Sweeter Caroline

Lucinda Williams. Emmylou Harris. Patty Griffin. It’s time to add another woman’s name to the alt-country pantheon: Caroline Spence.

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I saw Caroline and her ace band live a few days ago. There were four folks on stage, and only about 24 folks in the audience.

But that audience count is going to keep going up, because Caroline is going places. Her new album Mint Condition is a stellar collection of tunes. It’s her third full-length release, and the first one on a legit label (kudos to Rounder Records for signing her).

Here are a few tunes from the album that showcase her range… first is an uptempo, rockin’ tune:

And here’s a live, acoustic version of the title track, a sweet song she wrote for her grandparents:

Finally, another beautiful ballad, with great lyrics, that reminds me so much of Lucinda and Emmylou and Patty:

Caroline and her band are on tour now, on an East Coast swing. Get off the couch and go check them out… and bring 25 of your closest friends.

Grounded at last

A recent blog post from The Current, an indie radio station in Minneapolis, made me smile.

I’ve always loved that song, it has great lyrics…

Sanitation expert and a maintenance engineer

Garbage man, a janitor and you my dear

A real union flight attendant, my oh my

You ain’t nothing but a waitress in the sky

But as the blog post explains, Replacements leader Paul Westerberg wasn’t channeling his own inner rude passenger when he wrote it:

In Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys, he explains that the song was actually inspired by stories songwriter Paul Westerberg heard from his sister Julie, a flight attendant. “I was playing the character of the creep who demands to be treated like a king,” Westerberg told Mehr. “I’d heard all the stories from my sister about how [passengers] would yell at the flight attendants and then how they’d ‘accidentally’ spill something on them.”

Now Paul’s sister has retired after four decades of putting up with all manner of passenger problems. I’m sure the stories would be even worse if Paul wrote the song today.

Congrats Julie… and thanks for sharing your stories with Paul, so he could share them with us.

Frightened Rabbit forever

One year ago, we lost Scott.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by RMV/REX/Shutterstock (9646726aw) Frightened Rabbit – Scott Hutchison Handmade Festival, Leicester, UK – 30 Apr 2018

Lead singer and chief songwriter of Frightened Rabbit, a brilliant band from Scotland. He battled depression for years, and ultimately couldn’t break free of its grip.

There are no casual Frightened Rabbit fans. You either love them or you’ve never heard of them. (The latter can be rectified, btw.) There was a sadness to Scott’s lyrics — that’s what drew us in. We are all damaged… lost souls in need of a friend… lonely hearts wanting love.

The sadness that drew us in also stole him away. Depression is a liar and a thief.

It’s been a year and I’m still torn up about it. I try to get through by focusing not on the darkness, but rather on the light. I think about the joy he brought to the world, rather than dwelling on his sad exit.

Mostly, I think of my friends who are also fans… Dale, Michael, Ric, Deuce, Sara, Reid, Maggie… We’re still here. And we can pay heed to Scott’s lyrics:

While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.

Scott’s family just announced that they’ve founded a charity to raise awareness about children’s mental health issues.

When it’s all gone… something carries on

2, 1, none better

2, 1, none better

Two women. One microphone. None better at bringing songs to life. I love Lucius.

Photo credit: Jon Calderas, CincyMusic.com

Lucius played Memorial Hall in Cincinnati on Wednesday. Actually, they wrapped Memorial Hall around their matching little fingers. Such powerful, pristine voices, such picture-perfect harmonies, such soul-stirring songs. For me, it was goose bumps all night long.

To the uninitiated, the matching outfits, makeup and wigs/hairdos can seem like a gimmick. But when you hear the voices of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig intertwine and mesh so well, it totally makes sense. They are two, yet one.

But let’s not forget the other three folks on stage – playing guitars, drums and providing backing vocals that always served the songs, complementing them but never overshadowing them.

One woman at the show had traveled 600 miles to see Lucius. Totally worth it. If they come anywhere near you (and the show isn’t already sold out), you simply must attend.

Drumming up free tickets

At long last, the story can finally be shared. One of the greatest, most magical and serendipitous moments of my concert-going career happened more than six years ago… and the statute of limitations on stalking in the state of Tennessee is six years.

Here’s the deal – early in 2013, my wife had the fever for Rock & Roll half-marathons. She wanted to run an out-of-town event. She looked at the schedule and Nashville seemed like the best choice: a mere four-hour drive away, and we’d always heard good things about the city but we’d never visited before. Win-win.

I was at work, and on the phone with my wife as we were debating whether or not to go. I remembered the words of my music buddy Joe Sampson: “If you go to Nashville, you have to see a show at the Ryman.” (For the unintiated, the Ryman Auditorium is an old house of worship – it still has pews for concert seating – which hosted the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974.)

