Something remarkable happened on Saturday, April 2nd, as magic would have it. Glen and I had tickets to attend a show featuring Patty Griffin, Sara Watkins & Anais Mitchell – an amazing lineup of female singer/songwriters who have all been an inspiration to me at one point or another over the years, so I could hardly wait to see them altogether. It was the final show in their seven-week Use Your Voice tour in conjunction with the League of Women Voters. I knew we were in for a memorable evening, but I had no idea just how memorable it would become.
Patty Griffin’s music has been inspiring me since I first discovered her on tour with Shawn Colvin and Freedy Johnson back in 1997. I was a sophomore in high school and was able to talk some of my teachers into taking me to the show in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She was supporting her debut album Living With Ghosts, and while she was the newcomer on the scene that night, she commanded my attention with just an acoustic guitar and a powerhouse performance. Her voice, songwriting, and sheer passion ignited the audience and left a permanent impression on my musical psyche as a budding songwriter. It became my mad mission (pun fully intended) to meet her some day and share the stage in some capacity.
Sara Watkins has been an influential voice and fiddle player to me since her Nickle Creek days. I remember playing Nickel Creek, Patty Griffin, and Alison Krauss records in heavy rotation the year I worked in the music department at a Barnes and Noble in South Burlington, Vermont, just before I decided to hit the road as a full-time touring artist myself. It was a zenful way to “flip” CDs, which was management’s term for tidying and reorganizing the CDs back when CDs were still a hot commodity.
Anais Mitchell’s music has been influential since I first performed with her at The Montague Bookmill in Massachusetts in 2002. I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with her on many occasions throughout the years, and I’ve valued her friendship ever since. It’s been inspiring to watch her work evolve and flourish into opportunities beyond her wildest imagination, and she continues to give me hope as an artist with serious creative integrity.
So I decided to send an encouraging text to Anais just hours before the show I mentioned earlier, expressing my excitement to see her that night with the great Patty Griffin and Sara Watkins. She responded in a bit of a panic because she had caught whatever bug had been going around and was unable to sing her songs that night. I offered to step in if she needed an additional voice, and she asked if I could sing her song “Your Fonder Heart” in its original key. Apparently all three artists were performing in-the-round throughout the tour and collaborating with one another, so the original key was non-negotiable. The guitar player, David Pulkingham, had learned it in the original key, and both Patty and Sara had harmonies all ready to contribute, so she was in need of a lead vocalist for arguably the most popular song in her repertoire. After I picked my jaw up off the ground from the sudden realization that I would be singing with Patty Griffin and Sara Watkins while being accompanied by Anais Mitchell and David Pulkingham that evening in Los Angeles to a listening room of 1000+ people, I promptly accepted her offer to sing!
When Glen and I arrived at the theater, we were escorted backstage so that I would have a chance to run through the song quickly with Anais before the show. The dressing rooms lined a long white hallway, and each artist’s dressing room had their name prominently displayed on the door. I knocked on Anais’ door and she greeted me with a smile even though she was feeling so under the weather. She stepped out in the hallway with her guitar to run the song and take advantage of the beautiful natural reverb that surrounded us. I started singing, and halfway through the first verse, Patty Griffin, Sara Watkins, and David Pulkingham all emerged from their dressing rooms with smiles on their faces to see who was singing. They approached to join in on the choruses in four-part harmony, and it felt like we had all been singing together for years.
It was one of the most remarkable moments I have ever experienced in my humble career.
Anais was a puddle of tears by the end of the song. She was emotional from exhaustion and from the fact that her faithful tour was coming to a close that evening. She was also very grateful for my willingness to “save the day” so last minute, and I was so grateful for the opportunity. It was a beautiful moment between friends, and I loved what a genuine exchange we were both providing one another.
My cameo appearance was mid-set so I waited nervously stage left until it was time. It was surreal to be on the same stage with such legendary and influential artists, but I quickly switched from a nervous fan to a confident professional the moment I was called upon. I walked on stage to an eloquent introduction from Anais, grabbed the mic from the stand, and led the star-studded choir through Anais’ powerful song. There was a roar of applause from the audience, and I could hardly believe the magic that had occurred once I walked off the stage.
Glen and I watched the rest of the show from the audience, and I was beaming from head to toe. After the performance, I was greeted by so many enthusiastic concert-goers in the lobby asking who I was and where they could find my music. Fortunately, I always carry fliers in my back pocket just in case, and I’m so glad I did! Even the Executive Director of the show approached me to introduce himself and thank me for performing on his stage. He said I had sung his favorite Anais Mitchell song. He also admitted that he didn’t think anyone could do that song justice, but after hearing me sing it, he said I had proven otherwise. He even invited me to be his guest at a future performance, and I was deeply moved by the invitation.
We were welcomed backstage after the show to help celebrate the tour finale. There was a beautiful spread of food, chocolates and champagne, and a whole lotta love being exchanged. Anais thanked me again, and told me that my appearance was the highlight of the set for her that night. I told her what a gift it was to be involved, and how happy I was to help a sister out. She introduced me to some of her friends – many of whom were only a few degrees of separation from other people I know. It’s such a small world, and even smaller in the music community. It seems that no matter where I am in the world, there are always friends nearby.
I undeniably have music to thank for that.
Matt Fish was at the party – another cellist I had the opportunity to work with here in LA on the new album – because he used to be roommates with the guitar player, David Pulkingham. Carolyn Rosenfeld was there as well because she was managing the entire tour. Carolyn tour manages an incredible roster of legendary artists, and I first met her when I opened for Dar Williams many years ago. In fact, I have Carolyn to thank for recommending me to support Shawn Colvin on a string of shows awhile back. Needless to say, I felt the love from all angles.
Just as the party was dying down, I met eyes with Patty Griffin, who had been deep in group conversation up until then. She smiled and reached out her hand as to welcome my company. I sat down beside her as she took my hand, and she thanked me again for singing. She told me how beautiful she thought it was, and said she couldn’t wait to hear more of my music. Of course, I made sure to come prepared with a few extra hard copies of my new album, so I handed her an advance copy of My Hero, The Enemy. She thanked me and assured me that she still listens to actual CDs in her car! I told her how her music had inspired me ever since I first saw her on that Shawn Colvin and Freedy Johnston tour, and she told me that had been the longest tour since this Use Your Voice tour. It was all I could do to keep my cool as a longtime Patty Griffin fan. Little did she know that she was one of the most influential artists of my lifetime, and I wouldn’t write or sing the way I do without her distinct guidance.
Dreams came true that night. I felt like one of the sisterhood that evening, and I am so grateful.
Fortunately, Glen managed to film my entire performance with the sisterhood so that you can experience the magic as well (sorry for the poor sound quality though!). I’m still pinching myself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpgOfxhOA8w