that reminds me of the Before movies. It was lovely and romantic and something that only could have happened with these characters and their relationship being developed over seasons.

Second is Schitt’s Creek Season 4, Episode 9, “The Olive Branch”. This is actually another payoff episode in that earlier in the season Patrick sings an acoustic version of the song “The Best” by Tina Turner to David during an event at their store that David both hates and loves. Then as a romantic makeup gesture after a fight in a later episode David does a dance to the song for Patrick. It’s so wonderful. It’s, no pun intended, the best scene from the entire show and is one of the videos I keep in my arsenal to rewatch when I need something to make me happy. Sadly it seems like the videos on YouTube of just that scene have all been pulled down. So you’ll just have to go watch the show to see it.

Album

I had far too many albums I loved this year to talk about in this post, so I refer you to the separate post I did recently on my favorite albums of 2020.

Song

My favorite song of 2020 was Janelle Monae’s “Turntables”. It’s an amazing empowerment anthem that has kept me going through some pretty dark times in this year.

Also have to give a special mention to the song “It’s Still Alright” by Nathaniel Rateliff. It was the first song I added to my 2020 playlist and it’s a song I came back to a lot. Although the song is about substance abuse and the death of Rateliff’s long time producer Richard Swift, the soothing tones of the song and the lyrics of the chorus repeatedly telling us “and it’s still alright” were a continued gentle reminder in this year full of so much pain and sorrow that there are brighter days ahead.

I will also give a shout out to the following songs that I also loved and listened to a lot this year. “Dreamsicle” by Jason Isbell, “Strangers” by Mt. Joy, “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy, and “Lockdown on Date Night Tuesday” by Ondara. You can also check out my 2020 playlist on Spotify, which contains all the songs I heard this year that I liked enough to want to listen to again.

Concert

Unlike most years when I would have dozens of concerts to choose from in this spot, this year I only had two. The final concert I went to in 2020 before everything fell apart was Trampled by Turtles at Baltimore Soundstage. It was a fun show and one I would have cherished all the more had I known it was the last show I was going to see for who knows how long.

The concert that was ultimately my favorite and probably would have been in contention for that even if I had gotten to see everything I already had tickets to in 2020 was traveling to Nashville to meet up with a friend to see Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium. One of my favorite artists in a fantastic, historical venue with a friend and fellow music lover. Who could ask for more? If I was only going to get to see two concerts in 2020 I can’t complain that this was one of them.

Online Concert

I’m adding in this new category this year because in lieu of getting to go out and see actual shows I watched a lot of artists perform online this year. Hopefully it’s one that I will only need to use this year because I want nothing more for 2021 than to be able to see live music again. There many, many online shows I watched from artists playing on Instagram and YouTube from their houses for free, shows I paid for with artists playing in their houses or shows I paid for with artists performing in actual venues with no audience. None of it fulfills the same experience as going to an actual live show and sharing the musical experience with a crowd.

The two things that I’m going to talk about here are things that are/were some of the least produced online music experiences but because of the way they are/were done brought at least a little of that communal experience you get from live music. When the pandemic first started Amanda Shires did 30 straight days of shows from her barn, which she called I So Lounging. Most of them also featured her husband Jason Isbell as well as Seth and Kelly Plemmons who were living with them at the time when we thought this would all be over in a few weeks. Seth is a member of her band and Kelly worked on the behind the scenes stuff. It was something that really kept me going those first weeks of lockdown when everything was so new and raw. It was wonderful to hear them play and just laugh and cry together and there was a little community in the YouTube comments for the shows. Although they were up on YouTube for a long time, sadly it seems like they’ve pulled all the videos down now.

The other online shows that I have loved have also been because of their regularity and the fact that they feel a little bit more intimate and personal. Almost every Thursday night since the pandemic started Amos Lee has been going live on Instagram on Thursday nights at 7:30. He hasn’t even been collecting tips. I’m not sure how he’s keeping himself going with no touring income. He’s done a couple of fundraisers for various organizations so whenever he does that I make sure to donate to whatever his chosen cause is. I’ve turned Thursday nights into a little bit of date night surrounding these concerts. We get take out and then I make my husband play a board game or card game with me while we listen to Amos Lee play. He’s even saved a lot of them to his IGTV so you can go back and watch if you want.

Broadway Theatre Production

Even though I had tickets to several shows later in the year I did not get to see any Broadway shows in 2020. My Company tickets were refunded. Who knows when or if that show will ever open. Our Music Man tickets were rescheduled twice and we’re now set to see the show in February of 2022. We thought it was hilarious when we were buying tickets for November 2020 in August of 2019. Little did we know.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I did get to see one show in Baltimore this year before everything shut down. It was Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally at Baltimore Center Stage. Unlike with the one movie I saw I can’t say that this was a show I super enjoyed. Sadly I’m not sure that the new artistic director and I see eye to eye on theatre. After loving almost every show I saw there for many years as a season ticket subscriber, this past season I didn’t really like much of anything. I think most of it was chosen in the interim before she actually started so I’m hoping that I’m wrong and that when the finally do get back to being able to have actual shows there that she selects shows that are more to my liking.

Online Theatre Production

Like with concerts I saw some online theatre productions this year as well. Some were previously taped performances that were released from archives. Some were weird Zoom like things (though not actually on Zoom). And some were live productions in front of no audience. I watched several shows put on at the Old Vic in London that were produced live with no audience. It lead to me watching theatre at some very odd times given the time difference. I think my favorite was Three Kings starring Andrew Scott, who you may know as Hot Priest from Fleabag. Sometimes one person shows where it’s just one long monologue can lose my interest, but I thought he did an excellent job and the story he was telling kept me engaged.

Podcast

I think I’ve mentioned Make Me Smart to some degree in this space every year since it has existed and that is not going to change this year. This year they expanded from their once a week on Tuesday episode to transitioning to a daily podcast after the pandemic started. They still do what they call the big show on Tuesdays, which is usually around a half hour or so. Then the other days they do short 15 minute episodes most of those they each bring a news story and something that makes them happy to talk about. They started naming the episodes at some point: Make Me Smart Mondays, Big Show Tuesdays, Whatta Ya Want to Know Wednesdays (in which they ditch the normal daily show format and spend the whole episode answering listener questions), Hollowed Out Shell Thursdays (because by that point in the week we all feel like hollowed out shells), and Economics on Tap Fridays (their weekly happy hour episode where they would have a drink and would often live tape over YouTube so people could see them and join in in the comments). It’s the first podcast I put on every time there’s a new episode in my feed. It helps me going and I’m so happy they expanded to 5 days a week.

