A Month of Firsts
April has been a crazy month- from my 28th birthday, to work events, to spending time with friends, it’s been a busy month. And in the midst of all the craziness of a wedding (not mine), a baby shower (also not mine), and birthday celebrations (those were mine), I also attended five concerts in April. This month was a month of many firsts- all five of the concerts were for artists that I’d never seen before and four of the venues were places I’d never been before. April also saw my first mechanical bull ride, first Jewish wedding, and first time taking part in Record Store Day (shout out to me for scoring the Eric Church RSD release!) With the constant busyness of life, I need to remind myself that being busy is a blessing- it means I’ve got a job, I’ve got friends, and I’ve got interests that I’m able to pursue. Interests like the many live music events that I get to attend, like the ones below!
Dom Flemons Duo- Pearl Street Warehouse (April 4th)
April 4th, 2018 marked several firsts for me: my first time at the Wharf, my first time at Pearl Street Warehouse, my first time seeing Dom Flemons, and my first time seeing someone play the bones. Yes, the bones. It’s an actual musical instrument and Dom played them for us that night. There were also some for sale at the merchandise table. You might know Dom from his former band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he was in with Rhiannon Giddens. For his CD release that night, Dom performed some tunes from his new album Black Cowboys. He also did an interview on stage for the Smithsonian (Smithsonian Folkways, maybe? I don’t remember) where he discussed some of the songs and the history behind them. This man knows his stuff and is an exceptionally talented musician and singer too!
Featured song: Caroline Chocolate Drops- “Hit ‘Em Up Style” (no, Dom didn’t play this for us that night but who doesn’t love a Blu Cantrell cover??)
Colter Wall- U Street Music Hall (April 7th)
The devil might wear a suit and tie but Colter Wall wears deeply unbuttoned shirts. Well, at least he was at his show at U Street Music Hall on April 7th. Since I reference this song, I’ll get my complaining out of the way- Colter Wall didn’t play “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie”!! When my friend asked him why after the show he said they were rushing him off. That’s understandable, especially since there was a 10:30 p.m. show after his. But still. How do you not perform one of your top songs?! I won’t dwell on this too much especially since he did play some of his other hits including “Sleeping on the Blacktop” and “Motorcycle.” He was also hanging around after the show by his van and agreed to take pictures with his fans (see mine below), which was cool!
Just a few quick words on Colter Wall that have nothing to do with his performance. For me, Colter’s music brings to mind the artists and songs of country past- his song “Thirteen Silver Dollars” could be inspired by Emmylou Harris, the “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” as he makes a reference to having a “belly full of baby’s bluebird wine” (if you don’t get the reference, she has a song called “Bluebird Wine.”) He also makes a “Blue Yodel No. 9” reference in this song. Then there’s “Sleeping on the Blacktop,” which, in my opinion, sounds similar to Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” His song “Fraulein” is also a cover song, which was written in 1957 by Lawton Williams and first sung by Bobby Helms. Townes Van Zandt also did a cover of this song. It gives me hope that there are country artists out there who are able to pull from the sounds of the past and bring them into the present. Colter Wall is definitely one of those artists.
After the show, it was brought up by one of the people that I attended the show with that his murder ballad “Kate McCannon,” one of his most famous songs, promotes violence against women. That really got me thinking. Where do we draw the line between what we support in real life and what we’re willing to accept in our music? Late last month I participated in the March for Our Lives and yet a few weeks later I’m listening to Colter Wall singing about putting three rounds into a cheating Kate McCannon. Listening to, and even liking, songs that go against my own personal beliefs is an issue I struggle with. This is especially the case with country music- a genre that often glorifies things that I do not support in my personal life. The killing of one’s spouse is not a theme reserved solely for the men though as women also kill their husbands in country songs. This led to a discussion about the songs in country music where women are the the ones killing their spouses. Songs like Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” being two of the first examples that came to mind. Is a woman killing her abusive husband more acceptable than a man killing his cheating wife? I won’t get into that here since this is just a concert write-up but I think a post dedicated to this topic is worth writing at some point. I’ll hopefully get around to writing that some day.
Featured song: Colter Wall- “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” (because he didn’t play it that night!)
Ruby Boots- Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe (April 10th)
The show at Songbyrd on April 10th was super intimate. For the most part it was just Ruby Boots and her friend on stage playing guitar and electric guitar then later in the night it was just a solo Ruby Boots. No drummer, no fiddler, just Ruby and her mate (she’s Australian so I said mate). While I wish more people had come out to support her, having a small group there was nice. Ruby Boots was cracking jokes and telling stories, including one about Bill Murray. She also mentioned that she’s friends with Nikki Lane, who I love. I bet hanging out with those two would be so much fun! It was a real treat getting to hear about Ruby Boots’ personal life and the stories behind some of the songs. I’m not sure if she would have been as engaged with the crowd had there been a large group there. I also love her Australian accent! Aussies rule, mate!
