This stunning song is perfect for Memorial Day. The entire album, “Revival,” by Radney Foster is one of my favorites.
And while we’re on the subject of memorials, this month has not been kind to entertainment and sports icons from my childhood. In the past two weeks, we’ve lost:
• Tim Conway: Oh, how you made us all laugh. Especially Harvey.
• Doris Day: Que sera sera. The TV shows. The movies with Cagney, Hitchcock and especially Rock Hudson. And that day in 1985 when a terribly ill Hudson appeared on your show, finally bringing a national spotlight to the AIDS crisis.
• Bart Starr: A class act on and off the field.
• Bill Buckner: 22 years, 2,715 hits, and a botched groundball that lives in infamy.
On Saturday, Jill and Kate attended our niece Margaret’s graduation from American University. Due to ticket restrictions, the rest of us — Ben, Emma, Nick, Conner, and Ashley — could not go to the event. So we went to see Ben Platt, the Tony Award-winning star of “Dear Evan Hansen,” perform live at The Anthem. For once, I didn’t shoot the concert, but I did get these pics backstage.
Son Volt played a career spanning set Sunday at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, with songs from their 1995 debut “Trace” all the way to the current “Union,” which came out earlier this year. Singer-songwriter Ian Noe was the opener. Moe’s debut album, “Between the Country,” will be released at the end of the month.
Lilly Hiatt, daughter of John and a fabulous singer-songwriter in her own right, left the audience entranced at Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington, D.C. on Sunday night. Check out her album "Trinity Lane" to see what I mean.
Karen Jonas, a Fredericksburg-based songwriter, played mix of songs from her three albums (including the newest "Butter"), as the opener for Hiatt. Jonas and her band play all over the area. If you can, check them out sometime.
Steve Earle continued his first-ever residency at City Winery’s Washington, D.C., location with two shows on Feb. 12-13. Shannon McNally was the special guest. To see my Americana Highways review of the show, go to my Music: Live & Otherwise blog.
James McMurtry, one of my favorite Texas songwriters, kicked off a nine-day winter tour of the East Coast on Thursday at The Birchmere in Alexandria. I shot the concert, which also featured an opening set by Austin-based singer-songwriter Bonnie Whitmore, for Americana Highways.
No review this time because someone else had the assignment, but you can be assured they were great. Check out both artists when you get the chance.
On Friday, I shot my first show at The Anthem, one of the many new venues that has opened in the past couple of years in Washington, D.C. And the show — Lucinda Williams co-headlining with the Drive-By Truckers — was terrific.
The photos were published in Americana Highways, and a review was written by another person. While I enjoy the writing, it’s fun sometimes just to play with my camera.
Richard Lloyd, one of the founders of the seminal punk group Television and a musician known for his studio work with Matthew Sweet (among others), performed a solo show before a too-small crowd Sunday at City Winery. Lloyd also read excerpts from his book, Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s And Five Decades Of Rock And Roll: The Memoirs Of An Alchemical Guitarist, and talked to audience members about his process.
All in all, a fascinating evening. Photos were for ParkLifeDC.
Shooting a live concert is a fun challenge. Generally, you get to shoot the first three songs of the act and then you sit and watch the rest of the show. Depending on the venue and the performer, you can be really close or far away from the band.
This past weekend, I saw Neko Case with Margaret Glaspy opening at the Lincoln Theatre In Washington, D.C. With only about 10 minutes per performer, I had to shoot from the soundboard in the back of the theater. (This was a choice by the artist, not the venue, BTW.)
In many ways, this is one of the worst places to shoot, and I knew I would only get to use a few of the images. There was little room to roam — only a few steps in fact — which made it tough to vary the composition.
Anyone who knows me understands how much I value a good conversation. When that conversation is with a person I admire greatly — one of the most thoughtful, best songwriters in all of music — it's that much better. Thanks to Jon Dee Graham for taking the time to talk with me for Americana Highways; you can see the interview on my Music: Live & Otherwise blog.
Now go contribute to the new album he's trying to make. You won't be disappointed.
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder made waves in music circles when he performed "Maybe It's Time" from Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" during a solo concert at the Innings Festival in Tempe, Ariz. And my wife and I were there to witness it.
I shot the entire day Sunday and have written a review as well for Americana Highways, the website I contribute to regularly. Another way to read my essay/review of the show — and why Vedder's performance of the Jason Isbell-written song means so much to Jill and me — is by visiting my Music: Live & Otherwise blog.
I had a blast shooting The Flesh Eaters show Saturday night at Union Stage in Washington, D.C. The band features members of three of my all-time favorite groups — X, The Blasters, and Los Lobos — backing the vocals of punk poet Chris Desjardins (aka Chris D).
The group's gumbo-style approach to music — one that blends blues, punk rock, garage band jangle as well as jazz-style riffs — was on full display as this special lineup played on the East Coast for the first time.
The group features Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman (The Blasters), John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake of X, and Steve Berlin (The Blasters and Los Lobos). They formed the 1981 lineup that recorded "A Minute to Pray" and have reunited intermittently over the years. Last fall, a scheduling window allowed the group to reform and record "I Used to Be Pretty." Before returning to their respective groups, they embarked on a short tour that ended Sunday in New York.
Tons of fun.
The rock trio Porcupine opened Saturday night with a 45-minute set highlighted by songs from its recent EP, “What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real,” released in November.
Led by Casey Virock on guitars/vocals and drummer Ian Prince, the band received a boost when former Husker Du bass player Greg Norton joined the group in 2016. Norton, who hasn’t been on an extended tour since 1989, clearly enjoyed playing in Washington, D.C. for the first time since Husker Du broke up.
Grammy nominated singer Ashley McBryde played a terrific concert Wednesday night at The Hamilton in Washington, D.C. The 35-year-old singer, whose debut album “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” is up for Best Country Album next month, originally was scheduled to perform at the venue in September but the show was rescheduled due to Hurricane Florence.
Dee White, a 20-year-old singer who has released “Side A” of his debut album “Southern Gentleman,” served as the opener. The singer from Slapout, Alabama, named as one of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know” by Rolling Stone, is acclaimed for his updated take on classic Countrypolitan music. Side B of “Southern Gentleman” is expected sometime this year.
Check out photos and a review of the Band of Heathens' New Year's Eve show at Hill Country LIVE in Washington, D.C. on my music blog andConcert Photosgallery. The review also will be posted to the Americana Highways website.
During a 10-day trip to Texas earlier this month, I was fortunate to catch Grammy and Academy Award-winning songwriter Ryan Bingham in an intimate acoustic show at the 299-seat One World Theatre outside Austin.
For 8+ years, I was friends with a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame who grew up in my hometown.
Charles Brown is responsible for two holiday standards — "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Please Come Home for Christmas" — that you've probably heard or will hear between now and Dec. 25. Between his versions, and the many, more famous covers of both, the songs are American classics.
A feature-length blog entry on my friendship with Charles is now up, along with a sidebar on the songs' slightly murky origins. The entries are on a new blog — "Music: Live & Otherwise" — that I've started on my website. The goal is to compile everything I've written and will write about songwriters, songs, shows, and the effect they have on our lives.
Take a look and let me know what you think. I'm quite proud of it.
Los Lobos performed two shows Friday and Saturday at City Winery in Washington, D.C. To see my review of the Friday night show, go to my "Music: Live and Otherwise" blog here. To see more photos, go to myConcert Photography gallery.
"Politics is not a football game, and I think that’s where a lot of Americans make a mistake: They root for one side, and when that side wins, they rub it in your face, and when that side loses, they get really pissed off and saying the game was rigged. It’s not a sporting event. It’s real. Whoever wins, we all have to deal with it, for better or for worse. I did what I could so I was able to sleep at night, no matter who won."
Here are photos from the last stop on Chris Stapleton's All-American Road Show Tour on Sunday at Baltimore's Royal Farms Arena. Stapleton's mix of hard country and soul was on full display during the show, which saw Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives as well as rising country singer Brent Cobb as opening acts. It was a show not to be missed.
Austin-based Reckless Kelly stopped at City Winery in Washington, D.C., as part of a short East Coast tour that runs through Nov. 8. Two decades into their career, the band remains a forceful stage presence deserving of a much wider audience.
A pleasant surprise was opener Jeff Crosby and the Refugees, who played a 40 minute set. During Reckless Kelly's encore, Crosby came out to play with the band on covers of Tom Petty's "Listen to Her Heart" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son."
Here's a story about two of my professional worlds — music and event photography — colliding.
Last week, I shot the American Staffing Association's annual conference at National Harbor. For the finale, ASA brought in pop star Andy Grammer and his band in for a private concert for attendees.
Currently on tour behind his 2017 album, "The Good Place," Grammer was scheduled to play in Baltimore the next evening, As a result, Staffing World participants saw a 90-minute show with his six-piece band.
Grammer played a string of hits — “Keep Your Head Up,” “Fine By Me,” “Honey, I’m Good,” and “Good to be Alive (Hallelujah),” among others — in an energetic and well-received show.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to meet two of my music idols — Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris — during a fundraiser for the New York-based Women’s Refugee Commission. The event, held at The Mansion on O Street in Washington, D.C., preceded the musicians’ concert at the Warner Theatre as part of The Lantern Tour.
Lila Downs, who also performed at the concert, and dobro legend Jerry Douglas also mingled with the 75 to 100 guests who appeared at the meet and greet. Sarah Costa, the commission’s executive director, and Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights and justice, spoke at the event, as did Harris’ longtime friend, Gail Griffith, and Mansion owner H.H. Leonards.
The Lantern Tour is a series of five acoustic concerts featuring a rotating cast of musicians. After opening Tuesday in Nashville and moving to D.C., the tour features stops in Collingswood, N.J. and Boston before it concludes Sunday in New York.
The tour was developed by Harris and Earle in response to the Trump administration’s “family separation” policy for immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Thursday’s concert also featured Jackson Browne and Shawn Colvin.
Oct. 3 is big in Mean Girls lore, so the show had a number of things lined up to celebrate the day, starting on Monday with the appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers and continuing with a supersized media blitz.
First up: My son can certainly tap a pencil.
A feature was posted on Broadway.com featuring photos and biographical information on the show's 15-member ensemble. The idea behind the feature was "a take on OG mean girl, Marie Antoinette."