Staying in with Emily and Kumail was a short lived podcast produced by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani that they put out at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all in lockdown. They basically just talked about their lives and the things they were enjoying and experiencing. Although she is no longer practicing Emily is a trained therapist so she had a lot of great insights to offer about what we were all experiencing and how we were experiencing them. She also is immunocompromised and at high risk for COVID so they were being extremely careful just like my husband and I have been. So it was nice to get their perspective on that as well. It’s not something that would probably make sense to listen to now if you didn’t listen to it when it was first on, but it was super helpful for me in processing everything that was happening and all the feelings I was having at the beginning of the pandemic. I get why it’s not something they kept up, but I do think it would be kind of nice to have a check in episode every once in awhile.

Podcast Episode

My favorite podcast episode of the year was the Song Exploder episode in which Semisonic broke down their song “Closing Time”. I’m not going to give anything away. You should just go listen to the episode. I will only say this, that song has way more meaning behind it than you think and I will never hear it the same way ever again.

Trampled by Turtles at Baltimore Soundstage

Last night I went to see Trampled by Turtles at Baltimore Soundstage with Upstate as the opening act. As one might expect from a band called Upstate they are from upstate New York. They have kind of a folky jazzy sound. They had some really nice harmonies, which I always appreciate. They were a decent opening act. Their music probably isn’t something I’m going to choose to sit around and listen to, but I didn’t mind it and they were entertaining enough performers. That’s really all you can ask for in an opening act.

I’ve seen Trampled by Turtles live several times in the past, but this is the first time that I’ve seen them somewhere other than the Newport Folk Festival. I don’t really have too much to say about this particular concert. They are always a super fun time. Their music creates a lot of energy and the crowd was really into it. They played all the songs I wanted to hear, so I have nothing to complain about in that regard. They were lots of fun as always. It was an excellent night.

Nashville Part 2: The Music

Yesterday I wrote about my recent trip to Nashville. Today I’m going to talk about the music. The trip happened because we wanted to see Brandi Carlile perform at The Ryman. I knocked the Ryman off my concert venue bucket list back in 2017, but it’s a fantastic venue and I of course wanted to see my favorite artist play there. I mean realistically it’s a good thing I don’t live in Nashville or I’d probably have to get a second job to support all the shows I would go see at The Ryman. I commented that I’m glad that I’ve never wound up on their mailing list because of course I would just have constant fomo, but also it might be too dangerous as I would be too tempted to book a flight to Nashville to go see things.

Aside from the ridiculously drunk woman sitting next to my friend it was a fantastic show as expected. The woman was wasted from the second we sat down and would not stop touching and putting her arm around my friend. That’s totally my fault as I’m usually the one who attracts the worst people in every venue, and I think the ticket I had in my hand actually had her seat number on it (shh don’t tell). I think she handled it much better than I would have, so I thank her for her sacrifice.

Of the six shows Brandi Carlile is doing at the Ryman, I think we were at by far at the best one (even though as of my writing this one of them hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve never been a fan of Courtney Barnett who is the opener so there’s no way that one is better). At least it was definitely the one most made for me. When we bought the tickets we just chose by the date. There was no information at that point as to who the openers would be. The opener for our show wound up being Brandi’s fellow Highwoman, Natalie Hemby. Natalie had one album as a performer that didn’t really go anywhere, but she has been a prolific songwriter for many big country acts including Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, and Kacey Musgraves. She was drafted into writing some songs for The Highwomen and Brandi was like you’re not just writing for us you’re going to be part of the group. Now Natalie is working on her second album. I don’t expect stupid country radio to pay it any mind, but I for one am very excited about it and will definitely go see her when she presumably tours to support it.

Natalie Hemby was a pure delight as a performer. Even with a cold her music was great and her stage banter between songs was hilarious. She even brought her daughter out to sing Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow”, which she co-wrote, with her. You could tell her daughter was nervous at first, but by the end she was totally into it. Brandi ran out on stage and gave her a big hug at the end of the song. It was all very sweet. I cannot wait to have more Natalie Hemby in my life.

Brandi’s set was of course fantastic as always. Every time I see her I cannot wait to see her again. My friend and I were already lamenting that we didn’t have tickets to any of the remaining shows as soon as this one was over. It’s okay though because as I said I think we were at the one most tailor made for me. Since Natalie Hemby was the opener they did more Highwomen songs than they’ve done in the other sets with of course Natalie joining her. Sheryl Crow also joined them on “Redesigning Women”. Then Sheryl sang “Redemption Day” with Brandi filling in the Johnny Cash parts of the posthumous duet/cover of the song that was on Sheryl’s most recent album.

One of the things that I love about Brandi is her desire to promote other artists. In that vein at this show she also brought out The War and Treaty to cover Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” with her. She said she was about to experience a vocal body slam and she was not lying. The War and Treaty have some voices.

This set seems to have been the only one of two so far where she played “Mainstream Kid”, which is one of my favorite songs for her to play live even though it’s by far not one of my favorite songs to just listen to. It just has such great energy and she always gets super into it. It was another amazing Brandi Carlile show and I’m already counting down the days until I get to see her again.

As I mentioned in my previous post on Friday night we wound up at a venue called The Listening Room Cafe, which our RCA Studio B tour guide recommended if you were unable to get into the Bluebird Cafe, which we were sadly not. Like the Bluebird, The Listening Room is designed to showcase songwriters with the songwriters performing their songs in the round, i.e. they all take turns performing a song each then repeat through however many rounds they have time for during the set.

At the show we were at the performers were Jesse Lee, Zach Kale, and Joshua Patton. They were all three pretty good although I liked Zach and Jesse more than Joshua I liked  Jesse most of all. I really liked the songs she wrote and I loved her voice. I did a little more digging and it appears that she did put out an album back in 2009, which didn’t really go anywhere so I guess she must have decided to concentrate on songwriting. She said it’s taken her 14 years, but she’s finally had some success. She co-wrote Brett Young’s number 1 hit “Like I Loved You” and Kelsei Ballerini’s song “Peter Pan”. She sang another song that as far as I’ve been able to ascertain hasn’t been recorded by anyone, but I loved it and was mad when she said she had written it for a man to sing. I mean obviously if you actually want your songs to get played on country radio at this point you better write them for a man to sing, but man it really burns me that she’s writing it hoping some man will decide to sing it when I adored her singing it and wish she could actually get success singing it.

