More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Lyric Opera House February 7, 2018

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 9:53 am

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 December 30, 2017

Filed under: Books,Concerts,Movies,Music,Pop Culture,Television,Theatre — dwhren @ 10:24 am

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.


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.


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”


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.


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 October 14, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 1:34 pm

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.

2017-10-13 20.46.05


Date with Myself September 24, 2017

Filed under: Books,Concerts,Life,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 1:15 pm

My husband was up in NYC yesterday for World Makerfaire and visiting his family. I had previously bought tickets for a concert that weekend, so I wasn’t able to join him. In addition to the concert on Saturday night I also made plans to go to the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday afternoon. For various reasons it worked out that the friends that I was going to go to these things with were not able to go with me, so I spent the day having a date with myself. Luckily I’m not someone who cares about doing things alone. I know some people feel self-conscious about it and would choose to stay home rather than doing something by themselves. I’m hear to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about it. It’s much better to do things that you love alone than not do them at all. Plus sometimes it even means really good things will happen to you as it worked out for yesterday.

The Baltimore Book Festival is pretty small and not something I generally get that excited about unless there happens to be a particular author I’m interested in, which there isn’t every year. This year there were two panels I was interested in, but sadly they were not on the same day. My book club conflicted with the Sunday panel, so I decided I would go down on Saturday instead. After a crazy morning dealing with a work issue I almost thought about bailing, but I didn’t and I’m really glad I wound up going because the panel was fantastic.

It was scheduled in the Food for Thought tent, which typically has food authors and cooking demonstrations in it. I don’t know how this panel came to be, but whoever put it together has my whole-hearted thanks. It was Laura Lippman, Michael Ruhlman, and Ann Hood speaking about food and fiction while cooking grilled cheese sandwiches. Laura Lippman’s forthcoming book, Sunburn, which is due out in February 2018 but which I had a galley of and have already read, features a scene where one of the characters cooks the woman he’s trying to impress a really fancy grilled cheese sandwich. Michael Ruhlman is a chef and author who Laura consulted regarding what realistically a person might have on hand in a kitchen in 1995 that they would make into a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. His most recent book, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, is one of the better books I’ve read in 2017 so I definitely recommend checking it out. His wife Ann Hood joined them. She is apparently also an author, but I’ve never read anything she’s written. They were great together. The panel was really lively and fun. And I have new trick to try next time I’m cooking bacon. If the three of them had a cooking show together I would definitely watch.

The second part of my date I went to see David Gray and Alison Krauss at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The friend I was supposed to go with failed to put it on her calendar when we got tickets months prior and then wound up being out of town this weekend. I tried to find someone else to take the ticket last minute after we realized, but no one wanted it. So I just went by myself. That wound up being a really good thing.

I managed to snag myself a spot at the front of the lawn even though I got there an hour after the doors opened. The concert was not anywhere close to sold out, which helped. Plus I didn’t bring a chair, so I could sit where the lawn had a steeper slope. Being in that spot made it easy to meet up with one of my librarian friends who lives in Northern Virginia and was also at the concert with her sister. They had pavilion seats, but stopped out on the lawn to say hi to me for a few minutes. So it was fun to see her.

The concert was basically two sets with the artists co-headlining. During the set change some guy came up to me on the lawn and asked me if I was alone and if so did I want to upgrade my seat. I said yes, and sure. Then he gave me his ticket inside the pavilion. Not only that, but it turned out it was in row D down in the pit. I have no idea what his deal was, but I’m super grateful to him. At first I figured he had come to the concert to see David Gray and wasn’t interested in sticking around to see Alison Krauss, but when I got down to the seat the guy next to me told me that no one had been sitting there during David Gray’s set so I’m not sure what the guy who gave me the ticket was doing. Not only did I get to move way down front, I wound up in the best row ever. Right next to me were an older gay couple who were plying me chocolates and who were super excited about Alison Krauss. They kept shaking each other in giddy excitement whenever there were some particularly great harmonies. I loved it. And then on the other side of them was a woman who was probably in her 70s who was really getting her chair dancing groove on. Hashtag life goals. So it turns out I should be thankful that my friend screwed up and couldn’t go with me or I never would have wound up there.

