It was a hot summer night in June of 1992 on the campus of SFCC when MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER first came to Spokane. Carpenter was headlining Pine Song, a folk music festival/art show, and as the moon came out over the grassy side lawn, she launched into "I Feel Lucky," one of the songs on her then-new album Come On, Come On. The lyrics, something about winning a lottery and cajoling boys Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam not to fight, were hilarious and the crowd loved it. I daresay there was even a feeling in the air that maybe she was on the brink of her big break, but Carpenter, who returns to Spokane on Friday night, remembers it differently.
"I remember Pine Song! That was one hot summer day, but it was a lot of fun," she exclaims over the phone, on break during her current summer tour. Her memories of her impending success that warm summer night, however, are much more modest.
"You know, I think people who are sort of outside of your world have a much keener sense of these things," she says. "I was just doing my job, doing the things I liked to do, playing music and trying to keep up with the pace, but there was no sense of, 'We're about to break through.' "
Even so, Come On, Come On, went on to sell more than two million copies with a total of six singles, including "I Feel Lucky," "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" and "The Hard Way." That record was followed in two years with Stones in the Road, which offered up one monster hit, the steel guitar-happy "Shut Up and Kiss Me," but not much else in the way of instant radio play. Her next few albums after that never garnered much radio support and Carpenter found herself adrift, but certainly not lost.
The songs on her new album Time*Sex*Love reflect the singer-songwriter at a more introspective and grounded place than she's been previously. The album's title is itself a tiny bit of profundity generated by her co-producer John Jennings.
"He and I were talking about the new record and the themes running throughout, and he blurted out 'Time is the great gift, sex is the great equalizer and love is the great mystery.' And I sort of looked at him and said, 'Is that right?' "
She says the words "kind of burrowed" into her brain and she found herself thinking about how much the themes of love, sex, passion and the passing of time permeated the new record.
"This record reflects my heart at this moment. I obviously feel like I wouldn't have been able to make this record when I was 30," she admits. "I'm 43 now, and I've been through a few things. When you're 30, you're not thinking of your own mortality, you're sort of defining yourself from the outside in. But a 40-year-old is listening to different voices inside of her."
And Carpenter has become comfortable with those voices.
"Someone suggested to me that this is a record for grownups, when I first heard that and I got over the shock of, 'What! I'm grown up? I feel like a spastic 15-year-old most of the time!' " she admits with a husky laugh. "But once I got over the shock of the statement, I really did love that."
Mary Chapin Carpenter plays with special guest Steve Earle at the Opera House on Friday, July 13, at 8 pm. Tickets: $24.25-$45.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
Before there were musical categories like alt-country (alternative-country), Americana or New Traditional Country to describe bands like Whiskeytown, Wilco or the Jayhawks, there were folks like Gram Parsons, and more recently, STEVE EARLE. Listeners embraced these folks who played real country music with the heart of the Ramones and the soul of the Carter Family -- just the way God and Hank Williams meant it to be played.
Steve Earle may be the person most responsible for the current alt-country movement, which started in the '80s as a direct response to the soulless, cookie-cutter cutouts who were singing pop tunes, wearing cowboy hats and calling it country music. In 1986, Earle burst on the scene with the ground breaking album, Guitar Town, which some people call the most influential country/rock record since Gram Parsons' pair of solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel, from more than a decade earlier. The record reached No. 1 on the country charts and turned Nashville on its ear.
He was immediately dubbed country music's answer to Bruce Springsteen and was even named one of the 10 sexiest men in country music by Playgirl magazine. Four more classic albums followed, including the commercial breakthrough, Copperhead Road, complete with its skull-and-crossbones album cover and heavier sound, it also had elements of bluegrass and Celtic drunkenness featuring the Pogues. It was obvious Steve Earle, who looked more like Axl Rose than either Brooks or Dunn, was no cookie-cutout -- and he certainly wasn't about to wear no cowboy hat.
Earle was enjoying professional success, but his personal life looked more like a script for VH1's Behind the Music. If he were a subject of the show, let's just say three major themes would definitely emerge: his raging drug habit (heroin), jail (three months on drug charges) and ex-wives (six). At one point, Earle stopped making music altogether, and in fact didn't even own a guitar, after pawning it for drug money. He was arrested repeatedly -- drug charges, assault charges, weapons charges -- and spent tens of thousands of dollars to keep himself out of jail. Earle hit rock bottom in 1994, when he was sentenced to one year in jail for possession of heroin. He ended up serving three months, both in jail and treatment centers.
Since that time, Earle has rebounded with an incredible burst of creativity and has become a study in the art of personal reinvention. He kicked his addictions and has recorded five acclaimed albums, all of which the critics have gushed over. None more than his latest album, Transcendental Blues, which was nominated for the 2001 Grammy (his eighth Grammy nomination) for best contemporary folk album, and earned countless mentions on critic's year-end top 10 lists. The album blends elements of folk, rock, Celtic and bluegrass. Earle has the ability to sound completely original without hiding his eclectic influences. Drawing on an extensive musical root system, Earle taps into Dylan, Stones, Johnny Cash, Jules Shear, Kurt Cobain, Emmylou Harris and the Beatles.