I also really appreciated that they talked about their careers as songwriters, what goes into it, and the challenges it entails. It’s a side of the music business I feel like you don’t get to hear that much about. They all had really good rapport together and would chime in to harmonize at points when each of them were singing. It was a really great set and I’m really happy our tour guide alerted us to this venue.

It as an excellent musical trip to Nashville. I’ll be back again at some point to try and get into the elusive Bluebird Cafe, which is becoming my white whale of concert venues. Plus I want to go to The Caverns for Bluegrass Underground, which is 90 minutes outside of Nashville. So there will be at least one more trip to Nashville in my future.

Nashville Part 1: The Trip

I spent the last few days with a friend in Nashville. I’m going to split the trip into two posts with this one general information about the trip and the second one about the music. That way this post doesn’t get super unwieldy and the 90% of you who read this blog who don’t care about the music can just skip that one like you do all my other music posts.

Years ago I bonded with a fellow librarian over our shared love of music on Twitter eventually meeting up with her at conferences and becoming real life friends. About 7 months ago I happened to text her about something on the same day that the fan club pre-sale tickets were going on sale for Brandi Carlile’s 6 night stint at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. She mentioned that she was thinking about going. I had jokingly mentioned it to my husband who I knew would never go for it earlier in the week. As expected his response was you’ve already been to the Ryman and you’ve seen Brandi a million times. We are not going to that. I told her that and she was like well you should just come with me. I said you’re right I should and within a few hours we made plans and had tickets through the pre-sale. Yay for spontaneity!

We rented an Airbnb in East Nashville. My husband and I had stayed in that neighborhood a few years ago and I thought it was a great location and recommended we stay there. It’s only about one and half to two miles to whatever you might want to do downtown. We’re both big walkers so we were happy to walk everywhere except maybe Saturday morning when it was raining, cold, and crazy windy. I think we kind of regretted making that walk instead of taking a Lyft. The neighborhood was already very much gentrifying when we were there last time and it has even more so in the last two and half years. We wound up grabbing lunch on Thursday at a food hall that wasn’t there the last time I was in Nashville.

Thursday night was the Brandi Carlile concert, which I will have much more to say about in my next post. We walked over to the Ryman and I was shocked at how empty Broadway where all the bars and honky tonks are was because it was insane last time we were there in April. I guess the cold of January means there are far fewer tourists. Last time I was there I told my husband this street is my nightmare and got off it as fast as possible. This time I was like I could probably deal with this if we decide to do something here. Even though I would have preferred warmer weather I definitely liked that the city was less crowded and had far fewer bachelorette parties this time around.

Friday I suggested we go on the RCA Studio B tour. It was the one thing I was interested in last time we were in Nashville that we didn’t do for some reason. You have to buy it bundled with entry to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I had done that last time I was in Nashville, but there were some new exhibits so it wasn’t all a repeat for me. RCA Studio B is a historic recording studio where lots of people recorded including The Everly Brothers and Elvis. RCA has much newer and larger studios across the street now, but some smaller artists still occasionally record in Studio B. Our tour guide was great and gave us the tip of where we wound up going to see music on Friday night.

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I was hoping that we would get to go to the Bluebird Cafe on Friday night, but even with both of us trying to get tickets we were unsuccessful. We floated the idea of trying to get some of the few walk-up tickets available for the early show, but from everything I had read online you needed to get there at least 2 hours early if you wanted any chance. It was way too cold to consider waiting outside for that long. Our tour guide told us if you can’t get into The Bluebird you should go to The Listening Room Cafe as they do something very similar. Those tickets also showed as sold out online, but since it was in walking distance we decided to walk over and see if there was any hope of getting in. We got there about 2 hours before the show and got on the waiting list. We hung out at the bar and got some food while we waited and then happily got in. More on the show in my next post.

The previous day our tour guide also told us that our Country Music Hall of Fame tickets got us into the Frist Art Museum for free, so we decided we would go check that out. It’s a good thing it was free since apparently they only have traveling exhibitions and no permanent collection and two of their exhibitions had just closed leaving only the Eric Carle exhibit up. I learned some interesting things about Eric Carle and his work, but it definitely wouldn’t have been worth paying for.

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After that we headed over to check out the main branch of the Nashville Public Library because we’re librarians and that’s what librarians do. I can’t think of any other profession where people go on vacation and make it a point to check out the work places of other people in their profession. I guess it counts if you work in a museum. It’s a really nice library although there’s some weird dead spaces that I’m wondering what they thought they were going to do with them when they built it because right now they’re doing nothing with them.

Although Broadway was busier on Saturday than it has been the previous two days it still wasn’t insane in the middle of the afternoon, so we decided to pop into Tootsie’s for a drink since it’s such a historic part of Nashville music history. There was a cover band playing in the room we wound up in that was mediocre. It was worth going for one drink, but after that one drink we decided to go grab some lunch elsewhere.

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Lunch was pretty much the end of my trip as I flew home on Saturday night. My friend stayed until Sunday afternoon and in retrospect I wish I had too. When I made my plans many months prior I didn’t realize it was MLK weekend, so I partly wanted to come home Saturday because if possible I like having a day to chill at home before heading back to work when I travel. I still could have had that coming home Sunday since I don’t have to work on MLK Day. Also, I assumed my friend would want to do the whole barhopping on Broadway thing like a lot of people do when they’re in Nashville and I knew that wasn’t going to be something I ever wanted to do, so I thought I can leave Friday evening and then she can do that Saturday night. Well you know what they say about assuming because it turns out she had zero interest in doing that either, but I didn’t know that until we were there. So as it turns out I should have stayed and gone with her to listen to some bluegrass on Saturday night, but what are you going to do?

