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Patty Griffin on the Cayamo Cruise

Mar 16, 2008
Kimmy Sophia Brown

Patty Griffin scampered out on the stage for the early show, wearing a little black skirt, heels, and a pearl-gray, sleeveless top. She sat at the piano and played some haunting chords in a minor key. Then she tipped back her head with that glorious mane of red hair and did an extremely soulful rendition of “Summertime” by George Gershwin. At the end of it, she said to the audience, “The older I get, I need to scare the crap out of myself. I’ve never performed that in front of an audience before!”

She did a new song that began, “I’m so glad Jesus served the lady,”. She forgot some of the words and grinned as she played. What an adorable person she is, petite and lively, with an engaging smile, sometimes like a tiny songbird and then showcasing her ability with great power. She did a torchy version of the Sam Cooke song, “Get yourself another fool”. I kept thinking, she’s so little and pretty; a cowgirl chanteuse. What a cutie-pie.

We got to see Patty sing back-up a few times during the week, with other headliners before her show. We heard she was recuperating from the respiratory flu, but even so, she put her all into her harmonies with Emmylou, Buddy and Shawn.

She did, “Stay on the Ride” with Buddy Miller. She was playing a big, butterscotch, Gibson guitar. Her voice is similar to Bonnie Raitt but more ladylike. Doug Lancio backed her up on guitar also. I had never seen him before but my first impression was that he does not smile enough. He may have been fine but I thought he should have interacted more with Patty. He positioned himself unsymmetrically on stage and was often too loud, drowning her out. He may be a fine musician and good friend to Patty, but something was out of balance that night.

That said, on percussion was Michael Longoria, who seemed to be in a state of spiritual ecstasy throughout his accompaniment. He was great fun to watch. Once he smiled directly into my eyes and I felt a little zing. Someone I spoke to later said that they thought he distracted from her presence on the stage because he looked like a wild-limbed medicine man going into a trance, as he slapped and pounded his boxes and drums and tinkly things. I, however, enjoyed him. He was definitely present in the moment. They performed, “Time Turns Us Down”, “Useless Desires”, “Free” and “Don’t come easy”.  There was a pianist, too, whose name I couldn’t hear well, possibly John Veddit?

Patty said, “I was nervous about the boat, but now I love the boat. Shawn said she’d rather eat dirt than be here.” Laughter. I thought she smiled in my eyes. Then her breathy, throaty, bluesy voice roared, “Flaming Red”. Doug’s guitar was too loud though. And he still didn’t smile at her. I was thinking, how can you stand next to this beautiful woman and not smile?

She played the song about the boy from her high school that committed suicide, “Tony.” After that song, Doug finally smiled which gave me volumes of relief. She said, “Not just any boat, but THIS boat, with you guys on it. I love this boat!”

She did, Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Night”, sung in the spirit of Ray Charles. The lyrics reminded me of Carole King’s “Will you still love me tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow night, will you remember what you said tonight?
Tomorrow night, will all the thrill be gone?
Tomorrow night, will it be just another memory
Or just another song, that's in my heart to linger on?

Your lips are so tender, your heart is beating fast
And you willingly surrender to me, my darling will it last?
Tomorrow night, will you be with me when the moon is bright?
Tomorrow night, will you say those lovely things you said tonight?”

Then she mentioned that a couple delayed their honeymoon to be on the cruise. She sang, the Spanish song, “Mil Besos” (“1000 Kisses”) for them. She said, “The cool thing about a cruise is you never know who’s going to show up!” Buddy came out again and they performed, “Love throw a line”. They were really getting into it - cute, shy grins, having a rockin’ good time. Emmy Lou came out then and they sang, “Truth”. Emmy was wearing jeans, brown boots, and a long shirt, dancing like a girl. Patty said, “I’m so spoiled! I got a good job! I love my job!”

They did, “Let him fly” Then she said, “If anybody is out there who wants to sing....” And out came Brandi Carlile, the young girl of the bunch. I was wondering where Shawn was. Somebody said she was playing blackjack but I don’t know if that’s true. Anyway, they backed Patty up on the gorgeous song, “Mary”, about Jesus’ mom. It’s such a beautiful tribute from a Catholic girl.


