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.

Dear Evan Hansen

I recently went up to New York for the day with some friends to see Dear Evan Hansen. It was a show I wanted to see for a long time, but I didn’t jump on the band wagon soon enough and it was hard to get tickets. So we bought these almost 9 months ago, and the day finally came the weekend before last.

I loved the show, and it was as great as I had been hearing. The musical is beautiful and moving. I definitely cried multiple times during the show. At a time when everyone seems so divided the show’s message about human connection felt really poignant.

I often like to go into shows cold especially if I know I’m not going to be seeing the original Broadway cast because otherwise I wind up comparing the cast I’m seeing to what I hear in my head from the cast recording. Although there were still a few people left from the original cast most of them were new, so I did studiously avoid listening to the cast recording and only knew the bare minimum of the plot going in. In retrospect I wish I had known a little bit more going in because I spent three quarters of the show anxious about how Evan’s lie was going to blow up in his face. It actually turned out to be much less terrible than I was anticipating, but either way I kind of wish I had known what was coming so that I didn’t feel so much stress about it for most of the show. Stupid anxiety brain.

Speaking of anxiety brain that was my one complaint about the show. You can’t really think too hard about the mental illness piece of it otherwise you’ll hate it. I mean it’s not instantaneous, but there is a lot of subtle suggestion that getting popular and getting a girlfriend seemingly cured Evan of his debilitating anxiety, which is just not how that works. I loved the rest of the show, so I’m just going to set that aside and not worry about it too much.

It’s definitely a great show, and if you can get tickets I would recommend it to you if you’re looking for a Broadway show to see. That being said I think it’s a show that you can also wait and see as a touring production if you’re like me and weigh out which shows are best seen on Broadway versus those which will be fine as a touring production. There’s not really anything in this production that can’t be recreated well enough on a tour, and especially now that you’re not really going to see the original Broadway cast if that’s something you’re into there’s no reason that the touring actors aren’t just as good as who you would be seeing on Broadway.

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.

March in New York

My husband had to go to New York for work this week, so I decided to go up with him for a couple of days to take advantage of the free hotel room and use up some vacation time. We headed up to New York on Monday morning and get in around lunch time. Normally when I’m in New York I’m staying in Mid-town or the Upper West Side, but this time we were staying near my husband’s office in lower Manhattan. It’s an area of the city I’m not very familiar with and it made me feel all discombobulated. Having a GPS was only so useful as every time I came out of a subway I wasn’t sure which way to walk and I chose wrong literally every time. Also the my GPS kept losing signal with the tall close together buildings. Wayfinding when I’m not a grid is not my strong suit.

Since I don’t spend much time in that part of the city I had wanted to do something down there, but unfortunately most of the museums on that side of Manhattan are small and closed on Mondays. My husband thought he could get a me free ticket to the 9/11 Museum, but it turns out that is one thing he can get into free but only for him and not a guest. I decided if I had to pay I didn’t care that much to go. It’s not something I feel like I need to relive.

So I decided to head to one of the larger museums on the Upper East Side. I was debating between the Guggenheim and the Cooper Hewitt. I essentially settled on the Cooper Hewitt because it was cheaper. I think I chose wrong. I didn’t love it. It’s a design museum, which could have been cool but I just didn’t feel like there was much there there. It’s a small museum with only 3 small floors, but one of them was closed while they set up a new exhibition so it was even smaller for me. It didn’t kill nearly as much time as I was planning on, but it didn’t leave me enough time before dinner to do much else. I wound up just sitting in a coffee shop and reading for an hour and a half.

I was excited for dinner because I have literally been dreaming about onion straw type onion rings. I was thinking about getting them at restaurants as a kid and how I miss seeing them on restaurant menus, so I was excited to see they were a choice at this restaurant. Too bad it turns out the restaurant was only trolling me as when I asked if I could substitute them as a side for a burger they told me they didn’t carry them any more even though they were still on the menu. The food was good, but I’m still disappointed.