It was a super fun trip and I’m so happy that we decided to jump on it. I’ll have more to say in a day or two about the shows and music venues we went to while in town.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2019

Once again it’s time for my annual post on the pop culture that was most memorable to me over the past year. As always it doesn’t have to be something created in 2019. It just has to be something I consumed over the past year. And as always I emphasize that these are the things that meant the most to me, not necessarily the things that I think are the best thing made in any given category. In past year’s I’ve mostly tried to limit myself to one thing per category. I’m going against that this year in several categories because who says I have to choose just one thing? Sometimes I enjoy multiple things an equal amount and don’t want to choose between them. These are the things that brought me joy this year and why shouldn’t I want to introduce you to as many great things as possible? I make the rules here, so I say no arbitrary limits on how many things I’m allowed to write about!

Movie I Saw in a Theater

I often lament the lack of good romantic comedies like there once were, so I always try and go see the few and far between rom-coms that make it into movie theaters even when I know they are going to be terrible because I want Hollywood to know there’s a market for them. This year though the one rom-com I saw in a theater was not terrible. In fact it was my favorite movie of the year, The Long Shot starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. I was slightly dubious about it because I don’t love Seth Rogen and all his drug humor. There was some of that in this movie, but just the right amount. I thought it was a very funny and sweet movie with a great modern day rom-com set-up for why the two leads just couldn’t be together.

I’ll also give a shout out to Knives Out, which was a very fun whodunit.

Movie I Watched at Home

This is the category I always have the hardest time filling out partly because I can never remember what I watched. Last year I kept a list and that worked out really well, so I thought that I would do that again this year. It didn’t really work though because every time I watched a movie at home, which wasn’t that frequently, I thought well that was okay, but I’m not even going to bother adding it to my list because there’s no way I would put it in my end of the year blog post. And that’s how it went for pretty much every movie I watched this year. There were zero movies on that list as of mid-December.

I didn’t initially think to include it because it’s not a traditional movie per se, but I’m going to go with the four hour Tom Petty documentary, Runnin’ Down a Dream. I’ve been meaning to watch it for years because Tom Petty is one of all time favorite artists and I’ve always heard good things about it. I just never wanted to commit 4 hours to it, but this year when I had a snow day back in February I thought today is the perfect day to finally watch this. It was indeed a very good music documentary. It focused mostly on Tom Petty’s musical career and didn’t delve much into his personal life, so I felt like it was a very good companion with the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes which gets much more into Tom Petty as a person.

Fiction Book

I have two very different books I’m putting in this category this year. First is The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, which I recently read for my book club. The book moves back and forth in time between 1980s Chicago during the height of the AIDS crisis and 2015 Paris where you pick up with the sister of one of the young men who died and who nursed many of the men in his friend group as they too succumbed to the disease. The 1980s part is for sure the better half of the story. Some of those characters are still with me. The 2015 half while not as good is still engaging enough as to not drag the entire book down and I appreciated how everything came together at the end.

The other novel that I really loved this year was Fear of Falling by Georgia Beers. It was just a really great romance about a famous singer who recently lost her manager and whose label assigns a woman to manage her that she winds up having feelings for. It has very realistic obstacles throwing a wrench in their budding romance and I literally couldn’t put it down. We were on vacation in L.A. and my husband finally had to force me to quit reading so we could go out to the Griffith Observatory.

Non-Fiction Book

I actually have three non-fiction books that I want to write about. One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten. In this book a reporter picks a random day out of a hat and writes a book about what happened on a day that historically we would say nothing really happened. He digs into stories that may not have garnered national attention but that certainly impacted individual people, families, and communities. I found it to be a really fascinating book.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe is fantastic book covering the modern history of the I.R.A. and the Irish troubles. It’s a really well written book that presents a lot of information in a really accessible way. I learned so much more than I ever knew and it gave me a much better understanding of why a hard border being imposed as part of Brexit would be such a big deal.

My final non-fiction book is Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan Metzl.  Physician and sociologist Jonathan Metzl explores how long held ideologies based on both overt and covert racism cause people to create policies that are detrimental to their own lives. Using focus groups and lots of comparative data analysis looking at states both before and after they passed certain laws and comparing them to states with similar demographics with opposite laws. He looks at gun laws in Missouri and how they have led to a huge increase in gun based suicide by white men. In Tennessee he examines the decision to not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act causing significantly worse health outcomes compared to people in Kentucky where the Medicaid expansion was passed. Finally, he looks at tax cuts passed in Kansas particularly focusing on the effects on education. It’s a really well-researched book and a really compelling though maddening read.

TV Show

As much as I lament the lack of certain types of tv shows that once existed in larger quantities before streaming and prestige television took over there were still a number of tv shows that gave me great pleasure this year. I have already implored you multiple times to watch both Atypical and The Bold Type, and I’m not sure I have much new to say about them. However, as far as I know I haven’t convinced anyone else to watch them yet, so I’m going to keep trying because they are really great shows. I rarely rewatch tv shows because there’s always so much new stuff out there, but I’m already considering an Atypical rewatch because I miss those characters.

Chernobyl was an excellent show. I avoided watching it for a long time despite all the rave reviews because I thought it was going to be too depressing. I thought maybe I’ll watch just one episode a week to make it more bearable and then I wound up binge watching it because it was so good.

Derry Girls was pure delight. I also liked that having read Say Nothing meant I had a little better insight into the time and place when the show is set, but it’s not really necessary to know that much about the Irish Troubles to enjoy the show. It’s just a wonderful broad comedy about teenagers in Derry, Ireland in the 80s. The 12 episodes that exist right now are just not enough. I can’t wait until the release more.

Speechless ended its run on a high note back in the spring. If you’re unfamiliar it’s a sit-com about a family whose oldest son has cerebral palsy and who is played by an actor who does in fact have CP. It was a funny and heartfelt show that I think ended in a perfect way even if I wish we got more episodes. Also a special shout out to two other shows I loved that ended their runs this year Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin.

Unbelievable was a really well done limited series based on a true story of a young woman who was raped and not believed and the two female cops working on rape cases years later who finally brought her justice. It stars Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, and Merritt Weaver giving excellent performances.

I also really enjoyed Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music. It was well worth the 16 and half hours of my time. I even wanted more because he didn’t go far enough in time for my liking. Maybe he’ll add more onto it down the line at some point.

I also would be remiss to not include Grey’s Anatomy because it’s still one of my favorite shows to watch every week. Last season and this season have felt like somewhat of a resurgence for the show even though I’m super annoyed with all the tie-ins to Station 19 to try and force people to start watching that. Seems like it’s only going to get worse when that show actually returns after the new year, which is just going to make me madder. All they’ve done is make me never, ever want to watch that show just out of principle.