Here is a behind-the-scenes video that includes a brief interview with the boy toward the end:
Meanwhile, another video from the MathLit trio was posted in honor of the Oct. 3 celebration, featuring a special guest appearance. It's hysterical.
And finally, before last night's show, the cast was joined by Tina Fey and Jonathan Bennett, who played Aaron Samuels in the 2004 movie to unveil West Fetch Street to the world.
• Insomniac/DVR alert: Members of the Mean Girls cast are scheduled to be on Late Night with Seth Myers tonight. You might see someone you know...
• Thanks to Gary Vorwald for taking these photos at the Broadway Flea Market on Sunday. After shooting a festival at Forest Hills Stadium Saturday, I was there briefly before leaving for home.
• The Broadway Flea is an annual fall tradition that raises money for a wonderful cause — Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It also is, excuse the expression, the Stage Door from Hell. Ben and I spent 45 minutes walking to get coffee at a Starbucks that was just two blocks from the Mean Girls booth.
• Jill and I saw an early screening of “A Star is Born,” which will be released on Friday. Lady Gaga is a revelation and Bradley Cooper (writer/director/producer/actor/singer-songwriter) creates a work of Hollywood art. Wow. Highly recommended. (Small world bonus: Jason Isbell, the artist I primarily went to shoot at Saturday’s festival, has written one of the best songs in the film — the lovely ballad “Maybe It’s Time.”)
Photos from There's No Leaving New York, a two-day festival featuring Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit and headlined by The National. To see my review, go to my Music: Live & Otherwise blog. To see more photos, go to my Concert Photography page here.
Photos of John Hiatt & The Goners playing at The Birchmere in Alexandria on the 30th anniversary tour of Slow Turning. To see my review, go to my Music: Live & Otherwiseblog. To see more photos, go to my Concert Photography page here.
Such a beautiful song. I will never forget seeing Christiane Noll and Robert Petkoff perform this the night that Ben made his Broadway debut in the Ragtime revival. It brought — and still brings — tears to my eyes. Wish I had seen Marin Mazzie and Peter Friedman do this in the original production. RIP, Ms. Mazzie.
Random thoughts on music, the weather, and the power of the young and old:
• You know Mother Nature is confused when September impersonates July and fall allergies start early.
• I was in Texas earlier last week to work on a story and see my family briefly. They’ve had so much rain down there that the state’s leash laws need to be amended to include mosquitoes.
• Last week marked four years since The Replacements performed in a transcendent show at Forest Hills Stadium in New York. See highlights from the show here and read my blog on the night here.
• Agree with this statement wholeheartedly: Some days I need the music and some days I need the lyrics.
Thought-provoking and interesting quotes I’ve read recently:
• From comedienne Robin Fox on getting paid to do what she loves: “Know your worth ... If you’ll work for free why should someone pay you? It is the very definition of being a pro. If you’ll do a free weekend show at a restaurant that won’t even pay you with a sandwich and the place is packed selling food and drinks week after week year after year ... and you’re still willing to perform there ... you’re part of the problem. Being a pro means being paid.”
• About our list obsessions, from David Cantwell in a New Yorker essay on rock critic Greil Marcus: “The List is an essay in enumerated disguise … That click-baiting scourge of our online age, the all-pronouncement-but-no-argument “listicle,” is a different animal.”
If you haven’t had the chance, read these two stories that I saw recently. The first is about an 8-year-old who noticed a boy holding back tears at a football game, so he offered him a seat until his dad arrived. The second is about a 99-year-old man who walks 6 miles a day to visit his wife in the hospital. Both give you hope.
Photos of The Avett Brothers and Nicole Atkins performing during a sweltering August night at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. This was my first review for the website Americana Highways. To see my review, go to myMusic: Live & Otherwiseblog. To see more photos, go to my Concert Photography page.
A few random thoughts as I try to organize my brain so I can work on several freelance assignments due this week:
• My right hand is useful for the following: Shaking hands and dialing telephones. Society has required me to teach it to work a wireless mouse and a pair of scissors, although I still can't cut a straight line. That said, I'm happy to celebrate Left-Handers Day, throwing in a special shout out to my mom and first-born son, two of my favorite southpaws in life.
• The Washington Nationals have been maddeningly inconsistent all year, losing games they should win and winning ones they shouldn’t. It’s one reason they’re mired in third place in the National League East now.
Nothing illustrates this more than last night’s 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs on a ninth inning, walkoff grand slam that followed two Cubs players being hit by pitches. At this point, my allegiance to my other team — the Astros — has never been stronger, even though Houston is struggling to repeat its World Series miracle right now. Either way, we’ll still root for the Nats in what could be Bryce Harper’s last season with the team.
• Very sad to read this morning that Aretha Franklin, one of the true greats, is "gravely ill."
• To me, this is one of the most beautiful pieces of songwriting ever. A wonderful tonic for the soul.
• Another music note: If the Dixie Chicks are recording (as has been rumored), I wish they would cover "Young and Angry Again" by Lori McKenna. It’s a great song they could do a lot with off of her new album, The Tree.
• Tweet of the Week from Mark Harris, writing about the Academy Awards’ creation of a new “Most Popular” category: It truly is something that in the year “Black Panther,” a movie made just about entirely by and with black people, grosses $700 million, the Academy's reaction is, "We need to invent something separate ... but equal."
I saw the Cowboy Junkies last night at The Birchmere, my third show in five nights (after Lori McKenna and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit) in a personal summer concert series. It was the first time I’ve seen the Canadian-based group in more than two decades and they did not disappoint, playing material from their terrific new album “All That Recknoning” as well as highlights from their 30-plus year career.
In case you’re not familiar with the band, they became known for “The Trinity Sessions,” a 1988 lo-fi mix of covers (“Sweet Jane,” “Blue Moon: Song for Elvis”) and originals (“Misguided Angel”) that was recorded using one microphone in a Toronto church. Over the past three decades, they’ve developed a steady following of fans who love their ethereal, often haunting sound.
What makes the Cowboy Junkies fascinating is that they are a mix of family and longtime friends. Margo Timmins, the lead singer, is the sibling of guitarist and principal songwriter Michael, and their brother Peter plays drums. Bass player Alan Anton co-founded the band with Michael Timmins, and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Bird has played with the group since “The Trinity Sessions.”
It was a great show, with tricky lighting that made it a fun challenge to shoot. To see more photos, go to my Facebook album or to the Americana Highways link here.
Summer Concert Series Week #2: Jill and I saw Jason Isbell for the fifth time in a year last night at Wolf Trap. Another terrific show, highlighted by an encore of Crosby Stills Nash & Young's "Ohio." We also saw Sarah Huckabee Sanders walking in to the show; two songs later, Isbell played "White Man's World."
Coincidence? I think not.
If you're keeping score, we've now seen Isbell & The 400 Unit at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland and Durham Performing Arts Center in North Carolina. Both shows featured Amanda Shires, Isbell's wife, on fiddle and background vocals. We saw Isbell and Shires play acoustic at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville as part of the 2017 Artist-in-Residence series and again at a benefit at The Hamilton in Washington, D.C.
This show did not feature Shires, who is on a tour of her own to promote a new album. (We'll see her at the Birchmere next week.) The dynamic, as a result, was different. Isbell dug more deeply into his catalogue and the show had a harder edge, highlighted by the "Ohio" encore.
Our personal summer concert series began tonight with the first of three shows I'll see this week. First up was Lori McKenna at City Winery in Washington, D.C., and she proved again why the small stuff in life means so, so much. If you haven't heard her music — chances are you have and don't know it — by all means go have a listen.
Next up: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at Wolf Trap on Tuesday, followed by the Cowboy Junkies on Thursday at The Birchmere.
Last night, I was fortunate to see Ry and Joaquim Cooder in concert at The Birchmere in Alexandria. The elder Cooder has long been one of my favorite musicians, an incredible guitar-singer-songwriter who has worked with everyone in the music industry in a career that dates back to the late 1960s. Now 71, he is on his first tour in a decade behind “The Prodigal Son,” a tour-de-force return to his folk/blues/jazz roots that mixes original songs with reimagined gospel songs.
On the new album, Cooder, a self-described curmudgeon whose music has veered toward the stridently political over the past decade, focuses on empathy, understanding, and tolerance. It’s a welcome and beautiful piece of music, merging his best work with the sonic textures laid down by Joaquim.
Cooder’s son, who has played in his father’s band since he was a teenager, co-produced the album and played drums. He also opened the show with his own set, playing the ethereal and textured songs from his EP “Fucsia Machu Picchu” on an electric mbira (thumb piano). The Hamiltones, a Charlotte-based trio, provided beautiful backing vocals amid the swirls of sound that resonated throughout the venue. They are a group to watch.
All in all, it was a great night — life affirming in all the right ways. Get “The Prodigal Son.” Trust me.
(Because of photo restrictions placed by the venue, these pics are of Joaquim’s opening act, along with a couple of the Hamiltones. A special thanks to Mark Englund for the ticket.)
There's only so much you can do when forced to rely on an iPhone at a concert. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can get an interesting image. Here are two of Willie Nelson & The Family performing at The Anthem in Washington, D.C., last night.
Anyone who knows me — well or not — knows I'm a huge music fan. I love nothing more than discovering new artists, revisiting established ones, and learning what makes writers and creators of some of my favorite sounds tick. Here are two videos worth your time, with memories of my own attached.
This is one of my all-time favorite songs, part of a live album that came out a couple of months before my dad died. "For Jack Tymon" by Scott Miller is a song that tells the story of my love for Nick, Kate, Ben, and Emma in a mere 2:59. Definitely worth a listen.
Somewhere around the one hour, 13-minute mark in this recording, Paul Westerberg makes my all-time favorite live show a classic. At the end of "Love You in the Fall," a song from the animated movie Open Season, Tommy Stinson talks about the project and tries to give a nonessential piece of The Replacements canon a boost.
At which point Westerberg says, "This one's better," and launches into "Can't Hardly Wait." 15,000 fans roared and sang along. It was a moment I will never forget.
(BTW: The photo on this video is one I took, which makes it even better.)
For the third time in four months, Jill and I saw Jason Isbell perform with his wife, Amanda Shires. The first was at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to kick off Isbell’s three-week artist in residence program. The second was last month in February with Nick, Conner, and Isbell’s full band, the 400 Unit.