The real reason I went up was to see Once on This Island. It’s a show I had never heard of until recently. One of the podcasts I listen to always ends with the guest playing a game of MASH with more adult categories than the ones you used as a kid where you predicted how many kids you would have and what kind of car you would drive and stuff like that. In this particular episode one of the questions was about musicals the guest would want to star in and she said Once on This Island. Literally the same week they announced the revival that is currently happening at Circle in the Square. It seemed like such serendipity it made me want to see it. I would have seen it last time I was up in New York instead of SpongeBob SquarePants if the show was not dark on Thursdays instead of the more normal Mondays. That meant I got to see it this Monday though.

The story takes place on an unnamed island, though I think it’s supposed to be modeled after Haiti, where a peasant girl saves the life of a grande hommes and falls in love with him and prays to the gods to save his life and allow their love. I have some quibbles with the plot which I assume is how the show was originally written, but I have nothing bad to say about the staging or the music. The songs were beautiful and joyous. The acting was fantastic. The production was fantastic, creative, and clever. It’s one of those shows that if it tours it’s not going to be the same. It is a really great show and something I would recommend seeing if you’re in New York during its run.

After the show we headed back to our hotel room where we discovered that the thermostat in our room was not working and it was much warmer than we would have wanted to sleep in. They couldn’t fix it, so we asked to move rooms. They were booked up for the night in the part of the hotel we were in, but the managed to switch us over into the adjoining suites part of the hotel. It didn’t matter much to me since I was only there for a night, but it will be a nice bonus for my husband for the rest of his stay in the city.

Tuesday morning I went on walkabout to find a good New York City bagel. I think New York style pizza is garbage and I don’t know who hurt all these people that think that reheated piles of grease are the be all and end all of pizza, but I will agree that there is nothing like a New York City bagel. After that I headed over to Brooklyn to the New York Transit Museum. It was my first time in Brooklyn. I’m slowly leaving Manhattan and getting to all 5 boroughs. Now I just need to hit up Staten Island and the Bronx.

I really enjoyed the Transit museum. It really is astounding how they built the subway system. It’s a marvel and something we just take for granted now. There was a cool exhibit about talked about how the transit system and transit workers dealt with disasters such as 9/11, the 2003 blackout, blizzards, and hurricanes. The lower level of the museum, which is built in a decommissioned subway station is nothing but old subway cars lined up on the tracks. It was really cool to see how they changed over the years. If you’re looking for something to do in the New York area, I would definitely recommend this museum.

And that was all for this particular trip to New York. I have two more coming up in the next month so there will be more to share soon.

 

 

February in New Jersey

My sister and her family moved from Arizona to New Jersey at the end of last year and they finally moved into their new house a couple of weeks ago. We hadn’t had a chance to get up and see them yet, but President’s Day weekend was the perfect opportunity. We were already in New York for a few days prior to that, so it was easy to hop across the river on the train to go visit. My parents were in town from Arizona as they had been out to babysit my nieces for a few days, and some of my sisters college friends who have become good friends of the whole family were up from South Carolina for the weekend with their two kids.

It was a great weekend spending time with everyone. Mostly there was a lot of card playing as that is what my family does when we are together. I also got roped into taking Year of the Cookie on the road and making chocolate chip cookies for everyone. I enlisted a few little helpers and baked cookies with my youngest niece and my friends kids. My mom of course made everyone happy making her homemade pizza. My sisters, our friends, and I have all tried to make it but none of us can get the dough right. In case you were wondering if this pizza is serious business our friends even flew with pizza pans on the plane to make sure my mom had enough pans to make pizza for everyone.

On Saturday night we got a whole lot of snow at my sister’s house. Depending on the forecast you looked at they were supposed to get either 3-5 inches or 4-8 inches. They got just under a foot. This year (at least so far) and last year in Baltimore haven’t really seen any large snow storms, so it was kind of nice to have a big snow. Even nicer because I had zero responsibility for shoveling, and got to leave before dealing with the icy, slushy, gross aftermath that always seems to linger for weeks on end and which is what really makes me hate snow. The kids of course were seventh heaven with all the snow. There’s a nice hill in the backyard for sledding, though we managed to make our sled path end so that you basically slammed into a tree, which we stuck a raft in front of to soften the blow. They’re going to have to work on that in future. I haven’t been sledding since I don’t even know when. Probably when we lived in Massachusetts, which we moved away from when I was 15. It was probably not the best for my still somewhat jacked up back, but it was fun and worth it.