“The Mother Church of the Grand Ole Opry”

So I hopped online and checked the Ryman schedule… which showed that one of my favorite bands, Band of Horses, was playing there Saturday night! And the marathon was Saturday morning – perfect timing! So I immediately tried to get tickets – but the website kept showing me tickets for Sunday, not Saturday. Turns out that the Saturday show was already sold out, and we couldn’t stick around for the Sunday night show that had been added. So close, and yet so far. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a matter of seconds. I remember telling my wife, “It’s OK, we’ll go back to Nashville some other time for a Ryman show.” But deep down, I was crushed.

Fast forward to the day of the race. It rained buckets in Nashvegas throughout the entire morning. Monsoon conditions for the whole race. I met my wife at three different parts of the race to cheer her on. She was soaked to the bone, and I was getting sopping wet too, even with a golf umbrella to shield me from the storm. After the race, the sun finally poked through a bit, so we decided to head down to the restaurants and bars along the Nashville “strip”, Lower Broadway. The Ryman is just around the corner from Lower Broadway, so we walked past it during our afternoon travels. I spotted a tour bus in the alley next to the Ryman, and joked with my wife that we should go past it, because I’d seen Band of Horses five times in four different cities by then, and they’d recognize me as a superfan and hook me up with free tickets to their sold-out show. As if!

But as we were joking about that, the Band of Horses bass player got off the bus and headed to a doorway in the alley. Hmm, must be a backstage entrance of some sort… let me think…

There was a Lower Broadway bar that had a back patio on the alley, near the Ryman side door. What the heck, let’s grab a beer and hang out here for a bit. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the drummer for Band of Horses, Creighton Barrett, came outside that door for a smoke.

“I wasn’t stalking him, Officer, I swear!”

I really wasn’t, but since he was outside and we were 15 feet away, I couldn’t resist the urge to approach him and ask if I could take a photo with him. And that’s all I wanted – a photo op.

I was positively giddy, and blabbering on incoherently. “Sorrytobotheryou…ImabigfanI’veseenyoufivetimesinfourcities…. wecametotownfromCincinnatiforamarathon…canIgetaphoto?”

Instant Besties!

Creighton was super-sweet about me pestering him during his smoke break. I even screwed up his name and still he let my wife take the picture, and hid his cig behind his back so it wouldn’t show up in the photo.

During our less-than-two-minute encounter, this exchange happened:

Me: Who is opening up for you tonight?

Creighton: Nobody. We’re doing an acoustic set first, then an electric set.

Me (dejectedly): Oh, man!

Creighton: Aren’t you going to the show?

Me: No, it sold out before we could get tickets.

Creighton: You want me to see if I can put you on the guest list?

Me: No, that’s alright, we can try to scalp tickets…

Creighton: Why don’t you let me at least check? If there are any tickets left on the guest list, I can add your names. It’s no trouble at all, and I’d hate to see you miss out on the show if there are extras.

Me (dumbfoundedly): Um, OK, sure.

He then asked me how to spell my first and last name, and typed it into his iPhone. He even held up the screen to me to make sure he spelled it correctly. Then he said “Hang out here, I’ll be back in 10 minutes.”

As soon as the door closed, I thought for sure that we’d seen the last of Creighton Barrett – we’d fallen for the old “wait right here, I’ll be back” trick that band members use on unwanted groupies. But he actually came back five minutes later, and said “You’re in! I put you on the band list for two tickets.”

Unfreakingbelievable! Part of me still couldn’t believe it was true. When we went to box office that evening, I felt super-weird saying “Dotterweich – we’re with the band.” I couldn’t even look as the box office worker went back to check for our alleged tickets. But sure enough, the tickets were there – first row of the balcony, sitting next to relatives of other band members.

Stalking has its privileges…

Before the show began, the ushers even brought us copies of the set lists because we were “special guests” of the band.

Acoustic set on the left, electric/full band on the right.

The show was absolutely fantastic too. My friend Joe was right, there’s nothing quite like a show at the “mother church” and Band of Horses was in peak form. If there’s a Cloud 10, I was most assuredly on it.

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They put out a record of the acoustic songs… listen closely and you can hear me clapping.

Right place, wrong time turned into right place, right time… completely on a whim.

After the show, I wanted to get in touch with Creighton to thank him for being so sweet and generous. I was thinking I could donate the cost of the tickets to a charity of his choice. But I didn’t have any way to contact him other than via public social media – and if I did that, every shmuck in the country would start stalking him at venues. If you’re tight with CB, let him know – my offer to donate to a charity of his choice still stands.

Meanwhile, channeling my inner Casey Kasem, I’d like to make a long-distance dedication to Mr. Creighton Barrett, the drummer who made his way outside the Ryman and found his way inside my heart forever.


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