Back in January on a night I couldn’t sleep, I took a break from life and work worries by googling if Brandi Carlile was touring.
Brandi Carlile songs were a big part of our 2021 New Year’s Eve soundtrack. I rarely am one to really party it up for New Year’s–my husband always works on that day, and I am bound to fall asleep before midnight. Last NYE, though, my son begged us to stay up. We made and ate a nice dinner and worked on a puzzle. I had chosen a Brandi Carlile-heavy playlist for the night because my husband had found solace in her music, in particular, her performance of “Right on Time” on SNL.
The past few years have been especially hard for so many people, and my family has not been an exception. Along with the pain, exhaustion, and grief we share with the world, we suffered a great loss this past year. One of the ways we’ve coped is by throwing ourselves into work. I’ll say that in my case, that has very much backfired. I am so drained that I don’t know how to consciously rest, and I feel like I’ve forgotten how to have fun. I cannot connect to narratives. Stories–reading, watching, writing them–the things that have always given me joy to create or experience, have not been possible. Not like before.
So it was in that January madrugada, when I feared added work responsibilities and a new strain of COVID, when I was already months into my story-less existence, that I woke up the person next to me and asked, “Do you want to go see Brandi Carlile in LA this summer?” I think a part of me hoped things would be better than they were that January night. And it would be our first family outing in years that didn’t involve “arrangements” or other obligations. This would be my kids’ first concert ever.
Because the world has been and continues to be a dumpster fire, things are not better. So it still felt odd to embark on a weekend trip to Los Angeles. But tickets had been bought, hotel rooms had been booked, and there was even a Frida Kahlo exhibit to see before our drive back home. While we did not take a vacation from what was going on around us–we drove past a protest, people were talking about SCOTUS/Roe everywhere, we talked about it as a family–we decided to try and have fun because as my wise mother once advised me: Si vas al cine, disfruta la película (If you're going to the movies, enjoy the film).
I had been looking forward to Brandi Carlile’s show, but I didn’t know the catharsis it would deliver. How certain lyrics would hit, how it would feel to hear, especially, “The Mother” on that particular day with my two children by my side. She introduced the song with funny anecdotes about her first child, Evangeline, who has challenged her since birth by being born on Father’s Day…to two mothers. A child whose way into this world challenged heteronormative notions of family and parenting. The song lyric, “I am the mother of Evangeline,” became her mantra, her way of validating her relationship to this very wanted child.
I held my son and daughter close to me, and the tears flowed as she sang:
“You were not an accident where no one thought you through
The world has stood against us, made us mean to fight for you
And when we chose your name we knew you’d fight the power, too.”
I cried so much that my 12-year-old son asked if I was OK. I cried for the many who haven’t or will not be able to make the choices I’ve made. I’ve chosen to be a parent and when. I cried for the many who have struggled or will not have the option to have children because they do not fit narrow definitions of parenthood or partnership. I cried for the many whose health and life have, are and will be in danger.
I held my daughter tighter.
And I cried because I know how challenging it is to be a mother/parent, even when your kids are loved and wanted. Brandi introduced a song that is about “the mother I really am,” and I felt that I too, with the pain and trauma I carry, am a “Mama Werewolf”:
“Your mama is a werewolf
With long sharp teeth…
I got a river of fear
running through my mind…
If my good intentions go running wild
If I cause you pain, my own sweet child
Won’t you promise me you’ll be the one
My silver bullet in the gun”
But the show wasn’t all “heavy hearts,” as Carlile herself acknowledged on her social media. There was still so much beauty and joy last Saturday night. She invited her friend Marcus Mumford to sing a new song about forgiveness called “How.” She invited Celisse, her wonderful opening act who shone in a rainbow sequined jumpsuit even when the lights were down, to play a couple of songs in the middle of the show. And not only that, but during her encore, Carlile asked Celisse to play one of her songs as she sang backup for her. As Celisse said, that generosity is rare in her business. Celisse herself at the end of her set gave such loving introductions to her bandmates and reminded us to appreciate and learn more about “those in the background” of the shows we love, because we might find more musicians to love. Check out slides 3 & 4 in the second IG post below to get a sneak peek at Celisse’s talent and to get excited about her album:
Other magical people included the show’s string quartet, who Brandi called the MVPs of the summer. Two of them are longtime collaborators and the other two are the duo Sista Strings, a talented team of “string educators, arrangers, collaborators, and singer songwriters” per their IG bio. I left the show with so many more musicians to follow and love!
And of course, I loved realizing that the amazing drummer that night was none other than Matt Chamberlain, who I learned about many, many years ago through my love of Tori Amos and Fiona Apple. At one point at the beginning of a song I swear I said to my husband, “doesn’t this sound like ‘Precious Things?’”
Tomorrow, Brandi Carlile will release the video for “You and Me on the Rock,” a song written during lockdown and the title refers to the first metaphor she ever understood, a metaphor she learned about at “Vacation Bible School”. As Chris Willman quoted in this Variety review of the show:
“When the lockdown happened and I was out in the garden with my wife, I realized that I had become a big, happy gay. I was hearing myself say it. It occurred to me that it may not have been what Vacation Bible school intended, but I had done it: I had built my house on a rock.”
This concert made it official—I had to buy myself a copy of Brandi’s memoir, Broken Horses, before I got on a plane Monday morning. At a time when I still struggle to make sense of narrative, I look forward to reading her story. Saturday’s performance made me so damn hungry for it.