Last night, however, was special. The performance was called “Masters of American Music,” a benefit for the National Council for the Traditional Arts. Held at The Hamilton in Washington, D.C., the event was in a room that seated less than 300 people.
In addition to Isbell, we also had the chance to see Jerry Douglas share the stage with younger musicians Jan Knutson and brother-sister duo Giri and Uma Peters, and special guests Steve Abshire and Phil Wiggins.
It was a great night at the end of a long week in which I shot two conferences, a show, an event on Capitol Hill and wrote a story. Busy, busy, busy.
• I miss the days when our president actually had a “strategery.”
• Re: The strange and blustery weather that brought 70-mph winds to the D.C. region, leaving hundreds of thousands without power: “Even Mother Nature is pissed at Trump. We are just caught in the crosshairs.”
• I’ve found playing the Live at Maxwell’s version of "Hayday" by The Replacements to be oddly soothing while shopping at Home Depot, aka the ninth circle of hell.
Three videos well worth your time, given our current political climate...
Remember when Ronald Reagan used "Born in the U.S.A." as an introduction for his speeches because, not listening to the lyrics, he thought it would be a rallying call? I wish our current president would do the same with this song.
Speaking of our (expletive deleted) leader and Jason Isbell songs, I'm waiting for Weird Al or "Saturday Night Live" to do a parody replacing "Anxiety" with "Insanity."
And finally, here's an older one that applies to some government officials I know...
"Nothing there to corrupt you Nothing there to live up to There's no place further down Turn it off or turn around"
Each Scott Miller release has a number of great songs on it. I've been a huge fan since the V-Roys days, and have everything he's done. Looking for a song to get stuck in your head? Check this one out...
With Jill on another adventure, seeing Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires perform at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Isbell, one of my favorite performers, was selected as this year's Artist-in-Residence.
Since I was out of town yesterday, I didn't get a chance to pay homage to Fats Domino, one of the pioneers of rock and roll who died yesterday at age 89.
Like many people my age, I grew up on "Happy Days," and my first exposure to Fats' music was seeing Ron Howard do "I found my thrill..." on the show. Soon after, my dad played me the "real Fats" on one of his treasured, beaten up 45s that were stacked in the giant home stereo that could have doubled as a buffet stand.
Reading through various tributes this morning, a Facebook friend noted Fats' connection to Elvis Presley, which led to an interesting discussion on race and music. Presley was never a songwriter, but an interpreter of "all kinds" of music — white and black.
Because the music charts were segregated (like everything else in the 50s), white musicians such as Pat Boone, Fabian and Ricky Nelson (among others) covered songs that were moving up the R&B charts. A long list of black musicians who wrote these hits (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats) were often screwed out of royalties — and other things — that should have been given to a song's author.
Presley, however, was different. He was quick to point to his many influences, especially black artists, and Domino was at the top of the list. I picked up the following quotes in reading the tributes to Domino.
“A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Presley told Jet magazine in 1957. “But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”
In 1969, at a news conference to announce the resumption of Presley's live concerts in Las Vegas, Elvis interrupted a reporter who called him “the king.” He pointed to Mr. Domino, who was in the room, and said, “There’s the real king of rock ’n’ roll.”
I felt somewhat guilty about seeing Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer perform on Sunday night at The Birchmere. My wife and I had just returned from Chicago earlier that afternoon, and we’d seen Green Day just three nights earlier. I’ve been on the road for five of the past six weekends, and the work was piling up. Family members and lifelong friends were dealing with the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey, and Texas was — still is — on my mind.
Little did I know that seeing — and photographing — this sister act would be such a salve for the soul.
On a short tour to promote “Not Dark Yet,” a stunning and mesmerizing collection that is their first album together, Moorer and Lynne talked about their heritage and the bond they share as sisters. It’s a bond that has been forever cemented despite horrific violence (their father killed their mother, then himself when they were teens), lives on opposite coasts (one in L.A.; the other in New York), and disparate personalities (Lynne, three years older, is the introvert; Moorer just completed a memoir).
Nashville musician Rick Brantley opened the show, and was joined by Lynne and Moorer for his song “Hurt People,” a beautiful moment that offered the promise of things to come. I spoke briefly with Brantley between the sets, and he said that watching the two sing together will “blow your mind. Their sound will put you in a trance.”
I’ve seen Moorer live several times, the first time at Joe’s Pub in New York when she was eight-plus months pregnant with her son, John Henry, and then as part of her then-husband Steve Earle’s band. I saw Lynne years ago and have most of her albums in heavy rotation.
Brantley was right. Together, they were better than I could have imagined. At points, they would glance at each other as only siblings can, wordlessly helping the audience understand their “Sissy” bond.
Performing all 10 tracks — nine covers and one original — from “Not Dark Yet,” plus songs from each of their catalogues, their voices blended seamlessly as the selections ranged from family staples (Louvin Brothers, Merle Haggard, Jessi Colter) to the unlikely trio of Nick Cave, the Killers, and Nirvana.
But it was the title track, a Bob Dylan song from his Grammy winning “Time Out of Mind,” and the sole original, “Is It Too Much,” that resonated most strongly. Dylan’s song, one of his best, is both a sad reflection on mortality and a message of hope. “Is It Too Much,” a song about the sisters’ family history, reaches out to others in pain. Sample lyric: “No one else bears this heavy load/Bring it here to my side…Don’t you know you ain’t by yourself/I’m right here to help you lay it down.”
Appropriately, the sisters donated proceeds from the sales of their T-shirts to victims of Hurricane Harvey, a generous gesture that showed the compassion they have for others in need. The donations are small in the light of the scale of the destruction, but you start somewhere. After all, the message is about uniting in the face of tragedy.
Postscript: This morning, as the tour moves to Chicago, Moorer posted a childhood photo from a family trip to Texas. Today would have been her mother’s 73rd birthday.
“The loss of her feels deeper somehow this year — maybe because we're out here singing together and we both miss the third part she would've chomped at the bit to add. Maybe because she would've been so proud of us. Maybe because we know that she IS proud, looking on, and cheering for us,” Moorer writes.
Moorer then addresses her mother’s death, and her father’s horrifying decision.
“He and he alone took her beautiful spirit out of this world. He was able to because of two things — she didn't know how to fight back and he had a gun. The most harrowing and frustrating thing about domestic violence is that it wears down a person's spirit in such a way that most women forget they are in charge of their own lives. I wish someone had been able to tell our Mama that hers was worth more than she ended up believing it was.”
These sisters, now both older than their mother was at the time of her death, honor her memory every time they walk on stage. They certainly did Sunday night.
Live music — and most live performances, for that matter — is one of my favorite things to photograph. I’ve been fortunate to be close to some fantastic performers over the years, but it is difficult to get into that select group of freelancers who can score the elusive photo pass.
Without the pass, it’s impossible to bring a professional camera into a large show. So, like everyone else, I take photos with my iPhone and opt for the abstract rather than realistic look.
That’s what happened on the first of a two-show long weekend that saw my wife and I closing out August with a trip to Chicago, where we saw family and the band Green Day live at Wrigley Field.
It was the first time Jill and I have had the chance to go to Wrigley, and Green Day put on a terrific show. I also enjoyed pushing the phone to its limits to see what I could get. Sometimes it’s nothing but bad blur; at others, the phone can surprise you.
Part 2 of this weekend is the Allison Moorer-Shelby Lynne show at The Birchmere, which does not have the same restrictions on professional cameras, thank goodness.
Forty years ago today, I was sitting in the lobby of Scott White Hospital in Tyler when I heard the news: Elvis Presley was dead.
I’ve written about my family’s history with the King of Rock and Roll, but this Places entry is related to Graceland and Sun Studios in Memphis, where more than 100,000 visitors have descended to mark the annual Elvis Presley Week. I made the pilgrimage in September 2012 and took these (and countless more) images while basking in the city’s musical history.
Elvis-related tourism is worth an estimated $600 million annually to Memphis’ economy. Graceland is second only to the White House as the most visited home in the U.S. Sun Records, where Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash (among others) made their first singles, draws 160,000 visitors a year.
As Mojo Nixon once said, Elvis is everywhere. Go here to see my 2013 essay, “My Grandmother, Dad, and Elvis,” and here to see the rest of the album.
Random memories after hearing the news of Glen Campbell’s death: Small snippets of his variety show on my parents’ TV. Seeing his albums in my dad’s record collection. Hearing of his friendship with Elvis, who covered many of Campbell’s biggest tracks, and his association with the fabled Wrecking Crew.
Telling people that I wasn’t named after him, noting that my first name had two n’s and not one. Thinking it was a big deal that Galveston, just a few miles away from Texas City, was immortalized in a song. True Grit, Rhinestone Cowboy, Southern Nights. And of course, Wichita Lineman and Gentle on My Mind.
The demons and drugs that bedevil so many artists, leading to his four marriages, eight children, and DUI arrests. The Alzheimer’s diagnosis that, like ALS and other diseases, rot your mind and/or rob your body.
The poignancy of his final years. A biography that would make a great country song.
As many of you know, I’m a huge Paul Westerberg and The Replacements fan. Campbell’s last album — Ghost on the Canvas — is named after a Westerberg song that he covers. I’ve shared the video, in which Westerberg appears, at other times. But it’s appropriate to share again.
Steve Earle is one of three performers — Dave Alvin and John Hiatt are the others — I’ve seen live more than a dozen times in various configurations over the past 30 years. All three rarely disappoint because they are outstanding musicians and storytellers.
Last night’s show, featuring Earle and his band The Dukes at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., was no exception. It was, as usual, a goulash of various genres that ranged from pedal steel country to hard rock, all serving to promote Earle’s latest album, “So You Wannabe an Outlaw,” which was released last month. It also was the first time Earle, who is outspoken in his political views, has performed with his band in the D.C. area since the 2016 presidential election.
Politics were part of the equation — how could they not be? — but Earle’s canvas was broad, nostalgic and even melancholy at times. He spoke of being an a romantic in the widest possible sense, noting that he hasn’t done as well in the personal department (seven marriages, including a recent divorce from singer-songwriter Allison Moorer). Now 62, he talked being an optimist, largely because of his 7-year-old son with Moorer, who has autism.