TV Episode

The best tv episode I watched this year is also the hardest episode of anything I think I’ve ever watched. It was the fifth and final episode of the limited series When They See Us about the Exonerated Five who were wrongly convicted of brutally attacking and raping a woman in Central Park when they were teenagers. The final episode focuses on the experiences of Korey Wise, who was the oldest of the boys and the only one sent to an adult prison. It’s a brutal watch even beyond the rest of this series, which is extremely difficult but important.

In an entirely different vein, I love episodes of character based tv shows that just feel like a joyous pay-off for the characters where you get to mostly just watch them enjoy themselves. It obviously wouldn’t make for compelling television if every episode were like this, but I love when a show has developed its characters enough that they get a well deserved episode to just have fun and have good things happen to them. Season 2, Episode 9 of Pose, “Life’s a Beach”, felt like that. There were many excellent episodes in season 2 of this show which only got better this season in no small part because they dropped the stupid white characters from season one that were obviously there to sell the show to the network. Anyway, in this episode the ladies get to mostly take a break from their struggles and head away to a weekend at the beach. Their road trip is wonderful and watching them singing together in the car on the drive to the beach brought me great joy.

Album

If you don’t know what’s coming in this category then you obviously have not been paying attention to anything happening here in the past year. There were two albums that dominated my 2019. Way back on January 18 when it was released I predicted that Maggie Rogers’ Heard It in a Past Life would very likely be my album of the year, and I was not wrong. Every amazing album that came after it in 2019 did not manage to unseat it from my heart. It is by far the album I have listened to the most in 2019 (my highly skewed Spotify stats notwithstanding). I adore every song on it, and it’s one I’m sure I’m going to continue to go back to in 2020.

The album that Spotify thinks is my most played album of 2019 is the other album that deserves a spot here and that’s the debut (and maybe only) album by The Highwomen the country super group composed of Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. Spotify thinks that because I did for sure listen to this album a lot, but unlike other albums pretty much only on Spotify because I bought the album as a physical CD along with a hoodie and bumper sticker. The CD is still sitting under my coffee table wrapped in cellophane. It’s too much of a pain to drag out the external optical drive to upload the songs from the CD onto my computer (#firstworldproblems).

The Highwomen’s album is full of amazing songs by these women that seek to uplift other women. As they have said many times it’s more than an album or a group it’s a movement. I adore everything that it stands for. I love these women together and separately. Even though the idea for the group came from Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile has sort of been the front woman for the project. I’ve heard them call her their quarterback. This is only a small part of what she’s doing to lift up other women in music and there’s a reason I will follow her to the ends of the earth (I already have tickets to see her three times in 2020 in places nowhere near where I live.)

Recently she was awarded the Trailblazer Award for Women in Music by Billboard. It so happens that Maggie Rogers was the one to present the award to her and Maggie’s speech pretty much exemplifies why I love both of these women so much.

Song

2019 was a fantastic year for music. My 2019 playlist of songs I loved during the year is longer than any playlist I’ve created by over half. I’ll share that in a future post, but for now I’m going to focus on a single song here even though I could include a hundred. It’s the title song from The Highwomen called “Highwomen”. It’s a rewrite of the song from The Highwaymen, the 80s and 90s male country super group which they created a female alternative to. It re-imagines the lyrics with each verse telling the story of a woman who was persecuted. It’s an incredibly powerful song. I first heard it before it was even released when they performed it at the Newport Folk Festival. It gave me chills and made me know for sure that this album was going to be something that I loved to my very core.

Actually I lied. I have two songs because I was just reviewing the list I keep throughout the year for this blog post and realized that I had Gary Clark Jr.’s song “This Land” listed under this category as a possibility and I think it deserves a mention. It is one of the most powerful songs I can remember hearing and the video just drives it home. When I watched his Austin City Limits episode I was wondering if they were going to bleep the n-word in this song, which they did. But then I saw a promo for the episode that included a snippet of this song that didn’t bleep it. Go figure.

Concert

I usually don’t allow myself to choose a set from The Newport Folk Festival to go in this spot because I’m pretty sure I would never write about anything that didn’t happen at Newport ever again. Perhaps I should just create a new category for the best thing I saw at Newport, but I’m not going to do it this year. I am however going to write about two sets that happened at Newport though because one would have been the highlight of my year if it weren’t for the second and the second is the literally the most amazing musical experience I have ever had in my life so there was no way I couldn’t include it here.

The first set I’m referring to was The Highwomen’s debut and as of this writing still the only actual full concert set they’ve done. I thought that they would at least do a couple dates in conjunction with the release of their album and was willing to travel anywhere to see them again, but they never did and at this point I don’t know if they ever will. I’ve seen up to three of the four of them join each other for a few songs at each other’s shows, but no other full on performances. I’ll be seeing Brandi Carlile at the Ryman in January and Natalie Hemby is opening for her. Since Amanda Shires and Maren Morris both live in Nashville and it doesn’t look like either one of them will be touring then I’m hoping maybe we can get a little reunion during that show if Maren isn’t in labor since she’ll be hugely pregnant by then. Anyway, I feel so blessed to have seen them perform. The album wasn’t out yet at that point and listening to them play it through I knew it was going to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Since I already embedded my favorite song in this post here’s a song I love, but the best part of this video is the intro.

The other set was obviously the Saturday night all-female headlining set curated by Brandi Carlile with surprise guest Dolly Parton. It still really don’t have any words for it. It was truly magical to see so many awesome women up on stage together collaborating. It would take me to long to even name them all. One of the stories I read about it after the fact said something to the effect of can someone please go check on Jade Bird and make sure she’s all right. She was smiling so big up on the stage I’m worried she hurt herself. It’s true. I went back and looked at her in some of the video and I don’t think she could have been smiling any harder. That’s how I feel about it. I still smile every time I think about it. Newport always surprises me, but I don’t know how anything can ever possibly top this experience in my book.

