Connect with us

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

Musical icons and newer stars to rock D.C. this spring

Brandi Carlile, Bad Bunny, Nicki Minaj, and more headed our way



Brandi Carlile plays the Anthem this month.

Bands and solo artists of all different genres are visiting D.C. this spring. Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will team up to perform at the Wolf Trap in June, and girl in red will play at the Anthem in April. Some artists and bands aren’t paying a visit until the summer, like Janet Jackson and Usher, but there are still plenty of acts to see as the weather warms up. 


Brandi Carlile plays at the Anthem on March 21; Arlo Parks will perform at 9:30 Club on March 23; Girlschool will take the stage at Blackcat on March 28.


Nicki Minaj stops in D.C. at Capital One Arena as part of her North American tour on April 1; Bad Bunny plays at Capital One Arena on April 9 as part of his Most Wanted tour; girl in red performs at the Anthem on April 20 and 21; Brandy Clark plays at the Birchmere on April 25; Laufey comes to town to play at the Anthem on April 25 and 26. 


Belle and Sebastian play at the Anthem on May 2; Chastity Belt performs at Blackcat on May 4; Madeleine Peyroux stops at the Birchmere on May 5; The Decemberists play at the Anthem on May 10; the rock band Mannequin Pussy performs at the Atlantis on May 17 and 18; Hozier plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 17 as part of the Unreal Unearth tour. 


Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will sing soulful melodies at Wolf Trap on June 8; Joe Jackson performs at the Lincoln Theatre on June 10; the Pixies and Modest Mouse are teaming up to play at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 14; Maggie Rogers plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 16 as part of The Don’t Forget Me tour; Brittany Howard headlines the Out & About Festival at Wolf Trap on June 22; Sarah McLachlan plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 27; Alanis Morissette performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 29 and 30

Continue Reading

Music & Concerts

Grammys: Queer women and their sisters took down the house

Taylor Swift won Album of the Year



When the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, her answer was simple: Nine. She stated: “I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” RBG did not attend the Grammy’s last night, but her spirit sure did. Women, at long last, dominated, ruled and killed the night.

Cher, in song a decade ago, declared that “this is a woman’s world,” but there was little evidence that was true, Grammy, and entertainment awards, speaking. In 2018, the Grammys were heavily criticized for lack of female representation across all categories and organizers’ response was for women to “step up.”

Be careful what you wish for boys.

The biggest star of the 2024 Grammys was the collective power of women. They made history, they claimed legacy and they danced and lip sang to each other’s work. Standing victorious was Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, SZA (the most nominated person of the year), Lainey Wilson, Karol G, boygenius, Kylie Minogue and Victoria Monét. Oh, yes, and powerhouse Taylor Swift, the superstar from whom Fox News cowers in fear, made history to become the first performer of any gender to win four Best Album of the Year trophies.

In the throng of these powerful women stand a number of both LGBTQ advocates and queer identifying artists. Cyrus has identified as pansexual, SZA has said lesbian rumors “ain’t wrong,” Phoebe Bridgers (winner of four trophies during the night, most of any artist) is lesbian, Monét is bi and Eilish likes women but doesn’t want to talk about it. Plus, ask any queer person about Swift or Minogue and you are likely to get a love-gush.

Women power was not just owned by the lady award winners. There were the ladies and then there were the Legends. The first Legend to appear was a surprise. Country singer Luke Combs has a cross-generational hit this year with a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” When originally released, the song was embraced as a lesbian anthem. When performing “Fast Car,” surprise, there was Chapman herself, singing the duet with Combs. The rendition was stunning, sentimental and historic.

Chapman, like many of the night’s female dignitaries, has not been public with her sexuality. Author Alice Walker has spoken of the two of them being lovers, however.

The legend among legends of the night, however, was the one and only Joni Mitchell. Not gay herself, she embodies the concept of an LGBTQ icon, and was accompanied by the very out Brandi Carlile on stage. On her website, Mitchell’s statement to the LGBTQ community reads, “The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.”