Earle’s mentors and mortality also were recurring themes. “Outlaw” is inspired by Waylon Jennings’ 1973 album “Honky Tonk Heroes,” and its closing number, “Goodbye Michelangelo,” is dedicated to Guy Clark, who died last year. He spoke of performing at Willie Nelson’s annual Fourth of July picnic for the first time this year, having attended the first one as an 18-year-old and others since.
After more than two hours, Earle’s encore closed with “This Land is Your Land,” and “Christmas in Washington,” which namechecks Woody Guthrie and serves as a call for unity in a fractured world. It was a fitting end to a lovely night.
• The talent of the musicians in Earle’s band is outstanding, although there were some sound issues last night. Earle has worked with bass player Kelly Looney since 1988 and with guitarist Chris Masterson and fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore since 2010. Two new members, drummer Brad Pemberton and pedal steel player Ricky Ray Jackson, also were terrific.
• Masterson and Whitmore, who are married and perform separately as “The Mastersons,” again are the openers for the tour. They showcased songs from their third album, the recently released (and excellent) “Transient Lullaby.” Having seen them now four times, the first time at a Joe’s Pub release party for Moorer’s 2010 album “Crows,” I’m a true fan.
• Both Earle and Whitmore astound me with their versatility. Earle played eight different instruments and Whitmore four last night.
• I love The Birchmere, my go-to club for music since we moved here in 2001. It’s nice to be in a venue where folks sit and listen to the music, and it’s great to be able to take photos without issues with something other than a phone. The $8 charge for a beer came as a shock though.
• I got lucky. Not sure whether I’d be able to go to the show until the last minute, I went to the box office and was told it was sold out. Fortunately, a man was sitting in the lobby trying to sell an extra ticket, which I got at face value. Then, getting into the general admission area late (some folks had been there since noon), I managed to score a seat with members of The U-Liners, a DC-area Americana and roots-rock band with many shared musical interests. They were great; I hope to see their next show in DC in August. Check them out at www.uliners.com.
• Interesting trivia only to me: Earle and I share the same birthday — January 17 — 10 years apart.
• Additional musicians I would like to add to my 10-plus list: Moorer, who will be at The Birchmere next month with her sister, Shelby Lynne, behind a new album; Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, who I saw for the second time last month at Merriweather Post Pavilion; and Chris Stapleton, who I’m seeing at Jiffy Lube Pavilion this weekend. Good summer for shows.
It's been a memorable Fourth of July weekend, in part because we've been home, a rarity given schedules, conferences, and summer travel. Nick and Conner joined us on Friday and we went to see Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at Merriweather Post Pavilion, then went to the Workhouse Arts Center for their annual Fourth fest and fireworks show.
Despite my long association with the Workhouse and the Arches Gallery Artists, we've never attended the celebration. To see more photos of the fireworks, go to my Facebook album here.
An excerpt from Patti Smith's new book on the creative process:
“Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others. Virginia Woolf had her room. Proust his shuttered windows. Marguerite Duras had her muted house. Dylan Thomas his modest shed."
I have Starbucks.
More on the creative process, courtesy of John Doe, another of my favorite musicians:
“One of the reasons I'm here is to make stuff. To make songs and to be an actor and do art and things like that, so that's what's important. You shouldn't worry about what your rewards are. Your reward should be having created that thing.
“I hardly ever wake up and think, ‘Oh, today I'm gonna write a song.’ It just happens. And I think it's the same as — again, to get philosophical — a lot of things, the more time you put into it, the more reward comes out of it. So if I'm writing and playing most every day, then more stuff will come out of it. If I put it away, then there's other stuff that's going on in your head. If you have a down period, try not to get frightened of it or don't get spooked by it. Just let it go. Let it go until you feel like playing again.”
Three thoughts on the current debate over the health care bill:
• The great irony of the current political debacle is those who protest “Obamacare” so fervently are the ones whose constituents benefit most from the Affordable Care Act. Think about that one for a minute.
• I can’t begin to tell you how much I dislike Mitch McConnell, who is locked up in his own power grid.
Soggy conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of supporters who came to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to advocate for environmental causes and science research on Earth Day.
The set up for the March for Science was similar to the Women’s March on Washington, held just three months and one day earlier. I was hired by the Entomological Society of America, one of numerous science organizations that took part in the event, to shoot members getting ready for and participating in the rally.
Throughout the rally, a broad range of speakers were supported by entertainment and a series of short films and clips. Questlove, whose Grammy Award-winning group The Roots serves as the in-house band for The Tonight Show, was one of the co-hosts. Jon Batiste, music director and bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, led the house band.
The steady drizzle turned into a downpour by late morning, and I left before seeing Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) speak or Thomas Dolby perform. These photos, however, capture some of the spirit of the day, which was mirrored in more than 600 cities on more than six continents.
To see more photos from the March, go to my Facebook page here.
Roger Ailes' legacy with Fox News will be both derided and celebrated in our polarized nation, but I hope the death of Chris Cornell is not overlooked in our discussions.
Yes, Cornell was a musician who met an early and tragic end. But he also was a husband and dad who suffered from a terrible inner turmoil. He was found after an acclaimed concert; police are investigating it as a death by suicide.
Depression sucks, folks. The collateral damage is awful, too. #RIP #AFSP #suicidepreventionhotline
For some time, I’ve had this idea to do short visual stories on the places I visit across the U.S. I’ve been fortunate to travel quite a bit over the past few years, and find that I’m drawn to places that are a little off the beaten path. In most cases, unless you’re a local, you pass by them on the road without a glance.
This new series of stories starts with a visit last fall to Texas’ Gruene Hall, where I saw Charlie Robison play the second night of his annual weekend Labor Day bash. It had been some time since I had been to Gruene Hall, located near New Braunfels in the Hill Country, and I wanted to showcase this unique Central Texas institution.
Built in 1878, the 8,000-square-foot dance hall was designed to give tenant farmers a way to socialize on the weekends. George Strait got his start there, playing once a month while beginning his career, and the hall has hosted a who’s who of Texas artists, including Willie Nelson, the Dixie Chicks, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and Jerry Jeff Walker. Robison is a regular, as is his brother, Bruce, and they occasionally play as a trio with Jack Ingram.
Gruene Hall bills itself as the oldest dance hall still operating in Texas, a claim disputed by some, and it’s charm comes from how little about it has changed. It has a high-pitched tent roof with a bar in front and a small lighted stage in the back. Signs from the 1930s and ‘40s still surround the stage and hang in the hall, which has side flaps that are used for open air dancing.
This photos in this album were taken in real-time, so you can see how the evening started slowly and progressively got more full once Robison took the stage. If you ever get the chance to go to Gruene Hall, do so. It’s a piece of history you won’t soon forget.
I’ve always enjoyed the music of X, which straddled the world between punk and country and remains incredibly relevant. They were part of the great Sire Records roster in the 1980s that also included Lou Reed, Talking Heads, The Replacements, The Blasters, and Los Lobos, among others, and X’s first four albums are considered classics.
As much as I like those albums, which featured the original lineup, I’ve always had a soft spot for “See How We Are,” the 1987 album that includes Dave Alvin’s “Fourth of July” and the terrific title track. In the wake of the election, “See How We Are” has become my earworm.
Recently, on Facebook, I decided to ask my friends which hit song best describes the Cold War flashbacks we’ve been having since January 20. My suggestions were R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” but they came up with a fascinating playlist that includes:
• Sting: “Russians”
• Billy Joel: “You May Be Right” and “Big Shot”
• Gary Jules: “Mad World”
• Gus Black: “Today is Not the Day to F--- With Me”
• Eurythmics: “Sex Crime”
• The Clash: “Rock the Casbah”
• Nena: “99 Red Balloons”
• Tears for Fears: “Everbody Wants to Rule the World”
• David Bowie: “This is Not America”
• Talking Heads: “Life During Wartime”
The more I thought about it, I realized X had another appropriately titled song — “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.”
Metropolitan Youth Theatre concluded its second year with a sold-out winter concert, “Let the Sunshine In: The Music of Hair,” Friday at MSA’s Alexandria studio. The show, directed by MYT co-founder Chad Vann, featured the work of 12 area high school and college students and a three-piece band led by MYT co-founder James Woods.
MYT was founded in 2015 by high school students Vann, Woods and Sam Cornbrooks (now in college in Manhattan) to give area youth the opportunity to create and perform in shows while learning all aspects of theater. The group, which has drawn student performers from both Northern Virginia and Maryland, has already done “The Last 5 Years,” “Rent,” “Songs for a New World,” and “Spring Awakening” in its brief existence.
Two more shows, including a production of the Tony Award-winning musical “Chicago,” are planned in 2017. For more information, visit www.metroyoutharts.org or follow the group on Twitter @metroyoutharts.
For more photos from the concert, visit my Facebook page here.
I've written about my love for Lori McKenna's music, most recently about her concert here and specifically about this song. So imagine my surprise when, in the middle of game 7 of the World Series, I logged on and discovered McKenna won the CMA Song of the Year for "Humble & Kind."
In a just world, this would be the news of the day. Either way, I'm happy to share it again. #CMA50
P.S. Congrats to the Cubs, too! Great to see their comeback and for the curse to finally be broken.
I recoiled the first time I saw the video of Chris Stapleton’s “Fire Away.”
One of the best songs off of one of the best albums I’ve heard in years, the video tells the story of a couple who becomes entangled in the throes of the woman’s mental illness. It ends, as do too many of these stories, tragically, leaving the survivors to cope with unspeakable grief.
“The song is about loving someone unconditionally through not so easy times. The concept of the video came to me as that would be the hardest possible space in which to love somebody,” Stapleton says in an interview on the Campaign to Change Direction website.
Stapleton’s debut album, “Traveller,” has sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. It won two Grammys and drew attention for its mix of old-school country and Southern rock. The video for “Fire Away” has been viewed almost 15 million times, creating awareness around an issue — mental illness — that is too rarely mentioned or not seen at all.
Until it’s too late.
I’m a lucky man.
I’ve known two people — one a close friend; the other the daughter of family friends — who have died by suicide. I have a daughter who is ADHD/bipolar and struggles to maintain her equilibrium at times. An uncle and an aunt also have suffered from severe mental illness.
Their experiences have helped shape me as a person and as a father. I feel fortunate to have known these people, and lucky to have a daughter as kind at heart as Kate is. And I’m committed to sharing our family’s struggles in an effort to draw some attention to mental health issues.