Broadway Theatre Production

For some reason I apparently was very into pop culture reflecting stories about 1980s Northern Ireland and the Irish troubles in 2019. I don’t know why. It’s not something I sought out. It just happened. This is all a lead in to say that my favorite thing I saw on Broadway this year was the play The Ferryman. It’s for certain the longest show I’ve ever seen as a three act play clocking in at 3 hours and 15 minutes including a 15 minute intermission and a 2 minute “pause”. It has a sprawling cast of people from seniors to a real baby about which I jokingly wondered how many babies do they have backstage to make sure they have one that isn’t crying during the show? It pretty much had all your emotions covered bringing you through experiences of great joy and others of sadness. It was also super intense at times particularly the ending, which I did not really see coming. I left that play thinking I have no idea how those actors do that 8 times per week. It’s closed on Broadway now, but if you ever get a chance to see a production I highly recommend it.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I adored Come From Away when I saw it on Broadway and saw it again in 2019 as part of our 2018/2019 season tickets at the Hippodrome. It was just as effecting as when I saw it the first time. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite musicals ever. It’s still running on Broadway and if you’re ever in New York looking for a show to see I can’t recommend it highly enough. Don’t let the fact that it’s about 9/11 make you think you’ll leave horribly depressed because you won’t. Of course there are sad and difficult parts, but it will also leave you filled with a hope for humanity that seems in very short supply these days. The current cast did a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR this year on the anniversary of 9/11, which will give you a great taste of the show.

Podcast

I still love Make Me Smart, which I’ve mentioned in this category the past two years, but this year I’m branching out and talking about two limited series podcasts. At a total of 19 episodes between the two of them you can listen to them both in less than a day’s time. I seriously did listen to Bhi Bhiman’s Peace of Mind in a single day save for the final episode, which hadn’t dropped yet when I discovered the podcast. It’s billed as the first album released as a podcast. Bhi Bhiman wrote a bunch of songs related to social and political issues and then recorded podcast episodes exploring further the topics he wrote about in his songs. It’s really fascinating and is something I for sure have never seen done before.

The other podcast I have to recommend to you is Dolly Parton’s America, which I feel like everyone has been listening to. I’ve seen so much written about it, posted on social media, talked about on other podcasts, etc. I even overheard the people at the table next to me at brunch the other week talking about it. Jad Abumrad uses interviews he had with Dolly over the course of several years as a spring board to talk not only about her and her career but how they relate to the larger country and the issues we face as a whole. It’s really great.

Podcast Episode

Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed and very much recommend all the episodes of the podcasts I just talked about, but I thought I would branch out a little for my favorite episode and talk about the two episodes (part 1, part 2) of the Out of the Blocks podcast titled “Out of the Docks”. I’m not going to lie. There’s a good chance I picked these episodes just because I love the punny episode title so much. In these episodes rather than visiting a single city block in Baltimore like they normally do they talk to people who live and work on boats in some of Baltimore’s harbors. It was a fascinating look at the difficulties of living on a boat and the reasons why people choose to do it.

Ray LaMontagne at the Lyric Opera House

Last night I went to see Ray LaMontagne at the Lyric Opera House. It was an all acoustic night. The opening act was Kacy & Clayton, a band I was previously unfamiliar with. They are cousins from Saskatchewan, Canada. It was just the two of them up there with acoustic guitars. Their music was fine. I’m not sure that I’ll be seeking it out again, but it was a pleasant 45 minutes that sort of flew by. I felt like they had a really short set, but then when I looked at my watch more time had passed than I thought.

Ray LaMontagne was also doing the entirely acoustic thing last night. It was him with Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket accompanying him on guitar and pedal steel (love me some pedal steel). This was the first time I’ve really seen Ray LaMontagne in concert. He played the Newport Folk Festival a couple of years ago. I don’t remember who he was up against, but obviously someone I wanted to see more since I only saw a small piece of his set there. It was back when he was touring his Supernova album, which I am not a fan of, so that set full of those songs wasn’t doing a whole lot for me. The small section of songs he did from that album last night also reminded me that still don’t care for it.

I do like all his other albums though, and I figured seeing him acoustic would be a nice treat. It’s a good thing that I enjoyed it since I sort of paid double for my ticket. I go to a lot of concerts alone, but sometimes I choose to drag my poor husband. I somehow completely forgot that I bought two tickets for this show way back when they went on sale. I was convinced this was a show I was planning on going to alone right up until I was literally walking out the door and pulled up my ticket in the Ticketmaster app and discovered I had two of them. My husband who is usually pretty game for letting me drag him to concerts he doesn’t care about was understandably not willing to let me drag him out with 2 seconds notice. So I still wound up going alone. I just paid for two seats to do so.

I was having a conversation with someone earlier this week who said that Ray LaMontagne is the second best performer she’s ever seen next to U2. People have different opinions and different things they like in shows, so I’m not here to judge anyone’s preferences, but I can say he for sure is not one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. He wouldn’t even crack the top 25. Probably not even close. I still think his songs are lovely, and it was great to get to hear him play them live. I just didn’t find him super engaging as a performer. Pretty much the only thing he said to the audience all night was to introduce Carl Broemel and say thank you at the end of the night. He just stood up there and played his guitar and sang. I mean ultimately that’s what we’re all there for, but I like a little bit more from my live shows that makes me feel like I’m getting something I wouldn’t get just sitting at home listening to the music.

Even though he has a fairly new album, this set did not feel like he was promoting it. He pretty much concentrated on playing the hits across all of his albums. When someone starts to have an extensive catalog you know you’re never going to hear everything and you just hope that they play the songs you really want to hear. In this case he played every single song I would have wanted to hear save for one, which unfortunately is my favorite song of his. So thumbs down to that. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was disappointed he didn’t play it because it’s the second most listened to song of his on Spotify. I’ll have something more to say about that particular song tomorrow for reasons, so you can wait to find out what it is or use the clues I’ve provided to go look it up now if you can’t stand to wait.

It was an enjoyable evening, though I’m not sure it made me want to see Ray LaMontagne in concert again. Perhaps one day if I’m super excited about an album he’s touring it would be fun to see him play a non-acoustic set as well.

Maggie Rogers at The Anthem

On Tuesday night I made the trek down to DC to see Maggie Rogers at The Anthem. I didn’t actually set out to see Maggie Rogers 4 times in the span of a year’s time, but that’s what happened. I first saw her last November opening for Mumford & Sons at which point I started kicking myself for not having bought tickets to see her at the 9:30 Club in March. I refused to pay the scalpers the almost 10x the face value that they were selling the tickets for, so I missed that show. But a few days later when her show for the Anthem in October went on sale I snapped them up. Then she wound up playing at the Newport Folk Festival this year, and as you know my husband bought me tickets to see her at The Greek Theatre in LA. I would totally see her again too.

