Brandi Carlile with Darlingside at the Anthem

Sunday night I finally made it down to DC’s new concert venue, The Anthem. I’ve been staring longingly at all the shows I would love to see on their concert calendar, but DC is such a trek it usually takes a lot to get me to pull the trigger on anything especially on a weeknight. Of course it would be Brandi Carlile that finally got me down there.

Yes, I did just see her twice in New York City in April. I went up there because I was afraid I would be busy on whatever Baltimore/DC date she was going to schedule in the future. Sure enough when she announced her full list of tour dates I was glad I got the tickets for New York City because the original DC date was on the same day as our annual Preakness party. For reasons I won’t go into we didn’t wind up having our party this year, but by the time we knew that wasn’t going to happen the Saturday show was sold out. Luckily they added a second show on Sunday night. I waffled back and forth about going since I had just seen her in New York City, but I was nudged over the edge by my husband volunteering that he would go with me and telling me I should buy tickets and also my desire to see Darlingside who were opening.

Darlingside is a folk band from Boston. Their harmonies are incredible. They basically spent their entire set grouped around a single mic singing together. In addition to their beautiful music they are also really nerdy and funny in a way that I had no idea about. Their stage banter made me laugh a lot. They said the first thing they thought about The Anthem was that they were playing in front of the Galactic Senate from Star Wars. I hadn’t thought of it before, but as soon as they said it I could totally see it. There are a lot of nerdy references in their music that I didn’t realized before either. They have a song all about Harrison Ford, which I don’t think I had heard before. My major revelation of the night came in reference to their song “Go Back”, which is apparently a reference to Back to the Future 2 and not the nerdy reference to Lost that I’ve said before is what I have always thought about when listening to that song. Their whole set was great. They got a standing ovation and people yelling encore at the end, which is not something you see a whole lot for opening acts. I definitely look forward to seeing them again in the future.

Darlingside playing music

Brandi’s set was much the same as the shows I saw in New York, but there were a few additional songs. The Beacon Theatre has a strict 11 pm noise ordinance whereas The Anthem obviously does not so they added a few more songs to their set. The set list made me very glad I was there for the Sunday show instead of the Saturday show. I looked Saturday’s set list up and I was happier with the extra songs on Sunday. She played “Dreams”, which I really like in and of itself but which I now always associate with this delightful time in which one of WRNR’s DJs decided to play it twice in a row because he loves it too. For one of the encore songs they brought Darlingside back out on stage and sang a cover of The Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road”, which was wonderful. Between Darlingside and Brandi and Twins there were practically more harmonies than that stage could handle. It was an amazing show from top to bottom and well worth the effort to go down to DC on a school night. Now I’m counting down the days until I get to see Brandi again when she plays my dream concert co-headlining with Jason Isbell.

Brandi Carlile playing music

BSO Pulse with Moon Taxi

Last Thursday I went to the final BSO Pulse concert of the season with Moon Taxi. I’ve written about these concerts before in which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plays, followed by a set from an indie band, and finally a collaboration in which the BSO backs the band on a few of their songs.

I haven’t been to all of these concerts, so I don’t know for sure if this one was different from all of the others but it was at least somewhat different than the other ones I’ve been to. What I tend to think about when I think of a band playing with an orchestra is a lot of strings, which has been the case for the other shows I’ve been to. This one however was all brass and percussion. Rather than one or two movements, this time the BSO played a number of shorter pieces including the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Olympic Fanfare, and a Handel piece written to accompany the Royal fireworks in Britain.

Moon Taxi is one of those bands that has been around for over a decade doing their thing, but is finally getting some real recognition six albums in. They were a super fun band to watch. Their lead singer, Trevor Terndrup is a fantastic performer. They were super energetic and got the crowd into it. Everyone was grooving. I was a fan of their music going in and now I’m even more sold on them. I would definitely go see them live again the next time they’re in the Baltimore area.

The decision to make arrangements with brass and percussion for the BSO to back Moon Taxi was perfect. Nicholas Hersh, the BSO’s Associate Conductor who conducts these concerts is always super fun to watch as a conductor, but this was extra awesome. He was totally grooving while he was conducting.

