Confession: I’m not typically a country music fan. I’m not one of those people who says they like “everything except Christian and Country,” but I wouldn’t know all the words to a Gretchen Wilson song or attach Reba McEntire to a nostalgic memory. Also, I really hate “I Hope You Dance.” (There, I said it.)
But Brandi Carlile has gone and made me country. I first bought her album in a gay vacation town’s small music store that specialized in female singer-songwriters (I kid you not). I played it on the way back to Chicago and thus began my love affair with listening to Brandi while in the car — and an interest in modern country-tinged folk pop.
Three albums later, I am able to comfortably own up to my love for the genre, and admit that I enjoyed Brandi’s covers of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline at her show at the Portland Zoo Saturday night. I went into the show wondering if the crowd would be any different from the last time I saw her, which was in a similar venue, but she was the opener for The Indigo Girls. This time, Brandi was the headliner, and had a sold out audience of superfans — notably a lot of men, children and tweens there, too. By the end of the show, my anthropological analysis of Brandi Carlile’s live audience came down to this: Brandi’s “Huge Gay Revelation” last year has had absolutely no negative impact on her career. In fact, it might have made her feel a little more free.
You know how you enjoy a show more when you can tell the performer is enjoying it themselves? Well Brandi was having a time, so I was having a time. I was a participating member of the crowd, which I’m sometimes too bored or unmoved for. (I swear it wasn’t only the skinny jeans, black button-down, boots and suspenders, she was wearing, but those helped.) She was the most comfortable and confident I’ve ever seen her on stage, and god, she sounded good.
She performed songs from The Story, Give Up the Ghost, Live at the Benyaro and a few new songs that I’m already impatient to have on my iPod. She told stories about songs you’d think were about ladies she’s loved but were actually about her niece (“Carolina”) and Josephine County, Oregon (“Josephine”). She sang songs that were probably about ladies she really has loved. She sang “Forever Young” and “Eternal Flame” and admitted she’d just turned 30, which reaffirmed I have a thing for older women.
But I think Brandi’s show ultimately gave me the idea she’s finally going it alone. After years of being an opener and playing smaller venues, and lending her tunes to shows like Grey’s Anatomy, I feel like she’s going to achieve something bigger this year – and that the freedom she has as an out woman has given her some sort of additional permission to become a bonafied rock star. She’s never been inauthentic, but maybe now at (gasp!) age 30, Brandi Carlile has got the swagger and style to match her incredible ability to write and perform songs that can even make the most resistant girl go country.