Hearing that Stapleton would be performing in D.C., I noted the show was scheduled during an intense period of travel and was unsure if I could make it on a Sunday night after returning from a second trip to Pittsburgh in two weeks. Then, when I went to buy a ticket, all that was left was a single seat in the upper nosebleed section.
Jill had a dinner to attend that night, so she told me to go ahead. The cause is the right one, and that’s what’s most important.
The Campaign to Change Direction is a national initiative designed “change the culture of mental health in America.” Its goal is to get people to learn and share the five signs of emotional suffering — change in personality; agitation; withdrawal; decline in personal care; and hopelessness — so that we can prevent tragedies and help others to heal.
When Stapleton had the idea for the video, he didn’t work with a specific charity on mental health issues. Actor Ben Foster, who is in the video, suggested the campaign, which has received the support of Prince William, First Lady Michelle Obama, and actor Richard Gere, among others.
Stapleton agreed to work with the organization, although he had no idea about the video’s potential impact on his audience. He also had to get his record company to buy into the project, noting that label executives “looked at me like I had three heads” when he told them the idea.
“I didn’t want to be in the video. I wanted to make it with these actors because it felt more artful and meaningful,” Stapleton says. “It was just a notion, but then we made it and it became real and useful and something that hopefully can make the world a better place. … That notion became a good thing.”
The DAR Constitution Hall is a great place to hear a show, but a tough venue to maneuver. The lines are long. The bathrooms are in inconvenient places. The seats, especially in the upper reaches, have extremely limited legroom.
Having driven more than 500 miles over the previous two days, I had to get up midway through the show and walk around a bit, so I went down to the restroom and saw an usher I had talked to while waiting in line earlier. Listening to the music, we made momentary small talk about the show and I mentioned my connections to the cause, then told him I had to go back up. I didn’t want to miss “Fire Away.”
At that point, the usher opened the door and said, “Go on in,” pointing me to an empty seat in the orchestra section. “Wait a few minutes,” this random stranger said, “and I’ll take you up a little further if I can.”
After standing in the back of the orchestra for a few minutes — by this point no one was sitting — the usher tapped me on the arm and escorted me up toward the front, just five rows from the stage. “Stand here,” he said. “You won’t have a problem.”
And then he left without a trace. Two minutes later, Stapleton started playing “Fire Away,” just in time for me to pull out my phone and record it. At the end, he asked the boisterous crowd to repeat the last chorus, holding up their phones to shine a light on issues that are underreported and often unseen.
The audience complied. Here is the video I took of the performance.
Last month marked the 12th anniversary of Brian’s suicide. Next Monday marks the sixth anniversary of Lindsay’s. That time has passed so quickly is sobering in and of itself.
In a post earlier this week, I mentioned our crazy travel schedule and how thankful I am to have so many friends and family (biological and extended) willing to spend a little time with us on this journey.
So here's a small photo summary of the last five weeks. (Roadmap not included.)
Last week, while in Salt Lake City, I had an opportunity to see Ryan Adams & The Shining with opener Amanda Shires on tour at the Red Butte Canyon outdoor amphitheatre. The setting just outside the University of Utah campus was beautiful, complete with an almost full moon.
Adams, one of the most prolific and diverse musicians of the past two decades, has been dipping into his extensive catalogue for the past couple of years. A lovely highlight from the show was his duet with Shires on "Oh My Sweet Carolina."
Shires, the wife of Jason Isbell (another favorite), has a new CD scheduled for release in mid-September. Nothing has been forthcoming — yet — on Adams' next project.
For more photos, check out the Performances section of the website or visit my Facebook album here.
Continuing what has suddenly become a music thread….
Billy Joel became the first performer to play three times at Nationals Stadium on Saturday, and he did so despite a torrential downpour that delayed the start of the concert by more than an hour.
You can't carry a "professional camera" into events like this without a press pass. (I would not have brought my camera in anyway, given the rain.) However, this is one of those times when iPhone photos usually come nowhere close to the images you can get with a regular camera.
Still, if you're lucky and recognize the shutter delays, you can occasionally get a decent image.
Let me know what you think of these and the ones on my Facebook page here.
Joel, as usual, was terrific in concert. He hasn’t written new music since the early 1990s, but embraces one of the best and most popular catalogues with enthusiasm. In turn, the rain-soaked crowd embraced him.
“What’s it like sitting there with a wet ass?” Joel asked the cheering crowd.
Fortunately, after seeing the Piano Man multiple times in multiple places (North Carolina, Madison Square Garden), we splurged and bought tickets on the stadium turf. No wet butts for us.
Unfortunately, we were among the large contingent of the 40,000-plus fans who came to the concert via Metro and were left stranded due to the storms, which delayed the show by more than an hour. Thanks (or not) to “SafeTrack” maintenance, the subway system closed at midnight, and there was no way we could see the encore and make it to the last train.
Joel even made a joke about the troubled transit system — “Is the Metro running tonight? … So basically, you’re (expletive).”
With no warnings in advance from stadium officials or Metro — a transit worker at the Navy Yard said they had not even been told about the heavily promoted concert (cough) — we were stuck with a long wait and a very expensive Uber ride.
As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of The Replacements. Turns out that Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, is too.
According to the music blog Pitchfork, Replacements biographer Bob Mehr said that if elected, Kaine would be the first fan of the group to serve as vice president. Kaine, who was born in Minnesota, has noted in past interviews that his favorite album is “Let It Be,” the 1984 effort that brought the Minneapolis group major label attention.
Now if we can just hear “Gary’s Got a Boner” at the inaugural gala.
Note: This review also was cross-posted to my No Depression page. To see more photos, go to my Facebook album or to my “Performances” page.
Lori McKenna started her “Wreck You” tour to promote her new CD a week before it was released, and was surprised to learn she could sell copies of “The Bird & The Rifle” before it becomes available to the general public.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” she said during her show at Jammin’ Java just outside Washington, D.C.
Such is the state of the music business, where release dates have been moved from Tuesdays to Fridays and smaller labels (such as McKenna’s) operate much differently than the now shrunken behemoths. Today, however, you and anyone else with an iTunes account can purchase “The Bird & The Rifle,” the latest in a series of gems from this mother of five who lives with her husband of 28 years outside Boston.
In a just world, McKenna’s music would get the same level of promotion — and subsequent sales — as the increasing number of artists who cover her richly detailed songs. One of those songs, “Humble and Kind,” topped the charts when Tim McGraw — whose wife, Faith Hill, helped McKenna get her big break as a songwriter in 2005 — released it last year.
McGraw’s mainstream sincerity (and video with connections to Oprah Winfrey) made the song a hit, but McKenna reclaims it on her new album. At the Jammin’ Java concert, she talked about writing the song at her dining room table between dropping off and picking up her kids from school. When you hear it on the CD, you can almost see her writing in longhand.
Hold the door say please say thank you Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie I know you got mountains to climb but Always stay humble and kind When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you When the work you put in is realized Let yourself feel the pride but Always stay humble and kind
Don’t expect a free ride from no one Don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why Bitterness keeps you from flyin’ Always stay humble and kind
As a longtime fan — I have all 10 of McKenna’s albums — I’ve always appreciated her eye for life’s little details and ability to capture with grace and empathy the struggles of people just trying to get by. In concert, she almost apologizes for writing so many sad songs — the first single on the new CD is titled “Wreck You” — and while it’s true that none of her work qualifies as summer beach music, what she manages to capture is much more real instead.
“The Bird & The Rifle,” however, has a new wrinkle: Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb, who has worked wonders for Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. Cobb and a host of Nashville’s top musicians compliment McKenna’s words in a way I haven’t heard before. It is, without question, the best sounding record she has made.
So, if you can, try to catch McKenna live sometime this summer. And stick around for the encore, where she performs “Girl Crush,” a song co-written with Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey and recorded by Little Big Town. That one won McKenna a Grammy, and long overdue recognition that her words speak volumes.
The Metropolitan Youth Theatre, a company run completely by high school and college students, will present the Tony Award-winning musical "Spring Awakening" this weekend at 1st Stage Tysons in McLean, Va. The musical is the fourth presented by the company since it was founded by three then-high school students (Sam Cornbrooks, Chad Vann, and James Woods).
All of these photos were shot live during the final dress rehearsal on Thursday. No set ups and no retakes.
It has been a pleasure to serve as the company's photographer for all four shows, all of which have been interesting, contemporary, and challenging fare. "Spring Awakening" is suitable for mature audiences only.
The cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre's upcoming production of "Spring Awakening" performed in a fundraising cabaret and pot luck dinner Saturday in Alexandria. The cast showcased several group numbers from the Tony Award-winning show and several performed solo pop numbers.
The event, held at Metropolitan School of the Arts' studio in Alexandria, was a showcase for an incredibly talented ensemble of high school and college students ranging in age from 15 to 20.
"Spring Awakening" is the fourth MYT production since the student-run company was founded in 2014. Performances will be July 29-31 at 1st Stage Tysons in McLean, Va. (Note: The show has mature language and themes that are not suited for young audiences.)
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20 and available at www.metroyoutharts.com.
Get your tickets. You won't regret it. For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.
This song is best known because of Tim McGraw's version, but it was written by one of my favorite musicians — Lori McKenna (check out her stuff now!) — and will be on her new album that comes out in a couple of weeks.
If you have 4 minutes and 18 seconds, please give this a listen. It's something Jill and I have tried to teach our kids, and given all of the unrest in our country and in the world right now, it's a lesson well worth sharing to any and all.
"Elvis Presley wouldn't have been Elvis Presley without Scotty Moore."
Of all the musicians who've died this year, this may be the toughest one yet. Scotty Moore, who played lead guitar on all of Presley’s biggest hits of the 1950s and early 1960s, died yesterday In Nashville at age 84.
Moore and bassist Bill Black were part of Presley’s original band that started on Sun Records and moved over to RCA in 1956 after cutting a string of singles that are now considered the foundation of rock and roll. Even though the two left in a money dispute in 1958, Moore returned after Presley’s Army stint ended in 1960 and continued to play for him all the way through to Elvis’ comeback special in 1968.
The following year, Presley (without Moore) recorded “From Elvis in Memphis” and started touring again regularly for the first time in almost a decade. Ironically, his “From Elvis in Memphis” producer, Chips Moman, also died earlier this year.