They also announced that they will be coming back for a Season 4, which makes me really happy. I wasn’t sure if there would be anything beyond Season 3 because I know they had a 3 year grant to do this. I really love these shows and am excited there will be more of them.

Brandi Carlile at The Beacon Theatre

When Brandi Carlile started announcing the dates for the tour for her new album, by the way I forgive you, she started by announcing 2 or 3 dates including two (which eventually became three) nights at The Beacon. I decided I was going to go ahead and buy tickets to see her in NYC because the last few times she has toured through the DC area I’ve been out of town. Since I didn’t know what the DC dates were going to be I was afraid if I waited the NYC shows would sell out and then I wouldn’t be able to go to the DC date. Turns out I was fairly accurate on that since the original DC date falls on the day of our annual Preakness party. They have added a second night that I could go to, but going to DC on a school night is a lot.

In the process of buying these tickets I apparently did not get my dates right because I meant to buy a ticket for the Friday night show, but a few weeks before the show I got an email telling me my ticket for Thursday night was in the mail at which point I had a minor freak out. I had already bought theatre tickets for Saturday so I was going to have to stay in the city until then. Since the friend I was staying with kindly offered to put me up another night I decided to change my train ticket to Thursday, snag a ticket for the luckily not quite sold out at that point Friday show and go both nights. My only regret at this point is that I didn’t stay for the third night. I feel like I left something unfinished only going to two of the three nights.

I am not someone who normally joins fan clubs, but I joined Brandi’s because the price to join went to The Looking Out Foundation, the organization started by Brandi and her wife Catherine that goes to support a lot of causes I believe in. I figured I was donating to something I would support even if I wasn’t getting anything in return. It was just a bonus that it gets me some free bonus songs and access to pre-sales. Since I bought the Thursday night ticket with a pre-sale code I got a first row seat dead center. I have never had a seat that good for a concert and probably never will again. Friday night I was had to slum it all the way back in the 9th row behind some woman who annoyingly recorded the entire show. I would really love to ban everyone’s cell phones and cameras at concerts.

Anyway Thursday was interesting because I was surrounded by a lot of Brandi super fans. I should have seen that coming because of course everyone else in those seats would also be a part of the fan club.  They all seemed to know each other from interacting on the fan club forums, which I have never done. I don’t obsess over things like that. I did feel somewhat like an imposter when the woman next to me was asking me who I was and trying to introduce me to all the other people from the fan site and I was like ummm I never go there so you have no idea who I am and I don’t know anyone else. Comparatively I don’t have to feel like a crazy fan for seeing Brandi 4 times this year.

The shows on Thursday and Friday night pretty much had the same set list with the only difference being the one cover song they played (Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” on Thursday and the Led Zeppelin version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on Friday). I figured they would be because they are playing every song from the new album along with a handful of songs from previous albums. I didn’t mind one bit though because Brandi Carlile is the one artist/band (I never know what to say since it really is a band with her and twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth, but it also feels weird that the band name is her name) for whom I have liked every new album even more than I’ve liked the last, which means by the way I forgive you is now my favorite Brandi Carlile album. It also means that it’s my dirty little secret as a Brandi fan that The Story, which is her seminal album, is my least favorite album. I’ve listened to the songs on the new album enough since it came out at the end of February that it already feels like those songs are a part of me.

They are touring with the biggest band ever this go around. I was curious what they were going to do because there is a lot of orchestration on many of the songs on the new album. The answer is that in a addition to a drummer and pianist/french horn player they are touring with a string quartet. It gives the songs such a great richness and adds just another facet to the incredible range of music from beautiful orchestral songs, to foot stomping folk rock, to flat out rock jams that Brandi plays.

One of the older songs they played was “Raise Hell”, which I was very happy about because it is my favorite song to see them play live. It is just a foot stompin’, hand clappin’ joyous good time.

