While surfing around on YouTube this morning, I stumbled onto a video of Mary Chapin Carpenter performing at the 1990 CMA show. She did an unreleased song, so bawdy that she had to change a few words and cut three verses to get past the network censors.
These days, awards show performances are tightly choreographed versions of a big hits or new singles. Taylor Swift recently brought out Stevie Nicks and sang – badly, I might add – a Fleetwood Mac song.
It’s safe, predictable and boring.
Chapin chose a song that no one knew and likely wouldn’t hear again – “Opening Act,” a hilarious skewering of the tendency most audiences have to ignore any performance that comes before a big star’s set.
“For 37 minutes I sang out my heart, I was so damn nervous I just wanted to barf,” she laments before conceding, “you don’t know me – I’m the opening act.”
She’d probably opened for at least one or two of the country hitmakers in the audience that night, so it was a pretty gutsy move.
No wonder she didn’t last long in country music radio.
A few years later, she’d transformed herself into a star on her own terms and left country behind.
It got me thinking – has the opening act simply become an excuse to arrive late for a show?
Fortunately, Ray Massucco doesn’t think so. This Sunday, the lawyer/promoter brings Cowboy Junkies to town for a Mother’s Day show at the Bellows Falls Opera House.
But the singer/songwriter opening the show, Chris O’Brien, is worth the price of admission.
O’Brien’s new album, Little Red, is a gem. I can’t figure out which song on it I like the most. The buoyant “I Don’t Know You” rivals “Rosa” from his first record; it’s a tune you’re singing along with by the second chorus.
I love his vivid images – “Hurricane Love” conjures up “a girl so fine she hurts the light,” while “This Old Town” recalls the “Friday glory and Monday pain” of small town high school life.
Of the latter, O’Brien emphatically states, “you never got me to care … I’m as ready now as I will ever be to go my own way.”
The standout “Blood Like Yours,” an achingly brilliant song about being an alcoholic’s son, hit me especially hard.
So be there on time Sunday night, lest you miss a tremendous talent due to a bad rationalization.
He’s not just the opening act.
On to the rest of the week:
Thursday, May 6: Jason Cann, Harpoon Brewery – With the warm weather finally here, it’s time to hit the brewpub after work and enjoy this fine singer songwriter. Jason’s a Wednesday regular at the new Salt hill in Hanover, where he teams up with Bonnie Waters of the Dream Band for a duet performance this Saturday night. In the meantime, have a pint and some pub fries, and enjoy the music.
Friday, May 7: Pariah Beat, Salt hill Pub (Lebanon) – The wonderfully crazy band is now three core members – Billy Sharff, Emily Eastridge and Nick Charyk. They just posted a bunch of new material on MySpace that represents an evolution for them. It’s a bit more restrained and reflective, particularly on the title track from the forthcoming album, “Bury Me Not.” They can still rave it up, but they can also get bruised.
Saturday, May 8: Lisa McCormick, Claremont Opera House – Sit on stage with this Vermont singer songwriter, who recently posted a video of a brand new song literally moments after it was born. The ‘crazy beautiful’ “Levitate” is also something you can easily learn to play it, because the tab sheet is included with the music.
Sunday, May 9: Cowboy Junkies, Bellows Falls Opera House – Never has sorrow sounded so lovely. Trinity Session conjured up visions of lovers asleep at midday in tenement apartments with the windows thrown open, in the middle of a heat wave. At press time, there were a few premium tickets left that include a Mother’s Day meal at Boccelli’s on the Canal.
Monday, May 10: Dartmouth Glee Club, Hopkins Center – Something a bit more civilized – from a HOP press release, “the lightness and joy of spring takes musical form in this concert of romantic Viennese vocal music by Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Johann Strauss.” This is a 40-voice choir with serious singing chops, something even non-classical fans will enjoy.
Wednesday, May 12: Second Wind, Marshland Farm – An early 6 p.m. start and a great menu provide the perfect excuse to duck out of work early and head over to Quechee to catch this tuneful duo. Terry Ray Gould and Suzy Hastings will be a prominent part of the upcoming Claremont Farmer’s Market, and Terry tells me he’s got a diva fest planned for Newport later in the year. Good sounds, beautiful setting – what are you waiting for?