So tonight I went to Carrie Newcomer's CD release concert for The Geography of Light. It was good; maybe one of the best concerts of hers I've seen. If you have a chance to see her on this tour (dates and cities here), you are in for a treat! The new songs are lovely (which I already knew -- I think I'd heard most of them already, if not all of them); her voice is, if anything, even better and more resonant than ever; and as always she is a gracious presence on the stage.
If you're not familiar with Carrie, she's an acoustic singer/songwriter/guitarist; if you like literate songwriters like Shawn Colvin or Mary-Chapin Carpenter, you'd probably like her. She's got a gorgeous rich alto, and her songs often touch on spiritual themes. If I had to sum up the overall trajectory and project of her work, I would say that she's interested in the celebration of holiness in the everyday.
I got downtown a little early and, miracle of miracles, there was a vacant table at the Blu Boy Chocolate Cafe & Cakery, right next door to the Buskirk-Chumley Theater where the concert was. So I treated myself to a brownie (theirs are wonderful -- no nuts or icing or anything extraneous, just pure rich brownie) and some very good coffee, and wrote in my journal for a little bit. I wasn't going to go over to the theater until 7:30ish, but at about ten after seven I peeked over and saw that the lobby was packed with people waiting to get in. Since I'd finished my brownie and two cups of coffee, I decided to head on over. They opened the doors to the theater about ten seconds after I walked in the lobby door, so my timing was perfect. I bought a copy of the new CD on my way in -- it's not officially released until Tuesday, but we're special here in Bloomington -- and found a seat. Since I'd come alone, I settled in to read Eloise Klein Healy's newest book until the show began.
It was an absolutely packed house, definitely sold out -- nice to see such a good turnout for our hometown girl! And it was such a Bloomington crowd, full of familiar faces and just the kind of people who make me love this town. There was an opening act, the Stellanovas -- Chris Wagoner & Mary Gaines, who perform on the new album as well. They were fun, sort of acoustic folky cafe-jazz stuff. Mary Gaines has a truly gorgeous voice which at one point reminded me very much of none other than k.d. lang.
A short intermission, then Carrie took the stage to thunderous applause. She was performing with longtime accompanist Gary Walters on piano as well as Chris Wagoner on guitar, slide guitar, ukulele, violin, & probably some other stringed things and Mary Gaines on cello & vocals. Keith Skooglund, guitarist extraordinaire, came out to play with her on one song and singer/songwriter Krista Detor joined her with harmony vocals on a couple of songs. She did nearly everything off the new album as well as lots of older stuff. I think "Lazarus" is my favorite of the new songs. Her fellow musicians absolutely rocked the house on "Bowling Baby" which is always such a fun song.
Carrie talked about having gone to some kind of a peace-and-justice workshop in Kentucky recently -- as she was walking up to the place where she was going to play a concert in conjunction with that, she noticed that there were protesters. "They were protesting peace! Yes, protesting peace. You can't make this stuff up." And then one of them saw her walking up with her guitars in hand and pointed at her and hollered out, "YOU! WHORE OF BABYLON!" (which is especially hysterically funny if you know Carrie, who is your basic nice sweet Midwestern Quaker peacenik.) She cracked up talking about it."And here I thought I was just an obscure folksinger! I'm moving up in the world!"
I see Carrie every summer at her free concert in the park. That's always a loose, kind of raucous good time, with kids playing & dancing and dogs and picnics and everything. In a way it's kind of funny to see her in a dark theater, with everyone sitting quietly and listening. It does give her the opportunity to play the quieter more contemplative songs, and the setlist pretty much focused on those, though there were a few toe-tappers like the aforementioned "Bowling Baby," "One Woman and a Shovel" off the new album, and her ode to email disasters, "Don't Push Send." She played "The Fisher King" which is one of my very favorites of hers and one she doesn't always play, so that was a particular treat.
Before the encore, her husband Robert Meitus (who used to be in a band called the Dorkestra, which some of us long-time Bloomingtonians remember with fondness; he's now an intellectual-property attorney but Carrie says he's still her favorite Dork) came onstage and said how proud he is of her and how great the new album is and how in the 18 years they've been together he thought this was his favorite concert ever. He said that Carrie was about to start on a huge tour, really scary -- "not Dick Cheney evil scary! Good scary!" Then he said he'd been so busy being her lawyer and her manager and her husband that he'd neglected to buy her any flowers tonight, so in honor of the upcoming humongous tour, he presented her with a roll of duct tape and a big orange extension cord. Carrie was totally cracking up by this point. "Now THAT'S musician love!" It was really quite adorable. And then (with just her acoustic guitar and Gary Walters on piano), she played maybe the best version of "Bare to the Bone" I've ever heard her play -- and I've heard that song a lot, but it just really soared tonight. Then the Stellanovas returned and they all finished up with "I'll Go Too" -- a good song, don't get me wrong, but not my favorite of hers, and didn't feel to me like the right song to end the show on for some reason. No matter -- it was still, overall, a terrific show.
I thought about hanging around to get my CD signed, but decided I didn't feel like fighting the crowd, so I came home. You know, I really am lucky to live in a town with so many incredibly talented people in it, people like Carrie Newcomer (and Joshua Bell, who I get to see tomorrow -- okay, so he doesn't live here fulltime, but he's still a Bloomington hometown boy). It's cool seeing someone on stage singing her heart out, especially when it's someone I also occasionally see around town, in the food co-op looking tired and hungry, or whatever; I can't claim that I actually know her, though I think we have some friends in common, but she's very much a part of this community, and her concerts always feel like such a quintessentially Bloomington thing -- even though she performs all over the country and has fans everywhere. She's our hometown girl, and I think she likes it that way. And from the enthusiasm of the sold-out crowd tonight, I think a lot of Bloomington likes it that way too.