One of the things they do any time they play in a nice old theatre that has great acoustics like The Beacon does is they go off mic and just the Twins and Brandi sing a beautiful song acoustic. This time it was another one of their older songs, “Cannonball”. That’s definitely not something I’ll see at the two outdoor venues I’ll be seeing them at later this year.

As for songs from the new album, I love them all. Don’t worry I’m not going to write about them all, just a few for which I have something specific to say. As the title of the album indicates there are a lot of songs about forgiveness on there which feels so needed right now. They started the set with “Every Time I Hear that Song”, which contains the lyric “by the way I forgive you” where the title of the album comes from. That chorus is my favorite thing on the entire album.

“The Joke”, which was the first single from the album while a beautiful song is one I have a hard time with because as nice as it is to think all the horrible people in the world will get their comeuppance I don’t think it’s true. While it’s a nice thought and something I wish were the case, I’m too much of a cynic to buy the message of this song.

I’m not a parent but watching my friends have kids over the past many years has given me a decent perspective on what being a parent is like and “The Mother” is the single best song I’ve ever heard that describes what being a parent is like. On Thursday night I saw the woman sitting next to me had a photo of a little girl who is probably about the same age as Brandi’s 4-year old daughter, Evangeline, set as the wallpaper on her phone. This song must have really hit her because she sobbed through the entire thing. Also speaking of being parents on Friday night (not during this song) one of Phil’s daughters ran out on stage and gave him a hug between songs. It was super cute. Brandi said they have a rule that if their kids are there and they want a hug from mom or dad they have permission to come get one even if mom and dad are “working”.

The song they’re using as their encore and final song is “Hold Out Your Hand”.The lyrics of the chorus start, “hold out your hand/take hold of mine and then/round and round we go”. Whenever I listen to this song I picture when you do that thing where you hold hands with someone crisscrossed and then spin round and round. It’s a very joyous image and I love it. I haven’t quite parsed the real meaning of the full lyrics. Something about outrunning the devil or death or something or maybe not that at all. Doesn’t matter because like all art, once it’s out in the world it means whatever the people consuming it interpret it to mean. It feels like the perfect song to end the show to because to me it seems like a song about taking each others hands, joining together, and going out to fight the good fight. On Thursday night as I mentioned I was surrounded by a lot of super fans who already knew each other and knew this was going to be the final song. They agreed before the start of the show that when the chorus started and talked about taking each others’ hands we were all going to join hands, which was kind of fun.

Brandi is friends with Pete Souza, who was Obama’s official White House photographer for all 8 years of his presidency. He was at the shows and came out to sing along on the final song and of course snap some pictures while he was out on stage. He posted one from each night to his Instagram. Since I was front row center you can actually see me in the one he took on Thursday (although it’s only half of me since the woman next to me has her arms raised and is covering me up). Now I can say that Obama’s photographer has taken a photo of me too.

Brandi Carlile Pete Souza photo

It was an amazing two nights and I can already hardly wait until I get to see her again, which unless I decide to trek down to DC in May will be in July in upstate New York when she participates in my dream concert and co-headlines with Jason Isbell. I will undoubtedly be seeing her at the Newport Folk Festival the week after that as well. They have already announced so many people I want to see for that festival that I said I might skip Brandi since I will have already seen her three times, but after this weekend I know there is no way I’m doing that, especially since I still go back and listen to her 2015 Newport Folk Festival set on the regular when I need to feel hope. That was just a few weeks after same sex marriage became legal and she was thrilled that her family could now be legal something she thought would never happen. Everything felt so joyous and hopeful back then before everything fell apart. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of how that day felt, and there’s no way I’ll miss out on whatever happens this year.

Valerie June with the BSO

As I have mentioned previously the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has been doing a series of concerts called BSO Pulse where they collaborate with an indie rock artist. They are now in their third season. This was the third of the four concerts, but the first one I have made it to this year.

As usual they start off with the BSO playing a classical piece. This time it was Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence for string orchestra. It was an excellent piece, and I very much enjoyed it.

