LIVE: Brandi Carlile & Indigo Girls @ Tanglewood, Lenox, 08/30/2022
Storm clouds were gathering above Tanglewood on Tuesday night, the summer amphitheater on the most eastern part of Nippertown in Lenox, Massachusetts. Brandi Carlile had cancelled last year’s performance there due to her own illness, and many worried that the outdoor concert might be delayed again due to the foreboding skies. Faithful fans gathered regardless of the darkening sky, covering every inch of the lawn with children playing on trees, kicking balls, and eating scrumptious picnics thoughtfully packed to prepare for the evening.
Brandi Carlile’s opener, the Indigo Girls, drew their own fans. Amy and Emily, the folk icons famous for their “Closer to Fine” hit (among others) from 1989, took the stage at 7 pm for their opening set. Accompanied by a very pregnant Lucy Wainright Roche on vocals and the talented Lyrus Hung on fiddle, Amy and Emily performed their most beloved songs with fans dancing and singing along through hit after hit. When her guitar string broke on “Land of Canaan”, Amy helped herself to a new guitar as her bandmates waited patiently, repeating their chord progression until she was ready.
Perhaps the most memorable song in the set was “Country Radio,” a song telling the story of a gay kid growing up in the country who loved country music but found little space for them in it. The crowd swayed in recognition of what it is like to be excluded when one wants so badly for inclusion.
I recently reviewed the Indigo Girls’ performance at Albany’s Egg, and I’m happy to report that this performance was able to showcase Emily’s beautiful voice once again by adjusting the key they performed many of their hits to a lower key. They sounded fabulous, and their fans kept pace with sing-a-long energy reminiscent of their concerts in the early 1990s.
The Indigo Girls were a great opener for Brandi Carlile, if for no other reason than the folk icons clearly influenced her beautiful writing and courageous authenticity. Add in the fact that most of Brandi’s fans were also serious admirers of Amy and Emily, and the stage was set for an emotional night.
Brandi Carlile’s bass and guitar-playing twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth initially took the stage set for Brandi with some fun guitar and bass playing noted as a “Twintro” by the Carlile folks. The brothers highlighted themes from famous Carlile songs, dancing facing each other as they impressed the crowd with professional technique and their clear joy to be together.
The vibe was intense as other band members took the stage under cover of stage mist before Brandi leapt on stage in her electric yellow pantsuit, jolting fans to jump up and down applauding before singing her first note. The band launched into “Broken Horses,” a beautiful song about survivorship. “Only broken horses know to run,” Carlile sang, a warning that this isn’t her first rodeo. The band sounded great right out of the gate, forming harmonies that soothed over the rising threat of storms outside.
If you aren’t familiar with Brandi Carlile, you might not be aware that she is a fiercely authentic powerhouse of an advocate for survivors: survivors of cruelty, homophobia, racism, and all forms of human abuse. Her songs ring out pride in her own experiences as a gay woman, and she is unapologetically happy with her choices. That message, combined with her clear voice that spans octaves into soprano and tenor ranges, leaves listeners with goosebumps and energized to live their own truths.
Carlile’s performance at Tanglewood was no exception to this experience. She shared one of her newer songs, “You and Me on the Rock,” and admitted it was one of the few love songs she wrote. The song is about her happy marriage, “I’m a happy gay” she smiled, and how she learned to build her life “on the rock” taught to her at Sunday Bible vacation camp. (“It wasn’t the message intended, but hey, we all learn differently,” she slyly joked.) She then launched into her beloved “The Story,” a love song she admitted is still her favorite to sing.
Carlile and the twins are famous for their three-part harmony, something she admitted wasn’t popular in Seattle in the 1990s when they started out. She described playing chowder bars in the much beloved time of Grunge, clinging to their favorite role models of CSN, the Indigo Girls, and Peter, Paul and Mary. When the trio launched into “The Eye,” their three-part harmonies mastered and lulled the crowd into hushed awe. The heavy rains joining in on the rooftop of the barn could be heard by everyone, bringing wide eyes and smiles across the audience.
Carlile is a rock star, but also a master storyteller. She shared stories of visiting Elton John in France, including a pause during the story to reflect her own reverence for Elton after uttering the phrase, “Elton John sitting at the breakfast table.” She made herself vulnerable, sharing stories of parenthood before singing her lovely “The Mother” song, followed by the grittier “Mama Werewolf” song.
The juxtaposition of these two songs reflect so beautifully what Carlile does best: quiet folk and powerful rock, bittersweet lyrics and raw honesty, opposite and yet the same messages. She sings songs that make you think about how you can hold both truths in your hands at the same time, loving them both while not always understanding how such opposites can both be real and alive — and yet they are.
Carlile talked a lot about her heroes, including the Indigo Girls, Elton John, and of course Joni Mitchell. She shared her experience of singing with Mitchell at the Newport Jazz Festival this summer before diving head first into “Woodstock,” a cover of Mitchell’s sexy song about getting ourselves “back to the garden.”
Carlile’s version, dare I say it, exceeded expectations.
She also covered “Rocket Man” before pausing at the glittering piano for a dramatic version of “Right on Time.” Hints of Elton John’s influence were overt.
Carlile and the band challenged listeners with the politically charged “Sinners, Saints and Fools” for treatment of immigrants before reminding fans to stay strong in the face of cruelty with her famous “The Joke.” Important to note: Sistastrings played a mindblowing composition at the end of “Sinners, Saints and Fools” that screamed a warning of hell facing those who claimed borders as a reason for the mistreatment of others.
Carlile returned to the piano for an emotional rendition of “Party of One,” a love song about returning home after a fight with her lover. Bandmates slowly left the stage, with Carlile nodding each member off.
The band returned accompanied by The Indigo Girls for an encore performance of “Go!” before Carlile reminded everyone overtly of her message with “Stay Gentle.” In the final song of the night, a cover of “Over the Rainbow” was played before a rainbow of colors behind her.
Fans lingered, even with the rains pouring down around them, to stay close to the good energy of the night. While a few folks scurried out as usual during the encore, many more than usual clung to the promise of the night.
The shared experience couldn’t be washed away by storm clouds, heavy rains, or the darkness of the night around us. The truth of her words shone a light punctuated by the perfection of the accompanying chords. Kindness wins in the end because it feels so much better than the alternative, especially when celebrated together at Tanglewood.