Back in November, I found myself seeking happiness while visiting my friend Cat in North Carolina. After we indulged in a Thanksgiving with Southern trimmings, we fled to the coast to walk on the beach, drink wine, and talk music over the course of two days. I came away with notes on the sounds she had me craving, her input ringing in my ears, “My soul feels so lifted from seeing live music. It turns out I need it.”
I was charged to find a manner in which to spend my time differently, with music in my way. Returning to Colorado from that visit meant finding the sound that would move me. I’ve started 2020 off right by attending these three performances.
January 15, 2020
Washington’s, Fort Collins CO
Taking directly from Cat’s taste in strings and harmony, Mandolin Orange was my first target. I was turned onto their sound in 2016 with the release of the song Wildfire. A melodic journey that takes the listener through the racist effects of the Civil War, the tragic perspective lands with a gut check.
Currently touring on their recent release, Tides of a Teardrop, this North Carolina slow burn features mandolin, fiddle, stand-up bass, guitar and keyboard. Layered atop this sweet foundation are haunting vocals that pushed me to the verge of tears during most of their performance at Washington’s in Fort Collins.
It was my first time seeing them live, and that can come with some emotional intensity when you love the work so much. But tears come in the moments when the art lover is witnessing artistic truth. The deep honesty in lyrical movement that marks their sound is a tribute to the pain and triumph of the human experience. I was reminded of loss as much as I was lifted by hope; the promise of the latter rising above the wreckage of my broken heart.
February 8, 2020
Washington’s, Fort Collins CO
Ani in Bozeman, Montana several years ago was an intense ball of stress. It was unseasonably warm in the Bozone, and the Emerson Performing Arts Center—a converted middle school auditorium— was on fire with angry feminine energy. I literally almost fainted.
Ani at the Jackson Hole Center for Performing Arts, a couple of years later, somehow lost the audience connection in a cavernous room full of seats. The vibe lacked the closeness that is fostered in a dancing crowd that lingers near the stage.
This time around, it was pure jubilance. She performed with a visible bounce in her step, referring to the other two band members as “the boys” and showing affection for them when they left the stage so she could play solo, “I’ll miss you. It’s always better when you’re up here with me.”
This is the third time I have seen her perform, and in my mind, it stands out as the most authentic of all experiences. Her rage and rawness, a mark of her prose, remained. But we were all given the treat of seeing her human side, the dancing side, the side that could not remember the lyrics to a song. She laughed at herself and started over, without missing a beat. She encouraged us to be ourselves and to not take any shit, and to do the right thing. It may have been the best lesson in radical morality that I have had in a long time.
When we get a glimpse into what makes an artist truly human, does it bring deeper meaning to their work?
In this case, absolutely.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
The Boulder Theater
February 20, 2020
I locked eyes with Lukas Nelson once at the Knotty Pine Supper Club in Victor, Idaho. As he served up an Eddie Vedder song on a stage that was no more than five feet in front of me, I reached into my back pocket for a pen and small notebook. I made a note. When I looked up, Lukas Nelson was staring at me. I closed up my notebook and moved it back to my pocket. He smiled at me and carried on. And that is how I never met Lukas Nelson.
Last night at the Boulder Theater on tour with Promise of the Real, Nelson proved that his vibe has not changed with the accolades that have come with A Star Is Born. POTR are performing at larger venues, with larger audiences, no doubt riding the Oscar-winning traction of “Shallow”, a song he helped to produce. Yet, this was still Knotty Pine Lukas Nelson. He just happens to have better hair.
Nelson’s guitar prowess is a joy to watch. If you are not completely rapt by the sound of his voice, it has to be his hands that will capture you. And if that is not enough, he might raise his guitar to his face and play it with his teeth a la Jimi Hendrix. Yes. That is what happened.
There is true musicianship here, with each band member working their own special lift into the whole. And that is the thing about seeing POTR. They are cohesive in their work. They are tight as hell. And they are having a really good time.
The recommendation of a recent study is that one concert every two weeks will score one’s “happiness, contentment, productivity and self-esteem at the highest level.” And that is the perfect way to word it in the world we live in, isn’t it? “To increase your happiness score, attend a concert.”
Sometimes art finds you, but much of the time, it is waiting for you to notice. Will it increase your happiness score? Maybe. But what might be more important is finding a way to sustain the effect. The experience will continue to inform, even as it grows deeper into your past. Looking forward with fresh eyes will change what you already know, and allow you to find further truth in what lies ahead. A continual search for meaning is an act of hope, and that could be as simple as going to a concert.