Valerie June is a very interesting person. I don’t even really know how to describe her. She’s definitely living in her own little world. She seems like one of those dreamers that just sort of floats through life. She’s from outside Memphis originally and has a deep accent that gives her voice a fascinating quality. She is a wonderful story teller, which she did a lot of between songs. I always love that in a concert. Wikipedia describes her music as a mixture of folk, blues, gospel, soul, country, Appalachian and bluegrass, which seems about right.

She is definitely one of those artists whose music is not easy, but sometimes putting a little work into listening to music pays off. She was not someone who I liked that much when I first heard her, but the more I have listened the more I’ve connected with it. I do get that she’s not for everyone though, and I don’t judge anyone who don’t care for it.

As always the final three songs were a collaboration between the BSO and the artist. For the other concerts I’ve been to in the series Nicholas Hersh, Associate Conductor, has written the arrangements for whatever songs the BSO is going to be playing with the artist. For whatever reason these were written by someone else. I don’t know if whoever wrote the arrangements for Valerie June is someone whose work I like better or Valerie June’s music is just especially great backed by a symphony, but this was probably my favorite collaboration that I’ve seen so far.

I know they had a three year grant for this series, which should end this year. I am hopeful that they’ll continue doing these concerts even after the grant ends because I love these concerts.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Lyric Opera House

Last night I once again went to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit in concert. I adore him so much. I don’t know anyone who writes songs like he does. He’s not really a country artist, but many of his songs are like little short stories which is definitely a country influence. However, most country songs are treacly and with a plot that feels forced. Jason Isbell’s songs are the opposite of that. They feel real and true. The lyrics are poignant with amazing turns of phrase. The songs feel well lived in. I still haven’t come up with a better analogy than saying listening to his songs feels like watching Friday Night Lights. They pull the same trigger in my soul.

I saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit play back in the summer at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Even though I know full well that Merriweather is considered a DC venue for booking purposes, I am never not momentarily surprised when we wind up getting a Baltimore date for a tour that’s also been through Merriweather. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that they were going to be playing at the Lyric Opera House. Unlike the Merriweather show, which granted is a much larger venue, this show was pretty much sold out. I almost didn’t manage to get tickets to it, partly because Ticketmaster is a bastard. It looked like the show sold out in seconds, but I kept checking and it seems like someone let their tickets go and 2 popped up way in the back of balcony so I snagged them. Then the next day there were tons of much better tickets open. They obviously did all eventually sell, but I was really annoyed that I could have had much better seats if I had waited, which makes zero sense. At least the Lyric is a pretty small venue, so our seats were still good even if they were far back.

In addition to seeing the concert at Merriweather, I had also watched live streams of Jason Isbell’s Austin City Limits taping and one of the 5 sold out shows he did at the Ryman Auditorium last year. The set list for all three was pretty much the same with the old variation being the order of the songs that they played. So I figured we were going to get the same thing at this show. I was surprised when there was a little bit more variation than I thought there would be. For the most part it was the same, with them of course playing a lot of music from their newest album, The Nashville Sound. 

They played more songs off of Southeastern than I’ve seen recently, which made me happy. I was literally listening to “Stockholm” the night before the concert and thinking that I miss getting to hear him play that song and then lo and behold they played it last night. Of course they also played “Cover Me Up”. That is his forever and always song. I think he’ll play that in every set until he dies. The day of this show was apparently also Isbell’s 6 year anniversary of getting sober, so the crowd went even more wild than usual when he sang the lyrics, “But I sobered up and I swore off that stuff. Forever this time.” It felt really special to hear that sung on that occasion.

This show was pretty short on stage banter, which I was a little disappointed in. If you follow Jason Isbell on Twitter you know that he’s really funny as well as an excellent song writer. I really loved how much he told stories and joked around during his set at Merriweather. Last night he was pretty much like we’ve got work to do (I mean he literally said that when his wife, Amanda Shires, who is sometimes part of his band started talking about it being the anniversary of him getting sober), let’s get down to business and play these people some music.

