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Music & Concerts

Mary Chapin Carpenter looks back on three decades of music

Singer/songwriter on Va. venues, Cyndi Lauper and her overnight test



Mary Chapin Carpenter, gay news, Washington Blade

Mary Chapin Carpenter says she loves performing at both The Birchmere and Wolf Trap. (Photo by Jonathan Stewart)

Mary Chapin Carpenter
‘Sometimes Just the Sky Tour’
With Laura Cortese and The Dance Cards
Oct. 29-30
The Birchmere
3701 Mt. Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, VA

Celebrating 30 years in the music business, singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter released a new album entitled “Sometimes Just The Sky” in March and has been busy touring overseas and the U.S.

Carpenter has been a staple of the D.C. area performing annually at Wolf Trap and returning every few years to one of her old stomping grounds, The Birchmere.

The singer/songwriter spoke to the Blade by phone the day before she heads out on the road to begin the fall leg of her “Sometimes Just The Sky Tour.” She’s been running errands and doing some last minute things around her home when when we talk about her upcoming shows at The Birchmere, her new new album and highlights from her 30 year career.

BLADE: You’ve said you get nervous performing at The Birchmere. Why?

CARPENTER: It’s not just The Birchmere, I get nervous pretty much anywhere (laughs). It keeps you on your toes. I’m sure you heard other people say that, but it’s true. It keeps you alert and on your toes and in touch with everything around you. That said it’s not something I wish on anyone, but it’s just after all these years I’m kind of used to it I suppose and I’m not surprised when I feel those butterflies.

BLADE: You were at Wolf Trap a few months ago which is a place you’ve regularly played throughout your career. What’s it like going from a show there performing for 7,000 people to being in room performing for 500 at The Birchmere?

CARPENTER: Both of those places are so special. Anytime you’re walking on either stage you feel thrilled. What’s great about Wolf Trap is that even though it’s so many people, it has this ability because of its beauty, the way it’s set up, the open hearts that people bring with them in addition to their picnics, it can feel very intimate. That being said, The Birchmere can feel, even though it’s comparatively less people, like the biggest rock stage you’ve ever been on. You feel like you’re taking the roof off. The audiences are so amazing and you can just really dig into the whole thing. So each place doesn’t necessarily correspond to what you think it may be about. There’s an intimacy in a huge space and an amazing sense of being able to lift off in a small space.

BLADE: You re-recorded both hits and deeper cuts for “Sometimes Just the Sky.” How did that project come about?

CARPENTER: Well first of all, I wanted to do something to mark the milestone. I wanted to celebrate it with joy and with an artistic project. I didn’t feel the need to just re-release existing tracks or anything like that. It was an experiment of sorts to see how the passage of time affected songs that I knew backwards and forwards over the last 30 years. The oldest song against the newest song for example. I thought it would be interesting to see if they feel connected in some way. Magically to me they absolutely feel connected to one another. It was just a really special project for me. Again, it was initially to celebrate this milestone but as it went on it felt as a new album standing alone on itself. It was just so wild to have that experience. To record it with Ethan Johns in Western England, it’s one of my favorite places in the world and Ethan is amazing and I just — it felt like such a privilege to do it.

BLADE: How do you come up with set lists with such a vast catalogue?

CARPENTER: You know it’s not the easiest thing but it’s the challenge of every tour and every set list I’m creating. I feel like I have some boxes to tick off. One would be if there’s a new album around that tour I want to represent a certain amount that’s on that record and then … dive deeper in the existing catalog and try to come up with some things that might not have been heard recently and then it’s important to include songs people know or I’m going to make the presumption they know. I want people to feel there’s things they recognize and they can latch on that way. You know, so mixing it up in a bowl of those three things is the challenge and it’s just something that feels right, that particular mix up.

BLADE: Looking back over all your albums, is there any that you feel didn’t get the recognition it deserved from either critics or fans?

CARPENTER: Oh golly, well first of all I’m probably not the best person to ask. I tried for many, many years not to read reviews. I’m sure you heard other performers, artists, novelists, authors or whoever say that. Some people are totally fine doing that and over the years I discovered within myself that I just did better if I didn’t try and follow those things, so I wouldn’t have a line on what’s been well received versus what hasn’t been well received. It’s not like I don’t care, but it’s just sort of recognizing I do better without having someone’s criticism in my head.

BLADE: In 2007, you released an album entitled “The Calling.” It featured a few songs with political themes as well as songs that provided hope during a crazy time. Many of the themes in that album still ring true now in 2018. Will you be featuring any of those songs on this tour?

CARPENTER: There’s a song on there called “Why Shouldn’t We” and I’m polishing that up for this tour. I feel like that song speaks to the themes of our time. I very much want to put that forth in terms of how it illustrates how I feel about so many things. We need to figure out ways to talk to one another. That’s the most important thing to me is building the bridge to be able to talk to one another because it’s pretty lonely when you’ve got no one to talk to.

BLADE: When you’re writing, do you think of the impact you hope to have on the listener?

