“You need to see her man, she’s freaking American-songwriter royalty.” – Everyone I Know, For My Entire Life
When Patty Griffin announced her show at Haw River Ballroom, I made a mental note to make sure to catch her this time. As the quote above suggests, everyone I know loves the hell out of her, so-much-so, I discounted her for decades based on sheer popularity alone in my social circles. This was a mistake, I would soon learn. So I’m apologizing to the folk-gods now. I missed out on a lifetime of hearing that voice sing to me live…and I shall repent.
Walking into the Ballroom, I’ve rarely heard the “buzz” that was emanating from the crowd that evening. An early arriving group, people seemingly wanted to get to their places, and guarantee a choice spot, unlike most of the “less-seasoned” artists’ fans I normally see out and about, who just want to hang outside and smoke until the main act hits the stage.
Virginia’s Scott Miller took the stage first and quickly proved, besides the obvious reasons, he’s someone who deserves to share the spotlight with Ms. Griffin. Funny and self-deprecating – he showcased the true spirit of folk, and something that seems to be missing a lot these days in the genre. Storytelling is what made us all fall in love with this brand, and music, in the first place, and it something he does very well. That aside, his music, as it has been for the past decade with the Commonwealth and the V-Roys, is still amazingly emotional and intricate.
When Patty Griffin took the stage and began her set, I found my mind quickly wandering – looking up at this massive, open old warehouse nestled inconspicuously on the banks of the Haw River, in the tiny town of Saxapahaw, North Carolina. It’s a place you have to drive 20 miles outside civilization to reach. Down winding roads, that criss-cross over this rocky river as you journey into the country. The stage is framed by rusted old window panes re-purposed from when the space was converted. In the back of the venue, a colossal old vat, for lack of a better word, sits with its top open, alerting you this space used to be something quite different. If you walk out the back door, all you hear is the rushing water of the river.
Pulling myself back into my current reality – I was suddenly very grateful I’d postponed seeing Ms. Griffin until now. This venue – large, and open, and sometimes quite cavernous when not filled to the brim, was the perfect setting to experience her live. And amazingly…magically, once she began singing, the venue shrank. Call it tunnel vision, but I have to believe everyone around me experienced the exact same thing. It became extremely intimate, like a show at a tiny old theater. Her haunting vocals filling the room. Talking very personally about the songs from American Kid, and her father, only heightened the feeling.
She sat at the piano to do a series of these songs midway through, starting with a story about how her father preferred living in the northeast and hated the heat and humidity of the south. Launching into “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida,” I realized this is what my friends had experienced every time they’d seen her. And looking around, no one was talking. No one was really blinking for that matter.
Maybe someone pumped a hallucinogen into the air ducts – or maybe it was the release of some leftover textile chemical – but looking back, nights with musicians don’t get much better than that. I walked in with an extremely limited knowledge of why she’s a legend – and walked out a now-loyal fan.