It was still a great show though. I love the music to deepest depths of my heart and soul. He has some pretty great fans too, which I cannot say for many of the artists I see. People who get Jason Isbell’s music like me are rabid about it. I remember listening to an All Songs Considered year end wrap up a few years ago and having Ann Powers put Jason Isbell on her best of list and Bob Boilen responding I don’t get it. I have seen him play and it’s done nothing for me, but I’ve looked at the crowd around me and they have this sort of rapture on their faces. Bob Boilen may not get it, but I do and that rapture is me.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2017

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2017, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2017. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, probably more than I have in a good long while and I enjoyed a great many of them. There were some really great comic book hero movies (Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnorak) that seemed to bring something different to the table and kept me entertained without being so smashy smashy, which bores me to tears. I also saw a lot of great smaller movies as well including I am Not Your Negro, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name. I very much want to give this category to The Big Sick, which I actually saw twice in the theater, which is something I haven’t done in at least a decade, probably two. I miss rom-coms and this movie was so sweet and funny. I hope it’s a harbinger of more movies like it. If it weren’t for a little documentary called STEP, The Big Sick would have taken this one.

STEP made me feel all the feelings. At a time when Baltimore feels like it is literally falling apart this movie, which follows a group of girls on a Step team at a Baltimore high school, showed what is good and bad about this city. There was so much joy and so much pain. Kids struggling to overcome hardships that no kids should have to deal with in order to help create better lives for themselves. It’s heartbreaking, delightful, and triumphant all at the same time. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

Movie I Watched at Home

Every year I threaten to get rid of this category because we so rarely watch movies at home. The only movies I can really remember watching are Mudbound, which I didn’t like and Get Out, so Get Out wins. I heard so many people raving about this movie before I saw it that there was no way it was going to be able to live up to my expectations. I did think the premise of it was very clever, but I’m not much of a horror person. I tend to find horror movies silly and boring, and those parts of it felt, well, silly and boring.

Fiction Book

My favorite fiction book of the year was hands down Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied Sing. As usual Ward creates a detailed world in rural Mississippi that draws you in and makes you feel like you are there. The book deals with important themes like race, death, and family but it always feels real (even when delving into the spirit world). It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book that continues to bolster Ward as one of the great authors of our time.

Non-Fiction Book

Like with my fiction book, there was no contest this year that my non-fiction book choice would be The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This is the first and only item on the list this year that was not actually released during 2017. However, there could not have been a more perfect book for this  year. I picked it up because it was the first book club selection for the Make Me Smart podcast (see below). Haidt uses moral psychology to discuss people’s views on politics and religion. If anything it made me feel even more hopeless about the current state of our country, but at least it did help shift my perspective to help see where others may be coming from even if I vehemently disagree with them. I guess that’s something. Aside from that I just found it a really fascinating book. As someone with multiple degrees in psychology this book fell perfectly in my sweet spot.

TV Show

Everyone is calling right now the golden age of television where there is so much excellent tv to watch you can’t even keep up. To some degree that’s true if you are into all the prestige television shows. I do enjoy a good number of them, but in some cases I’m getting tired of them. I don’t need all the television I watch to be capital I important. Sometimes I just want to have something that makes me want to invest in characters lives. I want a good family drama or a good teen or even adult drama with some love triangles or a decent will they or won’t they thing. They don’t seem to make those any more. I have tried and tried to like This is Us, but I just don’t even though I’m still watching it because it’s the only thing remotely resembling a family drama on television now. The CW, which used to be the go to for that kind of show has turned into all comic book hero shows all of which I have given up on (Supergirl excepted) as their plots have become convoluted and the character arcs that were driving the stories in their early years have fallen by the wayside. I feel like I’ve even watched my way through every television show that I missed the first time around so there aren’t even any older shows for me to go back to and fill the void at this point.

All that being said the way I choose my favorite show of the year is by thinking of the one I can’t wait to watch when an episode shows up on my DVR or if I’m binging it on a streaming service that all I want to do is stay at home and watch the show. This year the show that came closest to fitting that description was The Bold Type. I will refer you to the full review I wrote about it earlier this year. Happily it did get picked up for another season, though with a new show runner so hopefully it doesn’t change too much. I also want to give an honorable mention to the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which was a sweet, smart, and funny sit-com that brightened my days considerably in the immediate fall out of garbage president taking office. I’m very much looking forward to its second season dropping in January.