Mitchell performed her longtime classic “Both Sides Now.” The emotion, insight and delivery from the now 80-year old artist, survivor of an aneurism, was nothing short of profound. (To fully appreciate the nuance time can bring, check out the YouTube video of a Swift lookalike Mitchell singing the same song to Mama Cass and Mary Travers in 1969.) In this latest rendition, Mitchell clearly had an impact on Meryl Streep who was sitting in the audience. Talk about the arc of female talent and power.

That arc extended from a today’s lady, Cyrus, to legend Celine Dion as well. Cyrus declared Dion as one of her icons and inspirations early in the evening. Dion appeared, graceful and looking healthy, to present the final, and historic, award of the night at the end of the show.

Legends did not even need to be living to have had an effect on the night. Tributes to Tina Turner and Sinead O’Conner by Oprah, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor and Annie Lennox respectively, proved that not even death could stop these women. As Lennox has musically and famously put it, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.”

Even the content of performances by today’s legends-in-the-making spoke to feminine power. Eilish was honored for, and performed “What Was I Made For?,” a haunting and searching song that speaks to the soul of womanhood and redefinition in today’s fight for gender rights and expression, while Dua Lipa laid down the gauntlet for mind blowing performance with her rendition of “Houdini” at the top of the show, Cyrus asserted the power of her anthem “Flowers” and pretty much stole the show.

Cyrus had not performed the song on television before, and only three times publicly. She declared in her intro that she was thrilled over the business numbers the song garnered, but she refused to let them define her. As she sang the hit, she scolded the audience, “you guys act like you don’t know the words to this song.” Soon the woman power of the room was singing along with her, from Swift to Oprah.

They can buy themselves flowers from now on. They don’t need anyone else. Cyrus made that point with the mic drop to cap all mic drops, “And I just won my first Grammy!” she declared as she danced off stage.

Even the squirmiest moment of the night still did not diminish the light of women power, and in fact, underscored it. During his acceptance of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Jay-Z had a bone to pick with the Grammy voters. He called out the irony that his wife Beyoncé had won more Grammys than any other human, but had never won the Best Album of the Year. Yeah, what’s with that?

But then, it brought additional context ultimately to the fact that the winner of the most Grammys individually … is a woman. And to the fact that the winner of the most Best Album of the Year awards … is a woman.

Hopefully this was the night that the Grammys “got it.” Women are the epicenter of The Creative Force.

Will the other entertainment awards get it soon as well? We can hope.

Most importantly, in a political world where women’s healthcare is under siege. Will the American voters get it?

A little known band named Little Mix put it this way in their 2019 song “A Woman’s World.”

“If you can’t see that it’s gotta change
Only want the body but not the brains
If you really think that’s the way it works
You ain’t lived in a woman’s world

Just look at how far that we’ve got
And don’t think that we’ll ever stop…”

From Grammy’s mouth to the world’s ear.

Continue Reading

Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson returning to D.C, Baltimore

‘Together Again Tour’ comes to Capital One Arena, CFG Bank Arena



Janet Jackson is coming back to D.C. this summer.

Pop icon Janet Jackson announced this week an extension of her 2023 “Together Again Tour.” A new leg of the tour will bring Jackson back to the area for two shows, one at D.C.’s Capital One Arena on Friday, July 12 and another at Baltimore’s CFG Bank Arena on Saturday, July 13.  

Tickets are on sale now via TicketMaster. LiveNation announced the 2023 leg of the tour consisted of 36 shows, each of which was sold out. The 2024 leg has 35 stops planned so far; R&B star Nelly will open for Jackson on the new leg. 

Jackson made the tour announcement Tuesday on social media: “Hey u guys! By popular demand, we’re bringing the Together Again Tour back to North America this summer with special guest Nelly! It’ll be so much fun!”

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade