I love Patty Griffin with what John Green might call “an evangelical zeal.” But for my ten years of fandom, I had never seen her in concert. My opportunity finally came on the Use Your Voice tour, which meant seeing her on stage with Anais Mitchell and Sara Watkins. I saw Anais back in 2012 with my old roommate Lisa, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. Sara Watkins was a member of the bluegrass band Nickel Creek, now a solo artist. Even though this show wasn’t going to be all Patty, all the time, I knew it would be a cool experience.
The show was in the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine University. It’s a fairly intimate setting, appropriate for this type of mellow performance. Although the show started a little late, we were blessedly spared an opening act. (Yes, I’ve seen some good openers in my time, but it’s hard to be patient when the main event is so close at hand.) Patty Griffin was the de facto leader of the group, being the oldest and most famous. This earned her the center microphone, and her songs opened and closed the show. Other than that, the show was a “round robin” with the women taking turns picking a song. While one was playing her song, the others would provide harmony vocals, instrumentals, even percussion.
All three women are beautiful vocalists, and hearing them harmonize was a dream. As the opening number, Patty’s song “Love Throws A Line” presented an enthusiastic and unified group. The downside of solo artists in a group format is hearing fewer songs from each artist. Given that limitation, I would have loved to see all three of them have a role in every song, even though I imagine that would be more challenging musically. Overall the alternating format was a wise decision though. If you only know one or two of the artists’ music, there’s never a long wait between familiar songs, which keeps the audience engaged.
My personal highlight was Anais playing three songs from Young Man in America, an album that I absolutely love. “Dyin’ Day” and “Young Man in America” already have beautiful harmonies, so they were perfect for the group. Anais also brought the house down with “Why We Build the Wall,” a song from her folk opera Hadestown. As she pointed out, the song was written ten years ago, but it feels eerily appropriate for the current political landscape.
As for Patty Griffin, her voice is impeccable in concert. She’s released nine studio albums, so six songs are barely going to scratch the surface of what a fan might want to hear. I would have happily traded one or both gospel numbers for a couple of songs from American Kid. A solo concert is definitely still on my to-do list. That being said, it was lovely to see her in this setting, collaborating with and supporting other female artists. I was feeling the folksy feminist love.