Newport Folk Festival 2018

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

Be Present
Be Kind
Be Open
Be Together

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

Be Present

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

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

Be Kind

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

Be Open

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

Be Together

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

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

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

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

Jason Isbell at Wolf Trap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finger Lakes Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugarland at Merriweather Post Pavilion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.