Valerie June: The Transformative Power of Song

By Don Wilcock

I usually absorb music either in an upper chakra or lower chakra. Valerie June, appearing Wednesday night (February 7) at The Egg’s Hart Theatre , on the other hand, is an out of body experience. I first heard her perform in a club on Beale Street in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge about seven years ago. With more than 150 acts all competing along a three-block stretch, the street was crackling like a Mardi Gras parade, but the second story club where Valerie June performed was tucked under the radar. Soft lighting, deep cushioned leather sofas, and black walls were the décor of a venue that usually catered to the teen dance crowd. The place was eerily quiet. Most of the blues fans gathered from around the world didn’t realize it was one of the competing act locations.

UPDATE: Valerie June’s concert at The Egg has been postponed to Sunday, February 25 due to the impending storm…

Valerie June took the stage and completely changed the vibe of the room. A beautiful African American woman with dreg locks twice the size of her head wriggling like black snakes, she swept that cavern clean, creating an aura like a Biblical David O. Selznick finale, a female Moses parting the Red Sea. The room lit up with her presence. Only instead of Moses, she became a black Madonna (as in the virgin Mary, not the performer) singing a spiritually secular song that was intensely personal.

I have never taken psychedelic drugs, but I have experienced the Grateful Dead enveloping their swirling dervish fans in a lightning storm. Valerie June is able to elicit the same transformative power all by herself in a tiny crowd in a room so alien to what she is that it should have crushed her delicate spirit. Instead, her white light obliterated the otherwise dank, yawning, nearly empty room and took me back to an 1850 Mississippi plantation Saturday night.

Wednesday night’s concert is her third night into a North American tour several months after her major label release The Order of Time on Concord Records. Music journalists have fallen over each other with labels for her music, everything from blues to Americana and country, the usual stumbling that accompanies the release of an artist from outside the commercial pop galaxy. Rolling Stone tags her sound as “spacy hippie soul, blues and folk.” She calls her sound “organic moonshine roots music.” The chorus of “Long Lonely Road” offers a taste of her vision: “One person’s path unpaved bends/Towards the path that’s saved/These are just things I’ve seen/In search for the grasses green/It’s been a long, been a long lonely road.”

“I do think what I’m doing is very close to channeling,” she once told me. “I hear a lot of voices. So, I don’t think it’s just one voice that’s 200 years old or whatever.”

As far as my vision of her on a plantation in 1850?

“I can’t even compare myself to those times. Sometimes, because I loved the music of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s so much, I wish that I could go back, but then I think if I went back and look like I look, it probably wouldn’t be such a great time. I probably wouldn’t be able to do and enjoy the things I was hoping I’d be able to enjoy in that time period because I look the way I look.”

Valerie is 36 years old, the fifth child born to Emerson Hockett, a construction company owner who promoted one of Prince’s first shows. Valerie dedicated The Order of Time to her dad. She described him to me as “a very good listener. He’s gentle. He has his opinions, and he’ll lay down the law with you, but he’ll listen to what you have to say, too.”

WHO: Valerie June
WITH: Sunny War
WHERE: The Egg’s Hart Theatre, Albany
WHEN: Wednesday (February 7), 7:30pm Sunday, February 25
HOW MUCH: $25 & $35
ALSO at the Academy of Music in Northampton at 7:30pm tonight (Tuesday, February 6). Tickets are $25 & $35.

1 Comment
  1. Peter Lesser says

    Please note that due to impending inclement weather, the Valerie June show at The Egg in Albany originally scheduled for Wednesday, February 7th has been postponed to Sunday, February 25th. All tickets will be honored on the new date. For more information contact The Egg Box Office – 518-473-1845

Comments are closed.