A Weekend Of Rockstar Realness. Let Me Suggest You See….

Brandi Carlile at Madison Square Garden, Sept 14, 2019

I’m still buzzing from the Brandi Carlile show at Madison Square Garden. That woman is a monster on stage. WOW!

And I can’t believe I only found out about her because of an Amex commercial that ran incessantly during the US Open. I wrote about it a few weeks ago and then Facebook (which doesn’t track us I know), let me know she’s doing a one-night concert in NYC.

It was one of the very best concerts I’ve ever attended. I’ll let you know why below.

I also have to confess it was weird to be in a stadium with 14,000 people, all singing along to every single song, while I hadn’t even been aware of Brandi Carlile‘s existence until a few weeks ago. Crazy – but better late than never.

But she’s not the only entertainment supernova on my radar this weekend.

  • I also got to check out Lin-Manuel Miranda’s newest Broadway show, Freestyle Love Supreme. It’s an improv rap performance piece that he’s been involved with for over 15 years. I saw the first preview this past Friday. It is running through early January. It’s no Hamilton but it is innovative and it may well signal a new type of Broadway act.
  • I also caught the phenomenal, must-see Linda Ronstadt documentary, The Sound Of My Voice. Amazing groundbreaking career. She lives in Tucson (one of my favorite cities). She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s ten years ago and hasn’t performed since. She is, however, very involved in border issues.

Read on below for what makes each of these performers/shows a must-see.

Brandi Carlile

ONE OF THE BEST PERFORMERS I’VE EVER SEEN!

She takes control of the stage and grabs that audience in a way that few entertainers are able to do. The minute she steps on the stage you know you can relax, she’s got it under control!

This was her first-ever performance at Madison Square Garden and she was thrilled and beyond grateful to her fans for getting her there. It was very genuine and very emotional.

She also relayed how years ago she and the “twins” traveled to NYC in their van for an appearance at Mercury Lounge. It went really well they thought until they got back to the van and found all their stuff had been stolen. She had to wear the pink crop top she had bought at Urban Outfitters for the gig, for a few more days than she had planned.

Based on the massive rigs waiting outside MSG to move all their equipment, she’s come a long way since then.

Here are the five things that made this such an amazing show.

  • She makes a giant stadium filled with 14,000 fans feel intimate. That is a rare talent.
  • She “owns” the stage. Totally confident but at the same time, not afraid to be deeply personal and show her vulnerabilities.
  • Her on-stage storytelling is “next level.” My favorite may have been about Joni Mitchell and how she initially just did not “get” why people idolized her and her songwriting. The story culminates in her telling us that Joni still doesn’t think she (Brandi) does a great job covering her songs. Meanwhile, we in the audience begged to differ.
  • We learned that the best three songs ever to be written were Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton (meh!) and A Case of You by Joni Mitchell (which she then went on to perform – video below). Brilliant AF.
  • Plenty of surprises. She debuted her new supergroup, The Highwomen (minus Maren Morris) and she had 80-year old Mavis Staple open up for her (and did a few numbers with her and her band as well).

TOUR DATES: Later this month she’s going to be in Berkeley, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis, and many more locations both in the States and abroad. Catch this show, you’ll thank me.

Freestyle Love Supreme
Freestyle Love Supreme started previews September 13, 2019

I first saw Lin-Manuel Miranda show off this improv concept on Fallon. I was hooked and got a ticket for the previews ASAP.

Kudos go out to the entire cast. But there were three standouts:

  • Anthony Veneziale, he’s one of the creators of the show and also ran the action the night I saw it. Super smart and funny.
  • Aneesa Folds who is a newly minted Freestyle Academy grad.
  • Arthur Lewis, who they bring out from behind his keyboard to blow us away with his glorious voice. Wow.

FLS is an improv act and the cast utilizes words and situations called out by the audience. I’m not convinced that it is 100% made up on the fly. I think they might plant audience members to make sure they get what they need for the show, e.g., a segment on equal rights seemed way more fleshed out and rehearsed than other segments.

I loved it all, especially the segment where they brought up an audience member to share their day (and they did ask that you only put your hat in the ring if something unusual happened during your day).

Savannah, a baker from Bed Stuy, had her last day at work – what made it strange is that her boss hadn’t told anyone! The minutiae of Savannah’s day, e.g., peanut butter and raisins on her rice cake for breakfast to whether she has a preferred pronoun, makes for much hilarity. What was especially funny about Savannah’s last day is that her friends took her to a new Korean restaurant called Her Name is Han – as you can imagine, that restaurant name was a gift for the improv masters at FLS and put that restaurant on many a theater-goer’s radar!

What’s not to like about the show? Three things:

  • The cost of the ticket: $155 for a mezzanine seat during previews means that when the show opens, it will be even more expensive. If the show tickets were $60, I would have been very happy with this 80-minute show. It just felt like there was not enough “there” for that price ticket!
  • I’m also not convinced it’s genuinely improv. If we start seeing the same bits turn up night after night, how will that affect the whole concept?
  • No phones allowed. No photos of the stage at the start or the end of the show. It gets locked up in a Yondr pouch as you enter the theater. I always want to be able to document where I’ve been. I know for most people that’s probably not such a big deal but for me (and for what I do), it is. So $155 and no pics is a deal-breaker!
Linda Ronstadt documentary

LOVED this movie even though I don’t remember too much about Linda Ronstadt. I’ve never seen her live and her pop voice is not really my thing. I do love her ballads and her album of Mexican songs is sublime.

Three things stood out for me in this film:

  • Her reaction upon seeing Emily Lou Harris perform for the first time. Linda was jealous because she thought Emily had a way better voice than she did. She had to decide if she’d be jealous and turn her back on all things Emily or if she would become a fan and ask Emily to sing with her. She chose the latter path and a lifelong friendship and singing partnership was forged.
  • She never married or had kids (but was in many high-profile relationships). She talks about how her mother signaled to her that marriage and four children got in the way of her being able to fulfill her dreams. Linda picked up on that early on and went in another direction. For those of you that know me well, you’ve heard my story about my mother telling me not to have kids because “they’ll ruin your life.” A kindred spirit at last.
  • Linda lacked confidence in her stage performances, but she always trusted her gut to know what was ultimately right for her, e.g., shifting from rock/pop to doing Broadway shows. Her Mexican album, which her label did not want to release, ended up becoming the biggest-selling foreign-language album ever in the United States. Self-doubt is a very relatable problem – especially when it goes hand-in-hand with extreme self-confidence about ideas and direction in life.

So there you have it.

Wonderfully inspiring, entertainment-fueled weekend.

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