In addition to constant touring, recording and teaching, Earle has been politically active, campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty, he's started a record label E-squared, signed up bands, produced eight records, written a play, a book of haiku and he just published a book of short fiction, called Doghouse Roses.
Steve Earle and his band the Dukes (including drummer Will Rigby of the dBs), who open for Mary Chapin Carpenter Friday in the Opera House, are worth the price of admission by themselves.
Steve Earle and the Dukes open for Mary Chapin Carpenter at the Opera House on Friday, July 13, at 8 pm. Tickets: $24.25-$45.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
Rooted in Ritzville
Aside from being one of the few places in Washington's great inland desert to water your horse, gas up your tin lizzie or stuff burgers into your gut, Ritzville is known as the site of one of the region's premier blues festivals. From humble beginnings, the annual summertime celebration of blues, brews and barbecue in this three-city block scabland oasis has evolved into one of the high holidays for local blues fanatics. In 1994, only 150 showed up (perhaps due to the fact that event organizers blew their advertising budget promoting the event on local country stations), but since then, the promoting machine has been finely tuned and focused. The attendance at THE RITZVILLE BLUES FESTIVAL has since mushroomed (more than 3,000 people made it last year). And the lineups just keep getting better.
This year, the headlining act is none other than blues-rock legend Bo Diddley. Raised in the Mississippi delta blues tradition, Diddley began his recording career in Chicago at the beginning of the rock 'n' roll era. Though he never attained the popularity of his Chess labelmate Chuck Berry, Diddley's swagger, sarcastic humor, riff-heavy guitar style and trademark "Bo Beat" (you know, that crazy bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp) greatly influenced the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and the Animals. His early experiments with guitar distortion and feedback would later be used to full effect by Jimi Hendrix.
With his charisma, rectangular guitars and bag of tricks intact, Diddley, now in his 70s, remains a consummate entertainer. Look for him (with his backing unit, the Debby Hastings Band) to revisit such classics as "Who Do You Love, "Cops and Robbers" and "I'm A Man/Bo Diddley."
Also appearing on the outdoor main stage will be Louisiana zydeco masters Geno Delafose & amp; the French Rockin' Boogie. Opening will be the blues-infected rock (or is it rock-infected blues?) of Chris Hiatt, Robbin & amp; The Bluez Hoodz along with local faves Too Slim & amp; The Taildraggers and Carl Rey and the Blues Gators. In various indoor venues around town, other local blues artists such as Charlie Butts & amp; The Filter Tips, Laffin' Bones, Paul Brasch, Phat Baby Dave & amp; The Pain Killers, the Bone Daddies, Aaron Richner & amp; The Blues Drivers will hold court.
The 8th Annual Ritzville Blues, Brews & amp; Barbecue in downtown Ritzville on Saturday, July 14, starts at noon. Tickets: $20; free for children under 16. Call: 325-SEAT.
Fly a Kite
Raise a flag and see who salutes it. Fly a kite and see who stops and stares. KITE FESTIVAL is a rock band from Hawaii making a stop in Spokane at the E Cafe this Friday the 13th. The scruffy, nicely undisciplined emo-core quartet -- Chad Kawamura (vox, guitar), Shaun Yoshizowa (guitar), Michael Nakasone (drums), Reynold Higa (vox, bass) -- sports a winning combination of buzzsaw guitar, dynamic dips and climbs, wavering vocal harmonies and a minimalist songwriting approach. Their music is honest and unpretentious in the extreme and is infused with subtle humor (check out these titles: "You Shoplifted What I Didn't Mind Being Taken From Me," "Who Needs Geometry?" "It's Easier to Say Hello").
Formed in Honolulu in 1998, Kite Festival is an amalgam of disparate elements -- punk, pop and avant garde. But that only seems natural given the members' previous band affiliations. Kawamura and Yoshizawa come from the punk outfit, the Power Pellets, Higa co-founded the pop band, the Raymonds, and Nakasone fronted the experimental Daughter Element.
The group is currently touring the West Coast in support of its new four-song EP. Stop in at E Cafe this Friday, get a cheap beer and a burger, sit back and watch Kite Festival soar. And you'll know what I mean when I say that amateur passion and experimentation in rock is not dead. It's alive. Largely ignored by the masses, reliant on the kindness of like-minded strangers and forced to sleep on floors but alive and flourishing nevertheless.
Kite Festival plays with Rock Ness Monsters at E Cafe, 410 W. Sprague, on Friday, July 13, at 9 pm. Cover: $4. Call: 456-3821.