The list of musicians that Moore influenced and the genre he helped develop is staggering. Among the guitarists who cite him as a direct influence: Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and the White Stripes’ Jack White.
Take a moment and watch Presley perform “Trying to Get to You” with Moore in this clip from the 68 Comeback Special. Presley started off acoustic, then traded guitars with Moore and lit the place on fire.
Beth Howland's death was announced today and, due to her wishes, it was almost six months after it happened. That's a remarkable feat in today's 24/7 news world, but nothing compared to the prospect of performing this song eight times a week on a Broadway stage. You might remember Howland as the ditzy waitress on the long-running show "Alice," but she also was an original cast member of "Company."
Guy Clark leads an all-star cast in a performance of his "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" on the Letterman show. Clark, the de facto songwriting leader of so many people I like, died Tuesday following a long illness.
And the world just got a little smaller ... again.
For some reason, I’ve been having trouble writing about the death of Prince. So many words have been said and so much purple ink spilled that there really isn’t much more that I can contribute.
But damn, that dude was talented. All you have to do is watch his Super Bowl halftime show.
No matter what you thought about Prince, he was a visionary in the music world. Like David Bowie, he mixed fashion, androgyny, funk, and throwback rock and roll into an always fascinating stew.
The results pushed the entire music industry in directions it did not anticipate; who would have thought he could almost turn Tipper Gore into a Republican? (If you don’t believe me, look it up.)
I wish 2016 would just let up when it comes to the deaths of people I’ve admired and appreciated as a fan of music and the performing arts. If I was a popular performer in the 1970s and '80s, I'd be more than a little scared. (Unless my name was Keith Richards, of course.)
Here are some excerpts from a Rolling Stone interview with Paul Westerberg after Prince’s death. The two were acquaintances who played the same clubs in Minneapolis; Westerberg also recorded at Prince’s studio, Paisley Park, after The Replacements broke up.
• He was like a ray of light in a very cautious place. He was a star. He made no bones about it. He was glitz to a place that wasn't used to it. I remember a little scuffle broke out in front of the stage one night and Prince said, "Stop fighting, you'll mess up your clothes."
• People like to paint him as a reclusive this or that; I think he was genuinely truly, truly shy. But one thing says a lot about him: I was there making a solo record a few years later, and I got a message that said that my friend had just died. I was truly rattled, and the next time I went back into the studio, he had filled it up with balloons. Now I'm gonna cry.
• I've spent more time with Bob Dylan, and I've got to say that I was more in awe of Prince. I can't think of anyone better – an all-around composer, musician, guitarist, star, showman, the whole package, anyone better. If Elvis wrote all of his songs and played guitar, it still wouldn't quite be there.
• When I got word today, I was trying to write a song. I put it down. I found myself walking up to the store, and I bought myself a handful of colorful clothes. I was just drawn to do something that he would have done.
My favorite post on this topic:
If you give us back Prince, Merle Haggard, David Bowie and Alan Rickman we will gladly give you the top 4 presidential candidates in return.
An appropriate song, given the type of year we’ve been having.
Willie Nelson joke: "You know what they call a guitar player without a girlfriend? Homeless."
Fortunately, this is not (NOT) a RIP message for Willie, just something I picked up while waiting for my daughter's brakes to be fixed on a Saturday afternoon of never-ending errands. I'm thankful that I'm not writing another tribute to someone who has died because there have been way too many instances of that already this year.
I'm also thankful that I have someone I can call my spouse/girlfriend/best friend (all the same person, in case you want to make a snarky remark). 20 years into this, she overlooks those moments when I'm tone deaf and encourages me to pursue my quirky dreams.
Thanks my dear Jill for all of the above, and doing everything you do to keep a roof over our heads. I love you.
My grandfather liked to say he was an “Okie from Muskogee,” having lived in the Oklahoma town for a period before moving to East Texas with my grandmother. I remember him telling me this numerous times, especially when Merle Haggard’s signature song came on the radio.
Haggard, who died last week at age 79, wrote “Okie from Muskogee” in 1969 after he became frustrated with anti-military, pro-sex and drugs protests that helped define the Vietnam era. The song, released three weeks after Woodstock, became a Number One hit as angry, proud conservatives embraced and latched on to its lyrics.
I’m not a huge Haggard fan, although I greatly admire his body of work and his ability to write about a hard scrabble life that included a stint at San Quentin, five wives, alcohol, drugs, bad business decisions, and battles with the IRS. Reading the many tributes written in the wake of his death, what I find most interesting is how he constantly evolved in his stances while tapping into the frustration of conservative whites piqued by changing morals and values.
Interestingly, Haggard’s death came just a couple of days before Bruce Springsteen decided to cancel a concert in Greensboro, N.C., to protest the state’s passage of HB2 – or the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. The law, passed during a hastily scheduled legislative session by an increasingly conservative General Assembly, discriminates against transgender people and the LGBT community.
"To my mind, it's an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress," Springsteen said in a statement announcing the cancellation. "No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden."
Driving through North Carolina earlier this week in a truck that had only AM radio, I heard “Okie from Muskogee” in tribute to Haggard and wondered what he would have thought of the state’s latest legal action. After all, U.S. politics are the most strident they’ve been since Vietnam, and Haggard already had come too close to the flames of controversy more than once.
“I write from common knowledge, current knowledge, collective intelligence,” Haggard told author R.J. Smith about “Okie from Muskogee” in 2000. “At the time I wrote that song, I was just about as intelligent as the American public was. And they was about as dumb as a rock.”
I wish everyone could evolve like that over time…
The photos above are of my grandparents around the time "Okie from Muskogee" was released. The video below is of my favorite Haggard song, a duet with Willie Nelson on "Poncho & Lefty." (Seeing Townes Van Zandt, who wrote the song, in the video is a nice touch.)
• About President Obama's selection of Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court: The president went with a centrist white male whose background is in constitutional law. If a Democrat is elected to the White House and no confirmation hearings have been held, the GOP will trip over themselves trying to confirm said centrist white male. So why not do it now, or at least allow the process to take place?#doyourdamnjob
• Next thing for the parties to argue over: Which side can legitimately claim their theme song is "All about that base. 'Bout that base. No trouble..."
• Saw this headline and realized that even Trump could not make this one up: Stryper Frontman Denies He Is Ted Cruz.
• It’s Girl Scout cookie season, that period of life in which smiling, pre-adolescent crack dealers stand outside suburban grocery stores on weekends. I’ll take the Tagalongs and the Thin Mints, and…
• This week’s #HappyMonday moment: Just two hours into the work week, I was reminded that — for some people — a guillotine would be a waste of a sharp blade.
• Simon Wright, in his “Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” blog, has summed up my musical tastes perfectly: “The uncomfortable reality is that my record collection is peopled with screwed-up individuals who self-medicated themselves into oblivion and/or an early grave but made some fine rock ’n’ roll along the way.”
• Speaking of music and being in a general bear of a mood, Jon Dee Graham made me take note once again. All I can say is, “Yep.”
Pat Conroy’s death last week brought back a tide of strong memories. The first was when I read the “Lords of Discipline” in high school, and the second was when I saw Conroy at a talk/book signing in Greensboro almost two decades later.
Like “The Great Santini,” perhaps the book he is best known for along with “The Prince of Tides,” Conroy’s “Lords of Discipline” draws upon the author’s struggles with the military’s hardness, born of traditions that encouraged prejudice and misogyny in the Vietnam-era South.
Published in 1980, the book was being made into a film a couple of years after “Taps,” another fictionalized drama about a military school. As I’ve often done, hearing about a movie based on a novel makes me want to read the book before seeing the film, so I picked it up.
What “Lords of Discipline” taught me was how hard it must be to do a novel justice on the big screen. Even though the film was OK, there was no way it could capture the depth of Conroy’s work, or the (occasional) pulp of his prose. The book captured a South I had long heard of, but never wanted to be part of, in such a way that I became determined never to experience it.
This has been a terrible winter for artists, and the world of classic rock-era music has been particularly hard hit. Add to that list author Harper Lee and actor Alan Richman, and it has been seemingly a never-ending roll call.
In the first three months of 2016, we’ve lost Beatles producer George Martin, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Dan Hicks, Vanity, Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake and Palmer, Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire, Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson of Jefferson Airplane.
In some ways, the deaths of most of those who passed away should not come as a shock, given the hard living that many of those musicians lived during the substance-fueled 1960s, 70s and 80s. Bowie, still working until right before his death, was the exception, even though he had been battling (quietly except to those closest to him) cancer for 18 months.
The reason, I think, that the long list of deaths surprises and gives me pause is because each of these artists was popular during my childhood. And with each passing, that childhood recedes further into my life’s rear view.
One singer’s illness, in the midst of everything, caught my attention. Joey Feek of the country duo Joey+Rory, whose public battle with cervical cancer was chronicled every step of the way by her husband, died this month at the young age of 40.
I didn’t know much about the couple or their music. In fact, I’ve heard only a few of their songs, which are pretty enough (especially their cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”), but not cutting edge or truly memorable. What caught my attention was their openness about the illness, the way Rory Feek wrote about and cared for his wife and young daughter as Joey moved into hospice care.
There is something wrong about a person having to suffer in such a way, especially just a couple of years after having a child with Down’s Syndrome. But the grace and dignity they showed throughout is both commendable and memorable, and will outlive the songs they leave behind.
Pat Conroy wrote about life, death, family, dysfunction, mental illness and life as a military brat in the South. He too was open about all of his family’s foibles, so much so that many of his relatives would no longer speak to him.
He joked about this at the speech and book signing I saw him at in Greensboro, when he was promoting “Beach Music.” I had the chance to see him when Sarah Bullock, one of Jill’s co-workers and a second mother to her in many ways, invited me to come along.
Conroy’s sense of humor, always bubbling under the surface despite his lifelong struggles with depression, was in fine form as he told stories about his father meeting Barbra Streisand, and writing. When I mentioned, during the book signing, that I had worked as a newspaper editor before moving into communications, he complemented me on “escaping my career choice.” He then signed my copy of The Lords of Discipline — a hardback I bought that day, with the phrase, “For the love of words and books.”
Seeing Conroy was a highlight of my seven-plus years in North Carolina, and it’s rare that Sarah or I fail to mention it when we see or speak to each other. I still have the book, and last Christmas, Sarah sent me Conroy’s last work — “The Death of Santini.”