“Mary you're covered in roses, you're covered in ashes
You're covered in rain
You're covered in babies, you're covered in slashes
You're covered in wilderness, you're covered in stains
You cast aside the sheet, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay, Mary

Jesus says Mother I couldn't stay another day longer
Flies right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Every time the snow drifts, overtime the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she's always there

Jesus said Mother I couldn't stay another day longer
Flies right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary you're covered in roses, you're covered in ruin
you're covered in secrets
You're covered in treetops, you're covered in birds
who can sing a million songs without any words
You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
on some sunny day and always stay
Mary, Mary, Mary”.

That afternoon was the bonus show and I just want to say a few words about that.  I think the audience was expecting music and possibly some personal interaction but instead, they had an interview between Patty and a guy named Alan Light who has written for Rolling Stone, Vibe, Tracks and Spin magazines.

It was a bit of a letdown, but because of Patty’s flu recovery it was understandable. They probably also picked someone to kingpin the interview to avoid banal questioning from fans. I will paraphrase what they said.

Among his questions he asked, “Do you write all the time or do you do it during a special time?”

Patty said, “The road is inconsistent. I need to be home. If I say, today I’m going to clean my house, I get distracted. I need discipline. Routine. The singer/songwriter are portioned off. I think, what am I dying to listen to? Sometimes I need to fall in love with music again. When you’re inside music, you kind of take it apart. Then I realize I need to become a listener again.

Certain singers sort of take me there - Sam Cooke for example, the urgency and ease in his voice. He’s lived, but you can tell when you hear him sing how much he loved to sing.”

Alan asked, “So what filters through to you while writing?”

Patty responded, “I always think, what do I want coming out of my body. That’s what singing is all about, you have to want to sing too. Some people are songwriters first, singers second. Like Bob Dylan. My mother was French Canadian - Arcadian. They sing like a lament. Like Portuguese Fado - big, long notes. To write a song for the voice so it can carry emotion. Some use quick, brush strokes as if there is a need to be economical?I have to say I had to learn how to sing. I sang the same five Aretha songs. Aretha Franklin? She is so far beyond most singers on the planet.”

Alan asked about the tribute song to Dr. Martin Luther King. She said, “Martin Luther King? Certain times in history come to me every day, like Sam Cooke or Martin Luther King. I heard that Martin Luther King was sick that day when he got to the podium. And then he was healed during his speech. He had a feeling he was going to die. When I wrote the song, Pop Staples voice was in my head. Martin Luther King’s voice was so sweet, powerful, emotional and throaty.”

Alan asked about “Tony”. She said, “I was looking for a “Clash” sound. It was about the kid I knew in homeroom but it was also about me - being closed off, aggressively surviving. Missing the small points going on around me. He was gay and people didn’t discuss it. I didn’t notice at the time, he must have been in hell. I feel remorse about it.”

Alan asked about the collaboration in songwriting. She writes the song that comes from within and then shows it to other people and they get involved with production. He asked her what that was like. She said, “You grieve it when you hand it over. They’re mine and then you hand it off, and it’s painful.” She said, “I have to be reminded to leave the house. Songs are like little friends, they’re yours and then other people hear them and like them or not. I didn’t write them for responsibility.” They discussed the fact that, “Top of the World” was recorded by the Dixie Chicks, and she appreciated that. She said, sometimes you are or you are not thrilled with someone else’s interpretation.

Then she said she wanted to play the first song she ever wrote at age 16, which was , “Cat’s out of the Bag”. She said she was trying to emulate Rickie Lee Jones and thought it was a very bad song. I thought it was a VERY GOOD first song.

She mentioned that it was so great to share the stage with other strong performers like on this cruise. Alan asked her if her songs were based in Maine, and she mentioned a love for the state, even stating, “they’re my people”.

She said that she wanted to be a singer since she was 12 years old. She always wanted to wrap her life around that. It’s a muscle that she practiced. She did a lot of listening as well, people like Aretha and Linda Ronstadt.

Then she sang a song that her mother or grandmother used to sing around the house, “J’irai laVoir un Jour”. It was as delicate and beautiful as Patty herself.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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