Brandi Carlile Review: State Theatre, Ithaca N.Y.
There’s no reason to forgive Brandi Carlile at the State Theatre in Ithaca, NY Tuesday night, because she gave everything she had and more to the sold out crowd. I’ve seen many iterations of Brandi performing over the years – rocking a theatre with the full band, solo acoustic, and as a trio with just the twins. Every show is special and memorable in its own way. However, to me, the Ithaca show had that special something that was far above anything I’ve seen before. A cosmic collision of time, space, events, and music that was just meant to be!
The Secret Sisters kicked off the magical night for an amazing 45-minute set. The Grammy nominated sisters, Lydia Slang and Laura Rogers, who are from Muscle Shoals Alabama, were mesmerizing and the crowd showered them with love and appreciation. The sisters have had their fair share of turmoil; in early 2015, their record label dropped them; a management lawsuit ensued; and they declared bankruptcy.
They almost quit the music business if it wasn’t for the love and support from Brandi Carlile. Brandi recruited them to open a few of her shows in Seattle late in 2015. As a result of this positive experience, Laura and Lydia went back to songwriting to try and rise from the ashes of what was left.
In 2017, Brandi Carlile produced their latest album You Don’t Own Me Anymore with twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth’s help. The album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Folk Album. The Secret Sisters captivated the audience with a mix of original numbers and covers. Their gorgeous harmonies, thought-provoking lyrics, infectious positive energy, and personal stories were incredible. The music world is truly a much better place with them in it.
Brandi Carlile is coming off the February release of By the Way I Forgive You, her best selling and highest charting album ever. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling at its best. You really can’t define a genre for Brandi’s music. It’s part folk, country, rock, and singer-songwriter with a little bit of blues and gospel mixed in for good measure. When I speak of Brandi Carlile, it’s not just an individual but a team of highly talented musicians. When combined, it creates a synergistic collective that brings us, the fans, a magic, and love that transcends most other concert experiences. It’s special, it’s unique, it’s human, and it’s something tangible that you can hear and feel at every show.
I met both old and new Bramily for dinner and drinks before the show. Bramily is a nickname for Brandi Carlile fans but it really is just a big extended family. A family of kind and generous human beings that truly care about everybody and their lives, not just Brandi’s music. However, it is Brandi’s music that has brought everyone together to form this family. It’s amazing to me how everything is interconnected in this world we live in.
The energized crowd was moved from the start as the stage was bathed in a beautiful purplish/blue light as cellist Josh Neuman played the opening notes of “Everytime I Hear That Song”. The rest of the band joined Josh and the accompanying string section on stage to a loud standing ovation and so this beautiful journey began. The exploration would carry us through Brandi’s 17-year career with hits from the past, a few covers, and every song from the new album. Each song played emotionally, meticulously, and with a love and energy that was felt by all 1,600 lucky souls who were there to experience it.
It was a virtual sing-a-long for numbers like “The Joke” and “The Story”, almost drowning out the band. For something completely different and opposite, we were serenaded with “Cannonball”, sung by just Brandi and the Twins acoustically unplugged from the edge of the stage.
You could literally hear a pin drop at times and then at others, fans were screaming their love and adoration for the band. Fans were treated to a wonderful cover of Elton John’s “Madman Across the River” and The Secret Sisters “Mississippi”, whom joined the band for lead vocals on this dazzling version. The Secret Sisters also provided backup/complimentary vocals on “Raise Hell”, “Sugartooth”, and “Fulton County Jane”. However, the most compelling story of the night belonged to Connor.
Connor is a local 11-year-old cellist. He was playing on the street to earn some extra money and made $17 in about half hours work until Brandi found him. When Brandi heard him playing, she was instantly impressed, moved, and invited him on the show to play. Of course, who could turn down this opportunity, and Connor said yes. About half way through the show the band left the stage, except for Brandi, who introduced and told Connor’s story. His 5-minute solo was eloquent, inspiring, and was met with a standing ovation from the crowd and a huge smile and hug from Brandi. Wow, dreams do come true if you work hard, are persistent, and are just a little bit lucky along the way.
This momentous show came to an end with everyone in the building clapping, dancing, and singing to “Hold Out Your Hand”, which was a perfect song to end an emotional night. Fans gathered in front of the stage where the road crew gave out set lists and guitar picks to some lucky individuals. I spoke with many people after the show and everyone was in complete agreement that this show was amazing, and one of the best concerts that they had ever been too. I also heard many times “This was the first time I saw Brandi… why didn’t I see her sooner!” Many concert-goers waited for the band to appear outside of the tour bus. While Brandi did not stop (in her defense she had her daughter), the rest of the band mingled with the small crowd, posed for pictures, chatted, and signed autographs. Hugs and kisses were given to all and the crowd and band dispersed into the cool starlit Ithaca night to start the next part of their journey.
This was the 11th show of, from my count, a 56-show tour that is running throughout the United States this Spring and Summer. If you are near one of Brandi’s stops, go see her. You will not be disappointed. In fact, you be so moved that the show will give you a good cry, a lot of laughs, and you will leave way happier than when you entered.
Setlist: Every Time I Hear That Song, Raise Hell (SS), Harder to Forgive, The Eye, The Mother, The Joke, Have You Ever, Sugartooth (SS), Mainstream Kid, Connor Cello Solo, Fulton County Jane Doe (SS), Cannonball, Most of All, Madman Across The River(Elton John Cover), Mississippi (Secret Sisters Cover), The Story, Whatever You Do, Party of One
Encore: Hold Out Your Hand
SS: vocals from The Secret Sisters