We got dropped off at Newark Airport to catch the Amtrak train back to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon. It’s only a three hour drive (assuming traffic cooperates), so we’ll probably drive in the future but this time the train made sense since we were in NYC beforehand. It’s going to be nice having my sister and her family so close now. When they were in Arizona it took us a 5 hour plane ride, plus the extra time you have to allot to deal with airports, and then a 1.5 hour drive from Phoenix to Tucson. Three hours is practically nothing compared to that. It will be great to be able to see them more than once or twice a year.

 

February in New York

My Christmas present from my husband this past year was tickets to see Hello, Dolly! as well as spend a day in the city going to museums. His company has corporate memberships with a number of museums in New York City, which means that he and at least one guest can get in to them for free. I often go up with friends or on my own to see shows. When we go up together we are usually visiting his sister and family. Hanging out with our niece and nephew is not generally conducive to going to art museums, and I can’t take advantage of the discount unless he’s with me so part of the present was spending a day in the city going to whatever art museums I wanted to go as well.

We rode the train up on Wednesday afternoon in time to get into the city, check into our hotel, and grab dinner before the show. For some reason I had zero interest in seeing Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler, but as soon as they announced Bernadette Peters I really wanted to go. It was an extra added bonus that Victor Garber took over from David Hyde Pierce since I was definitely way more into that casting too. I thought they were both fantastic. Normally if I see a show where an actor has replaced a different actor I’m familiar with I can see how the actor who initiated the part is informing what the replacement actor is doing. I could not see that at all in this case. Both Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber made the roles of Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder completely their own. I adored the show. This was my first time getting to see Bernadette Peters perform on stage and she was a complete delight. I was not the only one to be excited by her as I have never heard a crowd go as crazy for an actor not only during initial entrance applause but multiple times during the show and of course during final bows. Her ability to make me laugh uproariously with just the way she moved her eyes in certain scenes was amazing. I don’t remember the last show I laughed at as hard as I did this one. I could have done without the woman next to be singing along with all the music during the performance, but everything on stage was a complete joy. If you get the chance I highly recommend this show, and as a bonus unlike when Better Midler was playing Dolly I think you can actually get tickets for non-astronomical prices.

On Thursday we hit up a couple of art museums during the day. I wanted to go to museums I had never been to before so I chose the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. I particularly enjoyed the Incomplete History of Protest at The Whitney, which showcased protest art from their collection from the 1940s to the present. At MoMA I was taken by the Stephen Shore exhibit, which encompassed the entirety of his photographs from his five decade career. I wasn’t familiar with him previously, but he apparently became famous for his photographs of the mundane using a variety of cameras including a cheap children’s camera that looked like Mickey Mouse. He continues his work today in digital platforms including Instagram. It was interesting see the timeline of his photos showing mundane daily life as he traveled around the country over several decades.

Thursday night we were supposed to meet up with some friends who live in NYC for dinner, but unfortunately she came down with the flu and was still not better by Thursday night. Apparently what you do when your dinner plans fall through is you go buy half price tickets to see the SpongeBob Square Pants musical. Our hotel was literally right above the Palace Theatre where it is playing and we had both heard surprisingly good things about it, so we decided why not. I’m not mad that I went to see it, but I definitely did not think it was great. I don’t have a huge background with SpongeBob, but I know enough to know the characters and their mannerisms. The best part of the show was seeing how they staged everything and how the actors evoked the characters without being costumed like them. As for the actual story and music, eh. I expected it to be a lot funnier than it was. I don’t think I really laughed much at all. The audience was full of kids unsurprisingly and I expected to hear lots of kids laughing and shouting during the show, but it was a lot of silence. Squidward was definitely the best part of the show for many reasons, but the highlight of everything was definitely his tap number. You know how much I love a tap number. Unless you have a kid who really loves SpongeBob and wants to see this, you can probably skip it.

Friday morning my husband headed off to work and I met up with my other New York City friend for breakfast. I always like when I can catch up with my friends in real life while I’m in the city. After breakfast I caught a NJ Transit train out to New Jersey to visit my family where will pick up next time.

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.