TV Episode

Until I looked back at my picks for 2016 in preparation for writing this post I had forgotten that my favorite tv episode from last year was from Halt and Catch Fire, which is appropriate I guess because that show also features my favorite television episode from 2017. As I said last year I am so happy that I gave this show another try or I would have missed out on how wonderful it got. Thank you to every television critic who told me to give it a second chance. My favorite episode this year was Season 4, Episode 8 – “Goodwill”, which I don’t want to say too much about because it does give away a major plot point. It just treats its characters so lovingly and true to who they are. It also uses the Dire Straits’ song “So Far Away” so perfectly that I have a whole new perspective on it. I adore what this show became and I definitely always chose it first to watch when it showed up on my DVR. It’s the loss of another character driven show that I will miss immensely.

Album

No one who has been here long should be at all surprised that my favorite album of the year was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this album when he first announced it. Southeastern and Something More than Free, which were my favorite albums of 2013 and 2015 were both him solo and had a much more folky sound for the most part. When he brought back his band for the whole album this time I was afraid I might not like the rock sound nearly as much. I needn’t have worried one little bit. He’s still an amazing songwriter whose lyrics drill right down into my soul. With songs like “Hope the High Road”, “White Man’s World”, “The Last of My Kind”, “Cumberland Gap”, and “Anxiety” this album was perfectly written for 2017.

Song

There should also be no surprise that my favorite song of 2017 came from my favorite album of 2017. “If We Were Vampires” is the song that everyone talked about off of this album, and rightly so. It is by far the lyrically and creatively superior song from the album, but “Hope the High Road” was my mantra for 2017. If you only knew how many times I sang the lyrics of this song to myself every time something new and terrible happened over the past year. So basically hourly.

“We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more”

Concert

For Christmas last year my husband gifted me with a trip to Nashville to see Dawes play at the Ryman Auditorium. Because I am who I am I have a concert venue bucket list and the Ryman was second on it right behind Red Rocks. I also got to check The Grand Ole Opry off my list on that trip, but seeing Dawes, a band I adore, play in that amazing venue was the highlight of my concert year. For as many concerts as I see every year I just figured out this year that when a concert is listed as “An Evening with …” it means that there is no opening act. This was An Evening with Dawes at the Ryman Auditorium and they played for a good three hours. It was wonderful and everything I hoped it would be.

I also have to say a word about the final Tom Petty concert I will ever see. Tom Petty has meant so much to me over the course of my life. He’s really the first artist whose passing has really felt like the gut punch to me that see other people have for celebrity deaths. I am so happy I got to see him perform one final time in a sing-a-long love fest that seemed like the perfect ending to a 40 year career.

Broadway Theatre Production

I saw a good number of wonderful things on Broadway this year, but my favorite was definitely Come From Away, which is the best thing I’ve seen since Hamilton. Based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland that took in 6000 displaced airline passengers after 9/11, it mad me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile with pure joy.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to put in this category this year. The Center Stage season was short due to renovations on the theatre, and I wasn’t overly excited about a lot of the things I saw during the parts of the Hippodrome seasons that fell in 2017. It was nothing new and certainly not the best production of Rent I have ever seen by far, especially given that I saw most of the original Broadway cast perform in London, but I’m going with the 20th anniversary tour of Rent because it is still one of my all time favorite shows. Every word is still burned into my brain, and it was fun to revisit it after a good long time away.