The concert itself was full of a lot of really great music. David Gray and Alison Krauss sure can sing. Alison Krauss’s melodic voice is pretty much what imagine angels singing must sound like. All the music was amazing and I can’t complain about that at all. I was very happy to sit outside on a beautiful night and listen to it.

All in all it was not my idea of a great show though. It pretty much was all about the music. For some people that’s great. I know there is a rift between people who would prefer for artists to get up stage and use pretty much all their time playing versus people who enjoy the stage banter and other things that can happen during concerts. I fall firmly on the side of preferring stage banter and storytelling along with the music. There wasn’t really any of that last night from either artist. This is the second time I’ve seen David Gray and he really hasn’t said much of anything either time, so I imagine that’s just his m.o. I’ve seen Alison Krauss before and she has talked more between songs than she did last night. It’s how I know that she’s always cold. My husband even asked if she was wearing a winter coat last night even though it was like 70 degrees because of that whole thing the first time we saw her. The answer to that question by the way was yes. I also would have liked it if they had sung at least one song together, but alas it was very much like we were at two completely different shows. It was still a lovely evening with two artists whose music I love, and who I would see again, but it’s never going to be a concert I rave to anyone about how amazing it was.

It was a really fun day all around. I’m a pretty good date. I’d definitely go out with me again.


American Acoustic at Wolf Trap August 3, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 9:53 pm

I always try to make it down to Wolf Trap for a show at least once per summer because as I’ve mentioned many times before it’s one of my favorite venues. Last night was the night for this summer. It really is a testament to how much I love it that I’m willing to deal with rush hour traffic in both Baltimore and DC to get down there. Last night’s drive was particularly terrible because we drove down in thunderstorms pretty much the entire way. There was one particularly harrowing part where we could barely see the road it was raining so hard.

Despite the awful weather during the drive, the weather gods continued to smile on me this week because we got no rain once we actually got to the venue. There were a couple flashes of lightning, but it didn’t wind up amounting to anything thankfully. In fact it turned out to be the perfect barefoot, blue jean summer night. It’s my favorite kind of weather. The fact that the show was acoustic meant that the music wasn’t super loud, and you could hear the cicadas in the trees as well. It really was the perfect summer atmosphere in one of my favorite places.

The performance I went to see last night was the American Acoustic tour which featured The Punch Brothers, I’m With Her (a supergroup composed of Sarah Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan), and Julian Lage. Each of them played some songs on their own, but even in their individual sets there was lots of collaboration between them with various members of each of the groups coming out to join each other on songs. Then at the end they played a number of songs all together.

I pretty much have to agree with exactly what I heard a guy walking out in front of us say. My favorite parts of the show were the ones featuring the members of I’m With Her because I’m a huge sucker for some female harmonies. And as he said, I too still miss Nickel Creek, and loved the few Nickel Creek songs they played. It was an excellent night of music all around though. Everything about the night was well worth the less than fun trip to get there.


The 2017 Newport Folk Festival August 1, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture,Travel — dwhren @ 9:06 pm

As we’ve done for the past 6 years we headed up to Rhode Island the last weekend of July for the Newport Folk Festival. It’s always my favorite weekend of the year. As always it was a magical experience from the weather to the music. Heading into the weekend it looked like we were going to get rained on a lot. I literally took up half my suitcase with rain boots in preparation for being soaking wet. Instead it wound up being one of the best weather weekends we’ve had at Newport. It was chilly, grey, and super windy on Saturday from the nor’easter that came through the mid-Atlantic over the weekend, but somehow was kept just south of the Rhode Island coast. Unlike a lot of people who apparently don’t know how to check a weather forecast, I came prepared and was appropriately clothed so it wasn’t too bad. Sunday was perfect.

I know no one cares, so I won’t bore you with a play by play of who I saw play, but I’ll just share some of the best moments from the weekend. I always enjoy when artists have what I like to think of as a “Newport moment” where they just become overwhelmed by the fact that they’re playing this historic festival. That happened to Big Thief on Friday. The lead singer stopped partway through her set and said I’m shaking. It just doesn’t seem right to keep playing through my set like this is a normal show. I don’t know what to play right now, at which point people in the crowd started shouting out song suggestions. She was completely overwhelmed saying I can’t believe you guys know the name of my songs. She finally settled on a song, but asked to start it over and put down her guitar and just let the rest of the band back her while she picked up the microphone and sang and danced. The crowd gave them a standing ovation at the end of the song. Newport, man.

Nancy and Beth featuring Nick Offerman, which is the sort of vaudeville show put on by Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt. It was just ridiculous amounts of fun, and I appreciate that they stuck around the rest of the weekend and popped up in various places.

Grandma’s Hands Band was a special treat. I knew it was a tribute to the songs of Bill Withers (Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine, Lovely Day to name a few), but there wasn’t any information released ahead of time about who would be participating in it. This was just one of the many moments of the festival when you trust producer Jay Sweet and show up for something amazing. I’m constantly stage hopping so I very rarely make it in time for the pre-set announcement of who is playing. Assuming they actually did say from the top who was on stage I missed it, so I was incredibly delighted to realize that the distinctive sounds of M. C. Taylor (aka Hiss Golden Messenger) were coming from the stage. He played together with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) and Phil Cook plus a number of other guest singers. The whole thing was a real treat and again something just so signature Newport. What other music festival creates multiple tribute sets (there was also one for the songs of Chuck Berry).

As I mentioned in a previous post after seeing Joseph perform in Annapolis a few weeks ago, they definitely earned themselves a spot in my Newport lineup. They did not disappoint. They were equally as amazing and blew the crowd away. And they participated in another venerable Newport tradition in which an artist who is not on the bill for the weekend at all shows up and joins in other people’s sets. In this instance it was Zach Williams from The Lone Bellow who joined them to sing Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. Definitely one of my highlights of the weekend.

Starting off my Sunday with Choir! Choir! Choir! was a wonderful experience. If you’re not familiar Choir! Choir! Choir! was started by two guys from Toronto just inviting people to get together and sing via a Facebook event. In the years since it has taken over their lives. For 40 minutes they amused the crowd with their humor and eventually turned us into a choir teaching us to sing in two part harmony Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Nothing better than joining my folk family in a beautiful sing-a-long.

Rhiannon Giddons was one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Again you could just feel her excitement and awe at getting to perform on the Newport stage. One of her band mates told a wonderful story about how his father-in-law played the first Cajun two-step set back in the 60s. Prior to arriving they were panned in the Newport paper and worried they were going to show up and get booed off the stage. Instead the crowd went wild for them and he wrote a song about the experience that Rhiannon Giddons and her band played. The whole set was fantastic.

Speak Out was another random set I didn’t really know what I was getting into going in. I heard Jay Sweet talk about it on the All Songs Considered podcast. He basically said that after the election he had many artists contact him about wanting to come to Newport this year to be a part of it even if only for a song because of what Newport is and the meaning of folk music. Last year’s festival seemed very political to me. A lot of artists spoke out against Trump and things that were happening at this time last year, so I sort of expected it to be even more so like that this year. Instead it wasn’t at all, and ultimately I was glad for it. I’m so inundated with politics every other second of my life these days, it actually felt really great to disconnect from it all and celebrate through song for a change. Even during a set entitled Speak Out, no one actually spoke in just words. The entire thing was songs. It was artists both again on this year’s bill and those who showed up just to sing a song bringing back old protest songs to help fight another day. Zach Williams showed up again as did Sharon Van Etten and Margo Price who I had not seen around the rest of the weekend. I of course should not have been surprised the Jess and Holly from Lucius showed up during this one too. They have come back to Newport every year since the first time they performed whether they were on the bill or not. I was jokingly making up a Newport bingo card for the weekend and my husband said I needed to put a Jess and Holly sighting on there. He’s not wrong. Listening to them sing O-o-o-h Child backed by the Berklee Gospel Choir and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was another highlight of my weekend.