Having just seen her a few weeks ago I knew I was going to pretty much get the same exact set, but I was 100% okay with that because Maggie is such a great performer and so fun to watch. Plus I adore the music obviously. She did play one new song that she’s written but hasn’t recorded yet. That was a nice treat. I saw her say something about performing it for the first time last week at one of her Radio City Music Hall shows, so I was hoping we would get it too, and we did. Other than that it was pretty much exactly the same down to the stage banter for the most part, which she doesn’t have a lot of. Just swap out DC for LA and the names of the opening acts. (I really liked Now, Now who opened for her in LA. I did not so much care for Empress Of who opened for her at this show.)

I did learn one dirty little secret though. At the LA show as she was introducing the band she was pretty much saying that they were pretty much either all from LA or in the process of moving to LA. Maybe they are in the process of moving to LA. I don’t know. It seems like a reasonable place for a band to make their home base. But then when she was introducing them at this show LA was mentioned in relation to nary a band member. Then she said let me tell you a secret, I often like to introduce one of the band members as from the city we’re playing in even though they’re not actually from there, but this is my hometown (not really, but I guess Salisbury, Maryland is close enough) so I’m not doing that tonight. So now I know I was probably lied to in LA.

Despite the music being the same in some respects the show felt completely new to me. Mostly it had a lot to do with the lighting. I know they didn’t redo the lighting design in the last couple of weeks, but somehow it seemed entirely new to me. It could be because the obnoxiously drunk girls in front of me at The Greek kept me distracted from the show or just plain blocked my view. It could be because with the time change Maggie didn’t even take the stage until well after I’m normally in bed, so I was half asleep. It could be the difference between how they looked in an indoor versus outdoor venue, or it could be that I was sitting above them in the balcony this time. Maybe a combination of all of the above.

Seeing her this time was a much better experience than at The Greek mostly because of the stupid drunk girls in front of me at that show. I had no one in front of me at the Anthem and there were no annoying people anywhere around me. It’s a concert miracle since usually I attract the worst people at concerts. This show did finally make me figure out the only way I ever want to see shows at the Anthem again.

The Anthem is a fairly new venue. It opened 2 years ago this week in fact. It’s a mid-size venue holding about 6,000 people, which based on the number of shows that sell out there was sorely needed. The 9:30 Club where most of these people would have played previously is about a quarter of the size. So obviously it’s great to have a venue that can hold more people and give more opportunity to go to the show, but logistically it’s just a nightmare if you’re doing a general admission standing room show.

The one thing that I will never be able to get around is the location. The 9:30 Club is on the outskirts of the city and much easier to get to from Baltimore. Plus they have their own parking lot. The Anthem is built at this trendy new development called The Wharf with lots of shops and restaurants along the Anacostia River in southwest DC. It’s a freaking pain the butt to get to with DC traffic and there is nowhere to park. I know DC has fairly decent public transit compared to a lot of places, but there isn’t a Metro stop particularly near there (not that it would help me anyway), and the parking is severely lacking. I don’t understand how they built this and thought we don’t need that much parking. There is a lot there, but it’s not very big and I would never count on finding a spot there. If you’re trying to use Spothero to get a parking spot the closest non-valet place to park is 3/4 of a mile away. I’m definitely not trying to wait on a valet to fetch my car after a 6000 person show lets out, so I hoofed it from a ways away.  Catching an Uber/Lyft near there after the show is also a nightmare as I did that last time I was down there and was staying over with a friend who lives in DC. It’s just a terrible place to get to no matter how you’re trying to do it.

I know a lot of people who really like the Anthem as a venue. I don’t love it. I mean it’s not a terrible place to see a show. When I was there to see Brandi Carlile and it was a seated show with only about 2,500 people it was great. I don’t like crowds so the 6,000 person standing room thing is an issue for me not only because being surrounded by that many people in a crowd with no designated space makes me twitchy. Plus I’m short so I’m never going to be able to see over that many people. Also they do not have enough security to deal with getting that many people into the venue. I don’t know what they can do to make it better given the limited number of doors into the venue, but the lines to get in are insane.

I figured out the secret to avoiding all of this at this show though. They have box seats in the balconies that you can buy tickets to. The only drawback is you have to pick them up at will call, so if you can’t make the show for some reason you have no way to sell them and recoup your money. I get that they’re trying to prevent scalping these tickets, but for someone who only ever resells tickets at face value, it’s a little annoying for me. Stupid scalpers ruining everything. I have certainly changed my mind at the last minute about going to show in DC that I bought tickets for and resold them on several occasions. I guess this forces me to not back out unless I really have to rather than just I decided it’s too much of a pain to drive down to DC on a school night.

Anyway, I bought one of those box seat tickets this time even though it makes the already stupid expensive Anthem tickets even more expensive, and I will never go back. First it gets you into the venue through the VIP security line instead of you having to stand in the insanely long general admission line. Second you actually get a seat. I’m old and tired and I like to be able to sit down at concerts if I want to. Third, being in the balcony particularly in the first row like I was meant no one was in front of me and I could actually see the show. If I was on the floor I would have been lucky to get a glimpse of Maggie here and there. If I can’t get one of those tickets the next time I want to see someone playing at the Anthem unless it’s one of their rare fully seated shows, I don’t think I’ll go. Aside from the location and the parking issues having the box seat ticket solved all of the other things I hate about this venue.

It turned out to be well worth the trip down to DC on a Tuesday night even though I promise you I did a lot of whining about going, especially since I was going solo, before I left that night. I was like whose dumb idea was it to buy a ticket to this show? It was mine, and I’m glad I had it.

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Jade Bird at the 9:30 Club

This past Saturday I went down to DC to see Jade Bird at the 9:30 Club. I’m always saying that I wish concerts started and thus ended earlier because I am old and tired. This concert was finally just that, but of course the timing of an early concert worked out all wrong for me. Saturday was also the date of my friends’ annual Oktoberfest party. I hadn’t seen most of the people going to the party in about 6 months or longer, so I really wanted to go. Unfortunately their house is 45 minutes in the opposite direction of DC from my house, so it was kind of insane for me to go up there first and then drive down to DC for the concert, but that’s what I did.