CARPENTER: Well, I don’t think I have that in my head when I’m working on a song because I’m really trying to answer my own questions first and listen to my own voice in a way. It’s really about feeling, for me, I can’t speak for any other songwriter, but for myself I’m trying to just speak to something as honestly and personally as I know how. You know, that’s sort of the gauge I guess. I heard a quote the other day and God it was beautiful. I forget who said it in reference to a book or something but it was how do you know when the book is finished and the response is when you’ve abandoned it (laughs). You know, when do you know a song is finished? I guess when you abandon it. But with that said, I think it makes a lot of sense. I feel it’s finished and I let it sit on my kitchen table and I give it what I call the overnight test. I try and walk away from it, let it sit there overnight and then come back to it the next day. When I play it again the next day, the response I have then tells me whether it’s a keeper, needs more work or goes right into the garbage bin.

BLADE: In 1993, you appeared on Dolly’s song “Romeo” with Billy Ray Cyrus, Tanya Tucker, Kathy Mattea and Pam Tillis. How did that come about? Any special memories about the recording of the song or the music video?

CARPENTER: Well I don’t remember how it came about, but I remember Dolly invited me to sing harmony on the song. For the video, it was just one of those days, my God. To be hanging out with those fabulous women and Billy Ray (laughs). It was hilarious. I was just glad it wasn’t my video because I hated making videos, hated them. I’d rather eat a cockroach than make a video. On that particular set I just had to sit around and get up every once in a while and sing and hang out with Dolly and all those ladies and Billy Ray — it was fun. I also remember I got to buy that black leather motorcycle jacket that I was wearing and to this day I think I lent it somebody and I don’t know where it is, I’m so mad. I want that jacket back.

BLADE: Also in 1993, you wrote a song with Cyndi Lauper that was on her “Hat Full of Stars” album called “Sally’s Pigeons.” How did you meet and what brought you together to write?

CARPENTER: I have a memory that I was part of a show at the Beacon Theater in New York and Cyndi was at that show, she was brought up to my dressing room and we were introduced as possibly getting together to maybe do some writing together. I was thrilled as you could imagine and she was into it and sometime soon after that I flew up to New York and she and her driving instructor picked me up at LaGuardia, so she’s like the driver in training, driving down the Cross Bronx Expressway turning her head to me in the backseat having a conversation and her driving institutor is in the front seat having a panic attack. (laughs) No, she was a good driver. We spent the next day or two working on the song that became “Sally’s Pigeons” and I think we finished it over the phone. This was back in the day when we used landlines still. Anyway, it was thrilling and I’ll never forget it.

BLADE: At the CMAs in 1994, you performed “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and at the end of the song, Little Richard came out and kissed you. How did you get Little Richard to appear with you?

CARPENTER: (laughs) I don’t know! The producer had great persuasive powers somehow. How cool was that? I loved every minute of it. I was having a blast.


Music & Concerts

The Atlantis to showcase musical legends of tomorrow

New venue, a near replica of original 9:30 Club, opens next month



A look at the interior of the original 9:30 club. (Photo public domain/Library of Congress)

A new nirvana for music fans opens next month adjacent to the 9:30 Club. Dubbed The Atlantis, this intimate venue embraces a 450-person capacity – and pays homage as a near-replica of the original 9:30 Club.

The $10 million venue comes courtesy of I.M.P., the independent promoter that owns and operates the 9:30 Club and The Anthem, and operates The Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The Foo Fighters will inaugurate The Atlantis on May 30, which is also the 9:30 Club’s anniversary. Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl, during a concert in 2021, kicked off speculation that I.M.P was planning to open a new venue, noting that, “We’ll probably be the band that opens that place, too, right?”

Other big names on the inaugural 44-show run roster: Franz Ferdinand, Barenaked Ladies, Third Eye Blind, Spoon, and Billy Idol.

To thwart scalpers, The Atlantis utilized a request system for the first 44 shows when they went on sale two weeks ago. Within four days of the announcement, fans had requested more than 520,000 tickets, many times more than the total 19,800 available. All tickets have been allocated; fans who were unable to snag tickets can attempt to do so in May, when a fan-to-fan ticket exchange opens.

While I.M.P. oversees multiple larger venues, “We’ve been doing our smallest shows in other peoples’ venues for too many years now,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. “We needed a place that’s ours. This can be the most exciting step in an artist’s career.”

The 9:30 Club holds 1,200 people, while The Anthem has space for up to 6,000.

“This will be where we help introduce new artists to the world… our smallest venue will be treated as important, if not more, than our bigger venues. If the stories are told right, both the artists and the fans begin their hopefully longterm relationship. Its stage will support bourgeoning artists and the legends of tomorrow,” Hurwitz said. Hurwitz and the team developed a tagline for the new venue: The Atlantis, Where Music Begins.

Hurwitz got his start at the original 9:30 Club, originally located at 930 F St., N.W. He was an independent booker of the club for the first six years and then he bought it, and managed the move from its original location to its current location in 1996. The venue first opened in 1980.