This year’s closing headliner for the festival was the legendary John Prine. I have heard so many artists cover his song “Angel from Montgomery”, it was a real treat to finally get to hear him sing it. In that same All Songs Considered interview I mentioned, Jay Sweet said that he could not give time to everyone who had asked him to sing with John Prine during his set. A lot of people came out and sang with him including Margo Price, Jim James, Nathaniel Rateliffe, and Jess and Holly. The biggest surprise of all was Roger Waters. He headlined last year and sang a John Prine song during his set. This year he came back to sing a song with John Prine because what even is this festival. How does someone like Roger Waters just stop in to a sing a single song. That’s how special this is. There really aren’t words to convey it even though I try every year.

It was another amazing weekend that helped to restore my weary soul.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40th Anniversary Concert Tour at Royal Farms Arena July 25, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 8:54 pm

This past Sunday I went to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on their 40th Anniversary Concert Tour at Royal Farms Arena. It’s the third time I’ve seen Tom Petty live, but the first time I’ve managed to stay for the entire set. The first time I saw him was on the Wildflowers tour back when I was in high school. I went with my friends, my sister, and her boyfriend. My sister insisted on leaving before the encore and since her boyfriend drove we all wound up having to leave on her whim. A few years ago I went to one day of the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware. The day we went Tom Petty was the headliner, but this time I was the one who wanted to leave before it was over. He didn’t go on until almost midnight and we had an almost 2 hour drive home, so I wanted to cut out before the crowd left and resulted in us spending that long just trying to get out of the parking lot.

I’ve loved Tom Petty for a long time. I always say that my first indication that my love of my music was more shall we say intense and different than my friends should have been that while all my middle school aged friends were freaking out over NKOTB, I was over in the corner in love with Tom Petty’s song “Won’t Back Down”. Full Moon Fever was one of the first CDs I ever bought. Tom Petty is the only artist for whom I owned a box set. And I’ve long said that if I played baseball my walk up song would be “American Girl”. So basically what I’m saying is my love for Tom Petty is long and deep. So I was very excited to get to celebrate this milestone with him.

The opener was Peter Wolf formerly of the J. Geils Band so I found out. My husband was astonished I didn’t know that, but I said I never really cared for the J. Geils Band. There is something about their sound that I find off-putting. That held true listening to his set. I have no idea how many of the songs he played were J. Geils stuff versus his solo stuff because I only recognized one song, but certainly the songs that had that J. Geils feel to them I liked much less than the other ones.

Tom Petty’s set however was A+. It was like it was custom made for me. He did mostly just play his big hits, so it’s not like I was looking for him to dig very deep. However, there were a few pulls that I had hoped he’d play that I never dreamed he would. I have always loved the song “Yer So Bad”. I mean it was a single, so it had radio play but I don’t think it was ever a huge hit so I never really expected him to play it. I was super delighted when he did.

Wildflowers is decidedly my favorite Tom Petty album, and from what I read in his biography by Warren Zanes, which I highly recommend reading if you’re a Tom Petty fan, Tom Petty also views it as his best work. Thus I wasn’t super surprised that in addition to playing a couple of other songs from the album at other points in the show, he did a mini-set of songs from the Wildflowers album in the middle of the show. In addition to the title song, which is probably my favorite Tom Petty song ever, and “It’s Good to Be King”, he also played “Crawling Back to You”. As he pointed out it was a song that was never released as a single and thus something they rarely play. It’s definitely my second favorite song off of Wildflowers and might rank that high among all his songs for me. Until I was singing along with it, I had forgotten that I actually had used some lyrics from that song as my email signature my freshman year of college. I could not be happier that I got to hear him play it live.

The rest of the show was basically a string of hit singles spanning from the opening song they played, “Rockin’ Around (With You)”, which is the first song they ever recorded up through his most recent single from 2014, “The Forgotten Man”. It was one giant sing-a-long for 2+ hours. It was so much fun and was exactly what I was hoping for in the show.

I don’t know if he’ll stick to it or not, but I did read going into this tour that Tom Petty said he suspects it will be his last big tour. When he chooses to play live it will be some one off shows in smaller clubs. If this does wind up being his last big hurrah, he’s going out on a hell of a high note and I’m glad I got to be there for it.