It’s hard to write about Carrie Newcomer; there’s so much backstory.
Lee first heard Carrie sing in West Lafayette, Indiana — Purdue country. He was living above a variety store called Von’s (I think it was about that time) around what had to be one of the world’s most intense nest of gamers. Aside from some great people he knew, in a lot of ways, his life was a mess (sorry, sweetie — but there you go)…a lot of gaming, a lot of parties, a lot of girlfriends…but nothing really solid to hold onto. And, as I’ve discovered, he likes solid things.
She was singing with a group called “Stone Soup.”
I think it would be safe to say she changed Lee’s life. Not right away. But by the time I met him, he had a solid core of melty goodness, like iron fondue. He played Carrie’s solo albums (Visions and Dreamers and Angel at My Shoulder) for me. I passed. I guess you could say she changed my life, too, second-hand. I stopped being so cynical and logical. More innocent. More puns.
Years went by…my first Carrie Newcomer concert, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Carrie had split from her husband (one of the Stone Soup guys) and was with Robert Shannon Meitus, then leader of the Dorkestra. Robert was on tour with her, and they played all kinds of completely nutty, fast, funny songs. Heartwarming songs. Songs that were the equivalent of a smoothie, refreshing, tasty, and good for you.
After that, she turned away just a bit from what she’d been doing before and tried heading up the path to Country-Western Stardom. She had a single, “What Kind of Love is This?” (on My True Name) that did okay. But mostly she was beating her head against the wall: c-w radio isn’t interested in anything that doesn’t fit a very strict mold. And, fer goshsakes, Carrie’s kind of bent towards liberalism (she’s a Quaker), and c-w has been worshipping at the conservative altar for quite a few years now, nonwithstanding the Dixie Chicks.
But that didn’t last too long, and Carrie decided she would be something like a modern-day troubadour, traveling around, singing songs, and making people happy. Her music all of a sudden became much more mature — less naive — but none the less optimistic, hopeful, and spiritually pure. The very next album after that, Age of Possibility, has my current favorite Carrie song, “Bare to the Bone.” (I usually end up at least tearing up whenever I hear this song.)
So. The concert on May 4th.
It was at the Colorado Springs United Methodist Church, which has a concert series every year for “spiritual” singers. (Not gospel.) The place has been built in an old Spanish-type style, nothing as grand or chiarcoscuro as the cathedral in Santa Fe, but always someplace I’ve wanted to duck into on a hot day. There’s a courtyard in the front with wrought-iron gates. Inside, there are all the normal things you find in a church, as well as a library and a gift shop. (I had to laugh.)
The church itself has a beautiful pipe organ and a lot of room for the choir. Right up in front, where they should be. I note this; they apparently really like music. The seating is not that of your average church, either: it’s theater-type seating, so everyone can hear and see. Maybe it’s just that Catholics don’t go for that sort of thing, but I’ve never seen anything like it. And it’s such a “well, duh.”
The audience was small. The MC encouraged everyone to move to the front, even though we had assigned seating.
Carrie walked on. Instead of a gaggle of musicians, it was just her and a pianist who normally played jazz. She had a new dress on. (She has this thing about new dresses.) It’s some kind of prairie-style thing, two colors of brown, with an odd split up the back (which works out well when she sits on a stool to play guitar).
She makes bad jokes (“We sell folk bowling balls,” she says. “They all lean a little bit to the left.”) and laughs like a five-year-old: unselfconsciously and dorkily, haw, haw, haw! We make our way through the set, old favorites, new stuff from Regulars and Refugees, “Bowling Baby,” some songs from a new album, Wilderness Plots, which is different artists’s renditions of the short stories of Scott Sanders. She calls Robert her “sweetheart” and Lee and I smile at each other: we like Robert. Not that we’ve met him. But we approve.
Ray makes it through the concert, as busy as always. She dances. Then bugs. Then messes with her shoes. Finally, she falls asleep on my lap. The encores are this song about collective nouns (cleverly rhymed)…and “Bare to the Bone.”
I teared up on some of the songs, but I cried all the way through “Bare to the Bone.”
On the way home, Lee said something about how listening to Carrie sing live is like filling up a resevoir, and I realized it was something different for me: listening to Carrie is like taking off all the blinders you put on yourself. Living is hard; everyone dies; everything ends. You cry. But, in all innocence, the things you love and the things that love you make it work.
bare to the bone
here i am without a message
here i stand with empty hands
just a spirit tired of wandering like a stranger in this land
walking wide eyed through this world is the only way i’ve known
wrapped in hope and good intentions and
bare to the bone
when i rise i rise in glory
if i do i do by grace
time will wash away our footprints
and we’ll leave without a trace
between here and now and forever
is such precious little time?
what we do in love and kindness
is all we ever leave behind