Audrey Fix Schaefer, I.M.P. communications director, provides further insight. “We were missing small venues in our umbrella. Big acts don’t start in stadiums. We need a place for emerging artists and for the community to discover new acts. The Atlantis can help new artists grow.”

While design elements are still coming into focus, Schaefer says that the space will be intimate, with almost no separation between the artist and the crowd. “There will be energy on both sides of the stage,” she says.

Although The Atlantis is set to be a replica of the original 9:30, I.M.P. has spared no expense. Schaefer notes that the sound and light systems use the latest available technologies, similar to next door at the current 9:30 Club.

The Atlantis takes over the footprint of now-closed Satellite Room. The venue will have at least two bars flanking the stage; cocktails but no food will be available.

Schaefer notes that since its early days, 9:30 Club and I.M.P. “has always been a place where people are welcome. People come and feel safe with us.” 9:30 Club has hosted several LGBTQ Pride parties, the BENT dance party series, and other events for LGBTQ patrons. Particular acts of note during the kickoff run include Tegan & Sarah and Tove Lo.

The Washington Blade was a neighbor to the 9:30 Club at its original F Street location back in the 1980s. Despite their proximity, noise wasn’t an issue for on deadline nights, when Blade staff worked late hours.

“We would of course work later hours back then,” said Phil Rockstroh, a longtime Blade staffer, in a 2016 Blade interview. “Everything was typeset and done by hand without computers and fax machines so getting through deadlines was much more time consuming.”

Rockstroh said the noise wasn’t a distraction.

“It wasn’t too bad as older buildings were constructed more solidly,” Rockstroh said. “There was only one entrance to the building and you entered so far to the elevator that went up to the other floors and then continued down the hall to the entrance to the 9:30 Club. Frequently at night if I was coming or going, there were people spilling out the doors.”

“The Blade has always had a friendly relationship with the 9:30 Club,” he added.

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Music & Concerts

National Philharmonic to perform classical, contemporary works

Violinist Melissa White returns



The National Philharmonic will host “Beethoven’s 7th” on Saturday, April 15 at 8 p.m. at Strathmore.

Past and present will collide in this performance of contemporary works and classical masterpieces. Maestro Piotr Gajewski will direct Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem for Unity for Orchestra” Violinist Melissa White will also return to the Philharmonic to perform Florence Price’s sweeping, melodic “Violin Concerto No. 2.”

Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased on the Philharmonic’s website.

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Music & Concerts

Bruce & Janet & John Legend, oh my!

Slew of iconic acts hitting the road after pandemic cancellations



Janet Jackson is among the iconic acts touring this spring.

Pop and rock icons are releasing their pent-up pandemic frustrations by mounting huge tours this spring and summer. After three years of canceled and postponed shows, everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Janet Jackson is hitting the road at long last. But save your coins because the TicketMaster algorithms are driving ticket prices to astronomical highs. Here are a few highlights from D.C.-area venues this spring. Although some of the iconic acts aren’t coming until summer — Beyonce, Madonna, Pink — several others are hitting the road this spring.

Betty Who plays March 10; Keyshia Cole headlines the All Black Extravaganza 20 Year Anniversary tour on March 18; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come to town on May 3; Seal brings his world tour to town on May 10; and the beloved Pixies are back on the road with a new North American tour stopping here on June 10.

9:30 CLUB
Don’t miss Gimme Gimme Disco, an Abba dance party on March 18; Inzo arrives on March 31, followed by Bent on April 1; Ruston Kelly brings his The Weakness tour on April 17 along with Purr; The New Pornographers show on May 19 is sold out but there are tickets available for the May 20 show; The Walkmen have added a fourth show on May 23 because the other three shows are sold our;

Living legend Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are back with a vengeance, playing one of four area shows on March 27. (They’re in Baltimore the night before.) If you missed out this time, don’t worry, Bruce is playing Nats Park in September as well as at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. April 1 brings the R&B Music Experience, including Xscape, Monica, Tamar Braxton, and 112. Blink-182 comes to town on May 23. And this summer watch for Sam Smith to continue his hot streak, bringing his “Gloria” tour to town on Aug.4.

Janet Jackson makes her highly anticipated return to the stage this spring, arriving in our area on May 6 along with guest Ludacris. The LGBTQ ally and icon has promised new music on her upcoming “Together Again Tour,” which follows the pandemic-related cancellation of her “Black Diamond Tour.” Jackson also plays Baltimore’s newly renovated CFG Bank Arena on May 13.

John Legend plays two nights at Wolf Trap on June 2 and 3; Charlie Puth follows on June 4. Wolf Trap also hosts the Indigo Girls on June 7 just in time for Pride month. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Smithereens at the Birchmere on March 17. Fans of ‘80s alternative will be lined up for the Church also at the Birchmere at April 4, followed by Suzanne Vega on April 26. Amy Grant returns to the stage this spring and plays the Birchmere on May 2. Echostage plays host to a slew of buzz worthy shows this spring, including Ella Mai on April 8 and Fisher on May 12.

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