At a good live performance, an organic rhythm and energy develops between the audience and the performers. When Brandi Carlile and her band landed on the stage at Missoula’s Big Sky Brewery with a heartfelt, energetic, fourteen-song set, I felt that synergy in a way I haven’t experienced in many years.
And I think Brandi felt it too. Her chest-clenching appreciation for us as the audience seemed mutual in every way.
She is an energetic performer who takes us on a vocal and emotional journey with her vocal vibrato, tone inflections, and strumming that blended perfectly with the guitar and drum solos of Phil and Tim Hanseroth. She connects with the audience in a variety of ways, letting us know by pointing and with specific eye contact with individual audience members. Throughout the evening, Carlile said, genuinely, ”Wow, you are such a great audience.” Her spontaneous interactions with the audience drew cheers. Her facial expressions in response to adoring fans was a highlight.
The audience sharing this experience and this energy was a diverse group. It included families with children, gay and straight couples, groups of friends on blankets taking selfies, and of course myself. We were all on our feet, fist-pumping, hitting beach balls and singing at the top of our lungs for a full hour and thirty minutes.
The show had poetic ballads, a little bit of country, a lot of rock and roll, and the amazing three-part harmonies that are so beautifully displayed in the song “The Eye” from her 2015 album “The Firewatcher’s Daughter.” When she introduced this song, she said, “I met these guys, Phil and Tim, in Seattle fifteen years ago at the end of the grunge era, thinking that is where we wanted to go. But we found out we really like three-part harmonies.”
For me, the moment when Carlile played “Keep Your Heart Young” was unforgettable. This song is my eight-year-old daughter’s favorite, and we dance to it often. Carlile stopped her song to pull two ten-year old children onstage who were singing along with every word. She let them introduce themselves and sang along with them.
After her first encore, she looked at her band and put her guitar down, raised her hands and said “We have to do this ..."
As an audience member, I felt something special was about to happen. Carlile then started to sing Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California.” Her flawless cover of Robert Plant, the twins’ (Phil and Tim Hanseroth’s) guitar solos, and her call and response back and forth with the audience made this a one-of-a-kind moment.
Music brings people together, and live music from an engaged performer can facilitate a great feeling of family among her audience. Brandi and her band members did this in many different ways. The most interesting one on this evening was before her arrival on stage.
While I was waiting for Brandi to perform, I met a group of women who traveled from Maple Valley in the Seattle area to see Brandi Carlile live. Six hundred miles is a long way to go for a music performance, in my opinion, but they were intriguing so I started talking to them. My anticipation for seeing her live was heightened by their stories and familiarity of her and the many performances they had seen. They work out at the same gym as Brandi Carlile and Phil and Tim Hanseroth or “The Twins," and see them at the grocery store and Starbucks on a regular basis. She was happy to show me the many pictures on her phone. We made jokes about the really drunk guy who almost fell over on us dancing, and sang and danced together throughout the evening.
I had my own fan girl moment with Israel Nebeker, the lead singer of the opening band Blind Pilot. He came out to meet fans, so I jumped right up and we had our picture taken together. It was a unique moment that I will remember always.
As for Blind Pilot, I was intrigued with Nebeker’s gentle and pleadingly earnest, sincere vocals. Kati Claborn, a female banjo player who sang exquisite back up vocals, also left an indelible mark. Dave Jorgenson played trumpet and accordion solos passionately. Blind Pilot has a new album that was released August 12, 2016, called “And Then Like Lions” They paired wonderfully with Brandi Carlile.
As the sun was setting in the Big Sky country we were all participants in a heartfelt and energetic vocal performance from a musician who really knows how to connect with her audience. I was so happy to be able to be part of this moment in live music. Montana loves you and knows you left a piece of your heart and soul with us. We cannot wait to share our home with you again soon.