The 9:30 Club was having some late night DJ festival or something over the weekend, so Jade Bird’s concert wound up being an early show, which normally I would have been all for except that it meant I got to spend even less time at the party. With trying to get everything over with in time to turn the venue over it seemed like all the routine concert timings got turned on their head as well. Normally for club venues like the 9:30 Club doors will open an hour before the opening band goes on. These days most opening bands will play for about 45 minutes, then there’s a 30 minute set change break, and then the headliner will play for about 90 minutes.

None of that held true for this concert, so I felt like I was barely there. I timed leaving the party to get down there right around when the opener should have gone on according to normal concert timing. That did not work out in this case. I got down there right around 7 and by the time I got in the venue, I was there just in time to hear Flyte play their final song. They must have started at 6:30. I don’t really know them, so I wasn’t super upset that I missed their set.

Flyte was just two guys with guitars, so it took them no time at all to do the set change, so after only 15 minutes Jade Bird went on at 7:30. She only wound up playing for an hour and 10 minutes, which was a bit disappointing. I wish she had played 3 or 4 more songs. I’m guessing with the late show happening she might have been only contracted for an hour and 15 minutes rather than the normal hour and half. Who knows. With missing the opening act and her set being so short it felt like the concert barely even happened.

Even though the set was short, Jade Bird was great. Unlike when I saw her open for Jason Isbell over the summer when it was just her and her guitar up on the stage, this time she had a whole band with her. She played some with them and did a few songs solo as well. She switched between the guitar and the piano too. She only has one album and one EP out, so she doesn’t have a ton of music to fill a set with. She played a couple of new songs, which I really liked. She also did a few cover. She did Blondie’s “Call Me” and what she called a cover of a cover with Gillian Welch’s version of Radiohead’s “Black Star”. She’s got a really powerful voice. I feel like there’s not too many female singers with a more rock edge these days. Granted there’s not many male rock bands these days either, but I appreciate her range from more indie rock to songs with a little bit more edge to them.

Even though it felt it was way too short, I enjoyed the concert. It also makes me wonder why we can’t use this timing for all concerts. I could be home in bed by 9:30 instead of that being the time the headliner usually starts. It would be great. Let’s start a movement!

Maggie Rogers at The Greek Theatre

As I have written about here before I have a concert venue bucket list. My husband likes to gift me travel for birthdays and Christmas and now that I’ve been done with my 50 states for a number of years now he’s moved on to buying me tickets for shows at the venues I want to go to. We went to Nashville a couple of years ago and knocked a few off of the list.

This year for my birthday he got me tickets to go see Maggie Rogers at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. I am amused that the gift managed to be both an early birthday present and a belated birthday present because the tickets went on a sale a few weeks before my birthday so he told me about it to make sure it would work with my schedule before he bought tickets (or really handed me a credit card and told me to buy the tickets so I could pick out my seats). Then since the show wasn’t until 3 months after my birthday it was also a belated birthday present.

The Greek Theatre was on my bucket list because it’s a historic outdoor venue located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that opened back in 1930. The land for the park was donated to the city by wealthy land owner Griffith J. Griffith (yes that’s really his name and not a nickname). He also donated money to have The Greek Theatre and the Griffith Observatory built, a fact I did not learn until after we went the Observatory. The venue is built into the side of a canyon in the park so the acoustics are great and you’re surrounded by trees. Although sitting in the venue you can’t actually see much of the nature that surrounds you. The seats slope down a hill to the stage with the Greek facade behind it, which is where the name comes from. You can’t see over the facade to anything outside and you’re basically just looking into the side of a hill with a few trees that you can see around the side of the seats if you turn around. I’ve been to prettier venues, but it was a great place to see a show.

Unlike a lot of outdoor venues where you have pavilion seats and a lawn that sort of separates the audience, this is just one large theatre of seats sloping down a hills, so you get the full vibe of the audience together, which was great for a show like Maggie Rogers who definitely had people on their feet bopping along with her. It also only seats just under 6,000 people, so it’s a fairly intimate venue.

As per usual I managed to wind up by the most obnoxious people. I have no idea what happened to all the people sitting in the row in front of us. It was a sold out show, so I would have expected every seat to be full. The half of the row in front of us was never full. There were some people there for the opening band Now, Now that disappeared, which I thought odd. I mean liked Now, Now, but why wouldn’t you stay for Maggie Rogers too even if you came for Now, Now. There was no one in the two seats in front of us for the opening act. Two girls eventually showed up soon after Maggie started, but then they only stayed for about 4 songs and left. I have no idea what their deal was given there is nowhere in this venue to really go and hang out other than your seats. The real problem was the two other girls in the row who got super drunk and were way obnoxious as a result. Since all the other people in the row disappeared they basically moved in front of us and were super distracting. They were paying no attention to the show and drunkenly hanging all over each other such that they were blocking my view because there was no way to see between them and I couldn’t see around them without getting the space of the person sitting next to me. I was happy they miraculously somehow chilled out and just stood there for “Back in My Body”, which is probably my favorite Maggie Rogers’ song unless “Light On” is, and they left right before she ended her set with that, so at least they didn’t ruin my two favorite songs.

Maggie was great as always. She is such a good performer and is super energetic and dancing around the stage. She reminds me of Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine in that way. She pretty much played every single song she’s ever released at this point. I kind of like going to concerts when artists only have so many songs to play so you’re guaranteed to hear your favorites. It’s always a bummer when artists get a few albums under their belts and that one song you love is something they for whatever reason never add to their live rotation.

I appreciate that three years into the crazy whirlwind that her career has been that she still seems completely overwhelmed and thankful about everything she is experiencing. I’m pretty sure she was crying when she came back out for her encore. For the encore she came out without her band and sang “Alaska” with just an acoustic guitar. It’s like going back to the beginning since that was the song that started it all for her and rocketed her into the public consciousness with the viral video of Pharrell Williams’ reaction to her playing that song during a class at The Berklee School of Music where he was sitting in as a guest teacher.

It was an excellent show, and I’m happy I finally got to see a show at the famous Greek Theatre. It will probably be my one and only because I don’t ever feel compelled to return to Los Angeles again. I’ll write more about the rest of our trip in a future post.