Podcast

I have an overabundance of podcasts that I listen to, so I always have a backlog of episodes. Like with television shows I choose my selection for my favorite podcast by thinking about what podcasts I listen to as soon as they drop and which ones I let episodes build up on until I have nothing else to listen to. This year a number of my previous favorite podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, Invisibilia, and Out of the Blocks have made changes in their formats that I am not a fan of and has made me like them less and/or not even listen to everything they drop. However, a new podcast for 2017 topped my list. Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood of Marketplace was by far the podcast I looked forward to listening to the most this year. He’s an economy reporter and she’s a tech reporter so they talk a lot about those topics, but that’s not all they cover. The tagline for the show is “none of us is as smart as all of us”, so they always have guests that they interview about various topics as well as always include feedback from listeners in the form of voice memos that are sent in. When the podcast started out they talked about politics a lot, especially in a segment that often started the show called the news fix. As the podcast went on they got away from doing the news fix, which I do miss sometimes. I don’t know if they’ll bring it back at all in the future now that they’re done with the long series they did on moral capitalism, but that was really great too. They also do book club episodes where listeners vote on a book to read and then they devote an episode to discussing it. My favorite non-fiction book for the year came out of that. It’s also fun to listen to people answer what they call the “Make Me Smart question”, which is what is something you once thought you knew, but then found out you were wrong about? They have a really great rapport and they always make me laugh even while I’m learning a lot. I’m super sad that they’re abandoning me until mid-March when season 2 of the podcast starts up.

Podcast Episode

My favorite episode from a podcast I listened to this year is actually a three part series from NPR’s Code Switch and Education Week called Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep. Education Week reporters followed students, parents, teachers, counselors, and other staff at Ron Brown College Prepatory school, a newly opened high school specifically aimed at black boys in Washington, D.C. and staffed almost exclusively by African-American men. It’s a wonderful series full of so much to think on in terms of education, race, and inequality and how even people with the best of intentions can disagree about how to address the systemic issues facing these many of the kids attending this school.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Concert at Capital One Arena

A year ago tickets went on sale for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul 2 Soul tour at what was then Verizon Center. It was so long ago the arena even changed names since I bought the tickets. I was super excited to finally get to see them in concert and together. I’ve been a fan since they both popped into the country scene in the mid-90s. In the early years of their touring I was a poor college student, then a poor grad student so I didn’t go to many concerts. Thus I missed out on seeing them during that hey dey. Then Faith Hill pretty much quit the music business for the most part to raise their kids. I get it, but if I had to have chosen one of them to stop making music for a couple of decades I would have gone the other way around.

Even though Tim McGraw has been around this whole time I haven’t loved any of his music as much as I loved his first few albums, so I never felt compelled to go see him by himself in the past 15 years. Plus I feel like I have never seen him have a Baltimore date in all that time, and that his DC dates have always been at Jiffy Lube Live. An ex-boyfriend took me to a Peter Gabriel concert there for my birthday one year, and while the concert was good I did not care for the venue or the fact that it’s ridiculous to get in and out of. There has yet to be a concert there that I’ve wanted to see enough to go back.

They opened the show covering the Aretha Franklin and George Michael hot hit, “I Knew You Were Waiting”. I adore that song. It really deserves a blog post of its own at some point.  Honestly that probably wound up being my favorite bit of the concert. After that they took turns sing songs with each other on stage with a couple of other duets thrown in between. Then they each performed a short set of their own songs before coming back together to sing “It’s Your Love” as the final song of the regular part of the show. It was backed by a lot of pictures of their family from over the years, which was cute.

For the encore they each sang one song while walking through part of the audience. Faith was not super great at being able to interact with the audience while continuing to sing. That happened a few times from the stage, but a lot during that song. They finished with a final duet together alone on stage.

For something called the Soul 2 Soul tour, it unfortunately felt a little soulless to me. Part of it is that arena shows in general just don’t do a whole lot for me. It’s kind of weird because you would think that as someone who really likes theatre that I would like the theatricality that goes into arena shows, but I just don’t. I like my live music to feel at least a little unscripted. This wasn’t at all. I was kind of surprised that they didn’t incorporate their new single that they just released on their anniversary, but the show is highly scripted, so they didn’t.

I also felt like the stage design was really weird. It sort of had two wings coming out on the sides of it where each of them stood to sing for the most part. I guess it maximizes the amount of the audience you’re singing to, but with them being so far apart even when they were sharing the stage it felt like they weren’t even part of the same show.

I’m still glad I went, but I can’t say that it fully lived up to my expectations. Moreso it was a reminder of why I tend to shy away from arena shows for the most part.

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