Five random thoughts from a music fan about last night’s Grammy Awards:
• Congratulations to all of the winners, but especially to Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton; both were very deserving. Their CDs have been on heavy rotation since their release, although it was reviews that pushed me toward Stapleton’s “Traveller.”
• It was a pleasure to see Stapleton perform with Bonnie Raitt, and the performance by Alabama Shakes was stunning. They also won big this year, further validation for a long-time fan.
• After Lady Gaga’s performance at the Super Bowl, I was anxious to see what she would do in her tribute to David Bowie, but found myself somewhat underwhelmed. The first half seemed like karaoke, as if she was auditioning for a “Mamma Mia” revival. She did rebound at the end with Fame, Let’s Dance, and Heroes, though.
• Jack Sparrow got eaten by Hollywood Vampires. At least Johnny Depp’s bands are better than most of his recent movies (“Black Mass” being the lone exception).
• The “In Memorium” section made me think, “Damn, we’ve lost way too many this year. And it’s only February.”
Sharing the morning ear worm: For some reason "Take It Easy" has gotten stuck in my head on repeat. I like the song enough — early Eagles is much better than late Eagles, IMO — but the novelty wore off many years ago. Please retire this song, or better yet, help get it out of my brain.
Sadly, in shuffling through my mental database in an attempt to get rid of said ear worm, I happened on two of the worst songs in history — "Afternoon Delight" and "Ebony and Ivory." Not sure why the former is there; the latter may have come after reading that Paul McCartney was denied entrance to Tyga's Grammy after party.
And I'm sure it was because of "Ebony and Ivory." Or perhaps "My Love." But that's a debate for another time.
A near airplane crash. A cross-country flight. Two college auditions. A son on Broadway. A wife working with the White House. And a drink with a Hall of Fame baseball player.
I can't say the final weekend of my 50th year on the planet was boring.
Coming in mid-January, my birthday always has felt like something of an afterthought, given the post-holiday hangover we all seem to feel post New Year's. Add four kids with birthdays in December and a January that is one of Jill's craziest months at work, and it's easy — and understandable — to see why. Hell, I'm usually not in the mood to celebrate, and it's my birthday.
Last year, for my 50th, Jill pulled off a wonderful surprise that had my mom coming in from Texas along with a gathering of many of our closest friends. This year, as my 51st approached, I decided the fewer surprises that life has to offer, the better.
It started Friday, when Emma and I embarked on another college audition trip. This one, which ultimately involved three auditions over a 24-hour period, was in California.
Leaving the anticipated wintery mix and snow behind in Virginia had lots of appeal, although two cross country flights over a four-day period had me anticipating feeling my age and then some. My body does not deal well with the winter weather whiplash we seem to be having around here, and I was still tired from the previous weekend when Jill and I went on a whirlwind trip to New York.
The New York trip (chronicled here and here via my iPhone) involved seeing Billy Joel and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time” (her Christmas present), having tea at the Plaza Hotel (a present to each other), and attending the engagement party for our “adopted” son, Ginno. The party also was a reunion of many of the kids and parents from “Billy Elliot,” sans Ben, who is on the road with “Newsies.”
After all that, I’m sure Jill welcomed our departure as she spent the weekend working with the ASCA staff on planning the School Counselor of the Year celebration, which includes a visit to the White House next week. We don't see her much during January because of SCOY and another major program she supervises, so I felt fortunate that we had the New York trip as a last hurrah.
Little did I know when boarding the plane how close to a last hurrah it really would be.
On the first leg, we were off to Chicago, a little late and flying low because of the bumpy air. We made it just fine, did the cross-country trek across O’Hare, and got ready to board our connection to L.A.
Checking my phone, I saw the first surprise. Late last year, Ben booked “Tuck Everlasting,” a new Broadway musical that opens in April. He’s leaving “Newsies” at the end of the month before starting rehearsals in mid-February, but no formal announcement had been made. Then, without warning, the press release went out.
We boarded the plane behind a large man, obviously an athlete. As he sat on the first row in first class, I recognized him as Frank Thomas, the Fox TV analyst who spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Chicago White Sox.
After sitting on the runway for about 15 minutes, the plane started to take off. Two wheels lifted off the ground, and on Row 31 we felt the familiar surge from behind. But in a split second, the plane jerked back and the pilot ground it to a halt, fortunately taking advantage of O’Hare’s long runway.
The collective reaction was, “What the (insert expletive of choice)?!?” The fire department came out to cool off the smoking wheels as the pilot explained that a cargo door, one right under where we were sitting, had come open.
We were very lucky, even if Emma’s nap had been abruptly halted. We waited for some time until the wheels cooled enough to return to a gate (ironically the same one where our first plane landed in the nether regions of O'Hare), so we could catch another flight. I'm sure at least a couple of people also had to clean out their shorts.
It was that scary.
While Emma started on some homework, I went to the bar and saw Thomas. Figuring the night could not get more surreal, I mentioned that it must have been “interesting” to have been in the front row of the plane. He said “Cheers,” took a sip of his wine, and offered to let me sit.
We talked briefly about — what else? — airplanes and baseball, and he could not have been nicer. An hour later, steeled for the next leg of the flight, we boarded again for California.
The next day was filled with Emma’s auditions, followed by a nice dinner together. On Sunday, my birthday, Emma picked up Starbucks for me. We went to another audition and had lunch with some friends from Northern Virginia who also were in California.
At that point, we drove to Hollywood so we could be closer to the airport for our departure. In our three trips to L.A., I’ve learned to hate the traffic (worse than even Northern Virginia), love the climate (65 degrees in January) and embrace the kitsch.
Emma indulged me as we went to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (separate blog coming on that at some point) and to Amoeba Records, the second best in the U.S. after Austin’s Waterloo. We then had dinner with the Hetheringtons, longtime friends from Ben’s “Billy Elliot” days.
Coming on the heels of Ginno’s party the previous weekend, the West Coast reunion with the Hetheringtons was a nice capper to the California trip. We reminisced, we laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a long time, and looked to the future.
That future includes two more long-distance trips this month, one to North Carolina to see Nicholas and work on a freelance story, and Ben’s last “Newsies” performance in St. Louis. Ironically, that’s where he started tour life in “Billy Elliot,” more than four years ago.
Last Christmas Eve, Jill and I were fortunate to see the “David Bowie is Now” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago with our photography buddy and extended family member, Bernadette. The Windy City was the only U.S. venue to host the exhibit, and we were there with the kids to see Ben and the “Newsies” folks. It felt like serendipity, and proved to be a fascinating history lesson.
Just over a year later, Bowie has died following an 18-month battle with cancer, just two days after turning 69. He released his most recent CD, “Blackstar,” on his birthday. “Lazarus,” an Off-Broadway continuation of "The Man Who Fell To Earth" featuring old and new music from Bowie, has been one of the hottest tickets in New York since it opened in December. In terms of buzz, it is almost as hot as “Hamilton,” another genre-bending musical,
Like him or not, you have to admire Bowie for constantly pushing the boundaries in music, theatre and film in a career that spanned more than four decades, all of which were on display in the Chicago exhibit and are found in his recent work. I saw him live in the mid 1980s in Houston, on the tour that followed “Let’s Dance,” and remember being as captivated by the visuals as the music. And much of the music was excellent in its own way.
In showcasing his artistry and chameleon-like nature, “David Bowie is Now” provided excellent, thought-provoking insight into his career. If anyone deserved a museum exhibition devoted to his style alone, it was Bowie, but this was much more, proving to be a multimedia feast for the eyes and ears.
I wish I could have taken pictures, but they were strictly verboten, and security was tight. I understand why, and wondered at the time if I could have done it justice, given how difficult it is at times to get good images in museums
At the same time, I’m sure copyright and intellectual property were not the only reasons Bowie refused to allow photography. If anything, he was always the one in control of his ever-shifting image.
Another icon gone too soon.
Note: After writing this tribute just hours after the announcement of Bowie's death, I updated it with more observations for NoDepression.com. Check out the updated versionhere.
Six years ago tonight, the boy made his Broadway debut. Amazing how time flies, how much our lives have changed over that time, and how much all of my children have grown up.
Congrats to Nick and the fellow members of his Vital Signs group on the release of their second EP. Especially check out my oldest singing "In Your Arms" with Marty Lucero. You can get the EP on iTunes by clicking here.
Yep, I know I'm saying it again, but I'm a proud dad...
Given the craziness that surrounds the month of December in our family, it should come as no surprise that I’m not the most sentimental person when it comes to Christmas. Between the political rhetoric we are seeing on the election trail, the warm weather and the release of the new “Star Wars” movie, it feels a lot more like summer than winter.
Except for the birthdays, that is.
Still, that hasn’t stopped me from a new edition of “Random Thoughts: Holiday Edition.” This one collects my favorite randoms from Facebook and Twitter and includes a couple of NSFW photos that you might enjoy.
Let’s start with the photos… Each illustrates a thought or two below.
• Donald Trump on the eve of Christmas Eve: "Peace on Earth and goodwill toward ... HA! Who am I fooling?!?"
• I'm starting to think Mother Nature's timeline was thrown off by the fact that the Hallmark Channel starts showing Christmas movies in July. If Hallmark starts showing college football bowl games, I’m cutting the chord completely on cable.
• This “Saturday Night Live” skit reminds me of my father. Sad thing is, Dad couldn't decide whether to stare at his action figures or play with them, making him the eternal tweener when it came to toys. (BTW: The teen in the blue sweater in the commercial is Jeremy Zorek, who was small boy on the “Billy Elliot” tour. Time flies.)
• Which is the fantasy here: Santa or better presidential candidates? I think it's the latter.
• Pre-Christmas Saturday: When running a few errands takes on a whole new meaning.
• Note to the guy mulling a Home Depot gift card purchase for his spouse: Don't do it.
• What's the difference between Stump and Trump? One has been chopped down, while the other needs to be...
• If parenting is survival of the fittest, then I really should go to the gym more...
• Not a Christmas song. Just one I can’t get out of my head — “Still Trying” by Nathaniel Rateliff.
A few thoughts on music from a 50-year-old white guy… (Photos are mine, too.)
I’ve spent my life trying to explain to people why I enjoy the music I like, and (usually unsuccessfully) why they should, too.
