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  • Review: The Lantern Tour

    This review is being posted to the Americana Highways website.

    Two decades ago, Emmylou Harris and a cast of Americana luminaries embarked on an acoustic tour to focus attention on the danger and damage caused by landmines around the world. The tour has been repeated several times since, with a rotating cast devoted to humanitarian causes donating their time and talent.

    This month, a number of those same cast members were on the road again, raising awareness about an issue much closer to home: Migrant families who have been separated by the Trump administration at the Texas-New Mexico border.

    The Lantern Tour, as the series of five concerts in six days was known, made its second stop in Washington, D.C. last Thursday. (The tour ended Sunday in New York after stops in New Jersey and Boston.) A meet-and-greet fundraiser for the New York-based Women’s Refugee Commission, which organized the tour, was held the previous evening at The Mansion on O Street. Harris, Steve Earle, Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs, and dobro master Jerry Douglas mingled with the guests, and commission staff spoke briefly at the event.

    I took photos at the fundraiser, but tour management did not allow anyone except The Washington Post to shoot the concert. I did, however, manage to score tickets to the sold-out show, where Jackson Browne and Shawn Colvin joined Harris, Earle, Downs, and Douglas on stage.

    Like the Landmine concerts, The Lantern Tour shows featured the musicians sitting in a row with their instruments, taking turns playing songs. Douglas, who called himself the “music director by default” at the meet and greet, provided superb accompaniment throughout.

    For the most part, the two-hour show stuck to themes related to immigrant struggles — families, exile, loneliness, mourning and spirituality — as the performers stayed away from their best-known songs.

    More than anyone, Browne stuck to the script, performing the ballads “Sierra Blanca Massacre” and “The Dreamer.” Downs, who was born and raised in Mexico, received some of the evening’s strongest applause after her beautiful rendition of the traditional folk song “La Llorona (The Weeping Woman)” in Spanish as well as a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Dear Someone.” Colvin contributed “Ricochet in Time” and a cover of CeeLo Green’s “Crazy.”

    Earle briefly sidetracked the proceedings to pay tribute to Tony Joe White, who had died that day at age 75, with the song, “You’re the Best Lover I Ever Had.” Harris, who said she’s writing a memoir “like everyone is these days,” performed “The Road” as a tribute to Gram Parsons, who had discovered her in D.C. in 1971.

    In the end, it was Earle who gave the show a needed jolt of energy. An unabashed rabble-rouser, he performed versions of “City of Immigrants” and the updated spiritual “Tell Moses” — a duet with Colvin — that had the audience singing and swaying along. I’ve now seen him almost 20 times since 1997 and have yet to be disappointed.

    The concert closed with “The Pilgrim,” Earle’s tribute to Roy Huskey Jr. that also has been recorded by Harris. Like the best songs, this one has come to mean more than its original intent; Harris referenced the “over 65 million displaced persons around the world” when she performed it on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” last fall.

    And with the lines, “I’m just a pilgrim on this road, boys/’til I see you, fare thee well,” the tour went to its next stop, its light shining brightly.

    To see more photos from the meet and greet, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Lantern at the Mansion

    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.

    To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Steve Earle: 2017

    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.

    End notes:

    • 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. 

  • On Valentine's Day

    I come to you with empty hands

    I guess I just forgot again
    I only got my love to send

    On Valentine's Day


    I suck at Hallmark moments.

    It’s not that I don’t try. Truly I do. I’ve bought cards, sent flowers (live and nearly dead ones), delivered champagne, searched out romantic restaurants. But mostly my inner barking seal seems to come out and, well, bark.

    Somehow, in those connect-the-dots moments between Christmas, Groundhog Day, and the most romantic day of the year, I see my shadow, declare six more weeks of winter, and hibernate until it’s too late.

    There's so much I want to say

    But all the words just slip away
    The way you love me every day
    Is Valentine's Day

    Unfortunately, my sense of bad timing also can be applied to birthdays, and odd-numbered years that coincide with my wedding anniversary. (Of course, the dysentery on Mother’s Day that year wasn’t a great choice either; I prefer to think of it as an extraordinary case of bad timing. It certainly was the last time I’ll opt for an all-you-can-eat buffet on a major holiday.)

    If there is anything that convinces me that my inner nerd — complete with pocket protector — is capable of overwhelming my inner romantic, or that I should do everything in my power to eliminate the 11 federal holidays and 47 pre-programmed greeting card days from my life, it’s times like this.

    For some reason, my situational Tourette’s kicks in, and I say or do something to screw it up. It feels like Butch and Sundance jumping off the cliff into the rapids below. The fall may not kill me, but I definitely cuss on the way down.

    If I could I would deliver to you

    Diamonds and gold; it's the least I can do

    So if you'll take my IOU

    I could make it up to you
    Until then I hope my heart will do

    For Valentine's Day

    Thanks to Steve Earle, I can pass along what you have just read in the italic passages. I can pledge to try again, no matter what the fates may choose to say about it. And I can thank God for the 350 or so non-holiday opportunities that I have each and every year to say how much I love and cherish the wife and family I have.

    I don’t need a Hallmark moment to tell me that. Fortunately for me, they don’t either.