One joke she made was about her new album. She told us that the album is titled Don’t Talk About It, “so don’t tell anybody!” Well, I am telling people- sorry! In addition to singing songs from Don’t Talk About It as well as some of her older songs, she also sang a Tom Petty song and even came off the stage out into the audience with her friend, leaving the guitars behind, to sing an acoustic version of Lucinda Williams’ “Jackson.”
I hope Ruby Boots had fun at Madam’s Organ after the show!
Featured song: Ruby Boots- “It’s So Cruel”
Lindi Ortega and Hugh Masterson- Union Stage (April 24th)
There’s a great press quote that describes how Lindi Ortega should be onstage- “fun and frightening.” Though I wasn’t really scared at her show, I can understand how she earned this description as some of her songs carry dark themes. Lindi told a story about wanting to sing her song about dying and her guitar player responded with, “Which one? You’ve got six.” I think this anecdote sheds light on the “frightening” side of Lindi. However, it’s the “fun” part (and her shiny red boots) that the fans show up for. Her latest album Liberty is a spaghetti western-esque concept album which follows a character from a dark place in their life to a more happy place at the album’s end. Lindi made sure to play some of the songs from the end of the album (the happy part) to balance out her “frightening” persona. This included songs like “Lovers in Love,” “In the Clear,” and the Spanish song from the album, “Gracias a La Vida.” She also played my favorite song of hers, “Ashes.”
Her opening act was someone I had maybe heard of before but had never really listened to. Well, shame on me! Hugh Masterson was really good- not only did I enjoy hearing him sing his songs but his stories in between the songs were funny and helped to counteract the seriousness of his songs’ content. It’s all about that balance!
Featured song: Lindi Ortega- “Afraid of the Dark.” I’ll include this song here because I do like the dark stuff. As Lindi sings, “Don’t get any closer to my heart if you’re afraid of the dark.” Yeah, same.
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers and Zephaniah O’Hora- Pearl Street Warehouse (April 26th)
Sarah Shook has me all shook up, y’all! I’ll admit that before the show I was so intimidated by this chick. But seeing her on stage and hearing her talk with the audience in between every song, I’m no longer intimidated, as she seems to be really chill and friendly. Actually, the whole band seems to be. Except Kevin- he’s a prima donna (that’s an inside joke only people at the show will get. Sorry, Kevin!) Sarah and her band, the Disarmers, rocked Pearl Street Warehouse on April 26th, which happened to be the first night of their tour. Their songs have an upbeat sound that make lyrics like “I can’t cry myself to sleep so I drink myself to death/I got cocaine in my bloodstream and whiskey on my breath/Ain’t a thing that I can change to get my luck up/I guess I’m just too much of a fuck up” make you wanna get up out your seat and sing along! Her lyrics are raw with lines like “the bottle never lets me down the way you do” and “there’s a hole in my heart ain’t nothin’ here can fill/ But I just keep thinkin’ surely the whiskey will.” Though these lyrics might pack a punch, they’re also served up with a heavy dose of reality thanks to their honesty and Sarah’s delivery. She almost makes you think that you can make it up to mama by getting that “mother-heart tattoo.”
Her opener, Zephaniah O’Hora (yes, his actual name) wasn’t half bad either! I especially liked his song “High Class City Girl from the Country.” He’s from Brooklyn, which I find to be really interesting. This guy goes to show that country really is country wide!
Featured song: Sarah Shook and the Disarmers- “Dwight Yoakam” (is Dwight Yoakam really that anxious??)
Upcoming Concerts (* means tickets are already purchased)
5/18- The Weight Band feat. members of The Band, Levon Helm Band, & Rick Danko Group at The Hamilton
*5/20- Brandi Carlile at The Anthem
*5/29- Justin Townes Earle- Solo Tour at The Birchmere
*6/1– Margo Price and John Prine at Wolf Trap
*6/8- The Steel Woods at Jammin’ Java
*6/29- Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett at Friday Cheers (Richmond, VA)
*7/21– Ray Wylie Hubbard at City Winery
7/24- Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit at Wolf Trap
8/2– Amanda Shires and Sean Rowe at The Birchmere
10/13- Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show at Jiffy Lube Live
Currently listening to: Jade Bird- “Lottery.” I felt so bad for missing her set when she opened for Colter Wall so I feel it would only be right to mention her here!