Leave it to Jason Isbell to explain it better than I could: “It’s punk, but it doesn’t sound like punk. It’s punk with different instruments and different songs.”
Isbell then goes on to explain, “It’s people who are trying to do the right thing. When it’s at it’s best, it’s people trying to make music because they love music, and they’re not trying to swindle anybody, they’re not trying to get rich and famous immediately, they’re trying to make music that goes back to their roots, they’re trying to have some credibility, they’re trying to be authentic.”
I recently saw Isbell at the UNITE to Face Addiction rally in Washington, D.C., where he was on the bill with Joe Walsh, Sheryl Crow, Steven Tyler, the Goo-Goo Dolls, and The Fray, among others. As a freelancer, I received a press pass to take pictures at the event, but my primary interest was seeing Isbell live for the first time.
All afternoon, I found myself telling people about Isbell’s music. Despite critical acclaim, especially for his last two albums, and growing awareness, many in the crowd didn’t know who he was.
“Just listen,” I said. “Then you’ll know.”
I turned around to look at the crowd during “Cover Me Up.”
I wish I could be a music critic or a concert photographer. I love capturing live events and think I’m pretty decent at it, but I don’t think I’d make a good critic. I know what I like, what I don’t, and even though I’m open to anything that catches my ear, I’m reasonably sure my opinions wouldn’t gibe with much of what passes for criticism these days.
That said, here are some things I’ve heard recently that I’ve enjoyed and put into heavy rotation:
• Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats: “SOB”
The best, most unrepentant song I’ve heard since “Rehab.” It brings a smile to my face everytime I hear it, and the video is terrific. Their self-titled album gives me the same warm feeling that “St. Paul and the Broken Bones” did last year.
• Tommy Stinson: “Can’t Be Bothered”
I’m a huge fan of The Replacements, but only recently have gotten into Stinson’s solo work. This is his latest, a single from a yet-to-be-delivered album, and it’s really good. It made me go back and revisit Bash & Pop’s “Friday Night is Killing Me,” the first Stinson solo effort and best album that came from The Replacements ashes. That is, until Paul Westerberg delivered “Mono.”
• Keith Richards: “Crosseyed Heart”
“Live at the Hollywood Palladium,” an out-of-print live album from 1988, remains in my rotation because it represents the best of what made the Stones great. And that, at least for me, is Richards. His new album is more of the same, which is plenty good.
• Dave and Phil Alvin: “Lost Time”
The follow up to the brothers' “Common Ground” is better, more lived in, and always welcome, although I find myself yearning for an album by Dave and his Guilty Men lineup.
• Amy Helm: “Didn’t It Rain”
On what is an admittedly male-centric list, the solo debut by Levon’s daughter more than holds its own. Terrific harmony, nice songwriting, and a couple of cuts that feature Helm’s late father on drums.
• Ryan Adams: “1989”
Everyone it seems has an opinion on Adams’ track-by-track cover/reinterpretation of Taylor Swift’s multiplatinum album. No matter what you think about Swift, and I’m an admirer of her talent (although I could do without the rest), Adams’ effort ranks up there with his best and ballsiest work.
• William Harries Graham and the Painted Redstarts: “Foreign Fields”
Damn, this is good, and Graham is at least 20 years younger than anyone on my current list. Jon Dee Graham’s son contributes an album that is nothing like his father’s work musically. And when it’s this good, who cares?
An EP not on my earlier list but also worth mentioning is Glen Hansard’s tribute to Jason Molina, the Songs: Ohia and Magnetic Electric Co. singer/songwriter who died two years ago from alcohol-related complications at the age of 39.
“It Was Triumph We Once Proposed: Songs of Jason Molina” is Hansard’s five-song tribute. It includes loyal covers of two of Molina’s best-received compositions, “Hold On Magnolia” and “Farewell Transmission,” either of which makes the entire EP worth owning. “Farewell Transmission” is especially melancholy and beautiful, and a reminder of how too many musicians leave us too soon.
To see Molina perform “Farewell Transmission,” just click on the video below. (Song starts at the 1:20 mark)
Great quote: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.” — Lady Gaga
Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of The Replacements, and saw them twice on their all-too-brief (though highly entertaining) reunion. Still I couldn’t help but laugh after reading this comment recently: The Replacements and REM were the Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the fucked up.
Great quote finale: From Jason Isbell, pretty much summing up my attitude toward writing about music in this or any other space — “I’m happy [for] anything that’s given me more of a home to do what I like to do.”
My wife’s words rang through my head, at times louder than the music: “Damn those stigmas.”
As parents of a child who has mental health issues, one of our largest fears is that she will use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Mental health and substance abuse are linked in another way, through the stigmas that prevent many people from talking about them openly and publicly — as the illnesses they are, not just the poor choices we make.
A new organization, Facing Addiction, is working to change that perception. And they took a huge step Sunday with UNITE to Face Addiction, a five-hour rally and concert that drew thousands from across the U.S. to the National Mall Sunday in Washington, D.C.
The audience, a vast majority of them recovering addicts or people who had lost a loved one, slowly grew throughout the damp and dreary day. Many carried signs with pictures of loved ones who had been lost to addiction; others were there because they are in long-term recovery. They cheered each of the artists, but individual songs or performers brought many to tears, especially when The Fray — a personal highlight, along with Isbell — performed “How to Save a Life.”
Facing Addiction, a recently formed organization that has been working to focus attention on the cause, organized the rally. Officials with the organization say addiction affects one in three households and 85 million people in the U.S. It also cuts across all class, socioeconomic, and racial lines.
Among the speakers: U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy; Michael Botticelli, a recovering addict who now is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; and syndicated talk-show host and surgeon Mehmet Oz. Others included Emmy Award-winning actress Allison Janney, whose role in the sitcom “Mom” drew loud cheers; and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who is battling a family legacy of substance abuse and mental illness.
The biggest piece of news at the event was when Murthy, surrounded by three of his top staff, announced that his office has commissioned the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on alcoholism and addiction.
And the numbers are there to justify it: Overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in people under 50. Stigma or not, that is a sobering fact.
The student-run Metropolitan Youth Theatre presents its second production this weekend — the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical "Rent."
Tickets are available at www.metroyoutharts.com for the show, which opened tonight and has three more performances — 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday — at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, Suite LL, in McLean.
Jonathan Larson’s rock opera, which ran for 12 years on Broadway, is an ambitious undertaking for the student-run company, which was founded in 2014 by two Northern Virginia high school students. Its mission is to educate young actors and technicians about the challenges they will soon face in the professional world of theatre.
Students, most in high school, run all aspects of the company’s productions. Hayfield student Chad Vann is the artistic director and Lee student Sam Cornbrooks is the company’s producer. James Woods, who attends Metropolitan School of the Arts, is the musical director.
MYT is supported by Metropolitan School of the Arts and DC Metro Theater Arts. “Rent” is the second show produced by the group, which presented “The Last Five Years” in a sold-out run in late January.
You also can follow the company on Twitter (@MetroArtsYouth).
Few things are sadder than seeing a stage, full of such life and vibrancy just a few days ago, empty except for the crew loading out.
But that’s what happens when a show closes. For those not familiar with the lingo, it’s called the “strike.” (Ironically appropriate, in this case…)
This morning, after dropping Ben off for school, I walked past the Neil Simon for the first time since Sunday’s closing performance, seeing the crates and the crew working in what seemed like organized chaos to me. It’s yet another difference between community and professional theatre; in this case, you have a lot of people who are paid good money to clean up afterward.
It’s still sad, however. And it made me do my own version of a circle back.
I circled back to last week, when suddenly people who thought the show would run for a lot longer raced to the theatre to see “Ragtime.” Several times, waiting after the show, I looked at the crowd standing outside in the frigid cold to get autographs and wondered: WHY?
In the short, three-plus block walk from the theatre to our apartment, I also thought of Alejando Escovedo’s song “The End,” written about the dissolution of a relationship. As the guitars build, Escovedo almost shouts, “Is this really the end?” repeatedly during the chorus.
I use music (along with writing) to process my thoughts and this was the song I played walking around the hospital in the final night before my father passed away. Sadly, the feelings were the same.
This show is not coming back; it really is the end.
If you have the time, take a look at this video of “Gene” the puppet, a creation by cast member Benjamin Schrader, talking to cast members about the show’s closing. It will make you smile.
2012 got off to a great start as we celebrated New Year's Eve at the Kennedy Center following a Billy Elliot performance.
Then, between shows on New Year's Day, the cast held a "Hootenanny." The event, held every four to six weeks, gives cast members a chance to showcase their amazing collection of talents, usually between shows on a weekend.
According to Wikipedia, the phrase is an Appalachian colloquialism that was used in early 20th century America to refer to things whose names were forgotten or unknown. In this usage it was synonymous with thingamajig and whatchamacallit, as in "hand me that hootenanny." Hootenanny was also an old country word for "party". Now, most commonly, it refers to a folk-music party.
If you know me, you know how much I love music. All kinds, live or studio. Ones that play to the masses — there’s nothing better than a good pop song — and ones that draw a handful to each show.
My primary requirement is that the majority of the instruments be played by humans, not machines. Also, as a writer, I greatly appreciate anyone who can tell a story through words and/or emotions. The best performers can do both.
Here are a few other thoughts I’ve had recently…
• I'm an Elvis fan. Not a member of the cult, but one who recognizes his appeal, talent, and ability to cut across generations. (I'm also a big fan of the TCB band. Damn, they were good.)
• Have you ever listened to an album and wondered, "What were they thinking when they chose THAT as the first single?"
• Jon Dee Graham has long been one of my favorite artists, in part because he’s so freaking smart about the small things in life. Here is a quote in which he paraphrases Bruce Springsteen, another favorite:
"Springsteen was here for South By Southwest and, the one thing that he said that really just killed me, because once again, it proves to me that artists are all the same…he said you must have absolute confidence and you must doubt completely, and you must be as brave as possible but you need to worry all the time, and you need to know that you're the best act in town and yet at the same time know in your heart you suck. And that's it, right there, that's it."
• Milkduds and Merlot: Sounds like the end of a long day, the name of a country song ... or both.
• And finally, a belated RIP to Etta James, who died in mid January. This song is not one of her best known, or even one of her best, but it’s definitely one of my favorites.