Brandi Carlile’s ‘Life-Changing, Dream-Realizing’ Ryman Residency: 5 Reasons Not to Miss It
On Tuesday night (Jan. 14), Brandi Carlile delivered the first of six sold-out shows at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, offering up a performance that was by turns electrifying, soulful and meditative -- but always, as the singer told the crowd, "healing."
Carlile is a cathartic performer. When she sings, it sounds effortless, like she's simply unhooking her rib cage and letting her heart and soul pour out onto the stage. At the set list's most soaring points, she threw her head back and howled, stomping the stage's floorboards in time with her bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Or else, she looked behind her, head banging along with drummer Chris Powell. On that particular night, the singer explained between songs, she needed the catharsis as much as anyone in the audience did.
"I recently lost my voice -- really, lost my voice -- for the first time in my career," Carlile said, explaining that she was put on vocal rest for eight weeks leading right up to Tuesday night's show. It was the first time she'd gone that long without singing since she was about nine years old. She'd been nervous to get on the stage, but as she explained, "the Ryman heals people."
Carlile certainly did seem healed during her 16-song set, and a rapt crowd was ready to cheer her through her nerves about returning to the stage.
"What a magical night," she beamed. "Here at the Mother Church, the legendary Ryman, the place of my dreams, the mothership. The place from whence it all came. This is the beginning of six nights here at the Ryman. Six life-changing, dream-realizing nights."
In between songs, Carlile also took time to reflect on her long relationship with the band she called her "family," and in particular, her story with the Hanseroth twins. They met two decades ago on the streets of Seattle, and, the singer said, she had the honor of introducing the two musicians to not only country music, but roots music in general.
Through they knew pretty quickly that they loved making music together, Carlile said that the trio never would have guessed that they'd someday be selling out the Ryman for six straight nights. "Some things have to be seen to be believed, and some things need to be believed to be seen, and this is one of those things," she said.
Five more shows lie ahead for Carlile, her fan and the Ryman. Read on as The Boot counts through five of the show's most breathtaking moments.
Kim Richey Came Out for an Encore -- and a Full Circle Moment
As concert-goers filed into the Ryman on Tuesday before Carlile's set, roots singer-songwriter Kim Richey played a slim but satisfying opening set, backed solely by her acoustic guitar. Though many audience members were using the time to get snacks and merchandise and settle into their seats, a sizable faction of the audience was trained on Richey's performance, and the singer even remarked at how interactive the crowd was.
At the end of the night, Carlile brought Richey out to join her for an encore performance of Richey's "A Place Called Home." Throughout the night, the headliner had been surrounded with bandmates that were her family, and it quickly became clear that she and Richey have a longstanding relationship, too. When Carlile first signed a record deal, she wrote letters to Richey, who'd been an idol of hers ever since she was a teenager. In fact, Carlile attributes a particular quality of her voice -- a slow, wavering vibrato -- to Richey's influence.
Richey is the first of an exciting lineup of special guests to join Carlile during her Ryman residency. Lucie Silvas, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna and Courtney Barnett are all also billed as a featured artists over the course of the six nights.
She Brought Out a Highwomen Tune
Before Carlile's Tuesday show, a good portion of the audience was likely looking up the tour calendars of her Highwomen bandmates -- Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby -- to see what the chances were of the supergroup making a surprise appearance. Sadly, no dice on night one of the Ryman residency, though Carlile hinted that she was hoping for a Highwomen moment during one of the six nights.
"Although they're not here tonight, my hope is that they make a cameo later in this residency," Carlile said. Still, she didn't leave Highwomen fans in the audience empty-handed: She performed "If She Ever Leaves Me," off the group's 2019 album, a song she describes as her "favorite gay country song."
Tanya Tucker Made a Surprise Appearance
In keeping with Carlile's theme of spending her first night of her Ryman residency with some of the artists who are her closest friends and inspirations, she invited Tanya Tucker to the stage for two songs in the middle of her set. The country legend contributed vocals to Carlile's 2012 song "That Wasn't Me" as well as the her own "Bring My Flowers Now," which she co-wrote with Carlile for 2019's While I'm Livin' (an album Carlile co-produced, and co-wrote several of the songs for along with the Hanseroth twins.)
The spirit of collaboration and mutual admiration was strong throughout the portion of the show that featured Tucker, who also injected plenty of her own undeniable personality. At one point, the iconic country singer wandered around the stage searching for a shot of tequila, causing the crowd to crack up over a story that Carlile was telling.
And Holy Cow, How About That Joni Mitchell Cover?!
Right after Carlile told the crowd about the eight-week stint of vocal rest she'd just been through, the singer celebrated being able to sing again by launching into one of the most vocally acrobatic songs of her set. It was a cover of Joni Mitchell's 1971 mainstay, "A Case of You." The song wowed the crowd, with Carlile in complete control of every note.
That wasn't the only high-octane cover of the evening: Carlile also performed a foot-stomping, equally skillful rendition of Elton John's "Madman Across the Water." A rousing crowd-pleaser, the song has appeared in Carlile's live sets before, but never shone so brilliantly as on the Ryman stage.
Her Show Tributed Country's Iconic Past and Led the Charge Toward its Future
Carlile's set was full of nods to country music's rich legacy, from the artists she honored to the way she introduced her breakthrough song, "The Story." Before launching into the song, Carlile reflected on how artists who get to the Grand Ole Opry always pay homage to the song that brought them to the mainstream, and to the iconic stage.
"They would say, when they would introduce somebody out [onstage] at the Opry, they would say, 'Son,' (or whoever...)" Carlile said, pausing for a laugh from the crowd. "'It's time to play the song that got you here.
"And then they gotta come out and play their hit, no matter how many years ago they wrote it or how long it's been out. Now, I'm not saying we ever had a hit with this song, because we didn't, but we're gonna play you the song that got us here," she continued, before launching into the opening chords of "The Story."
Even as she honored country's past, Carlile also looked ahead to where the genre's going. She brought her eclectic musical blend to the stage and celebrated queer country, too, commenting, "It's nice seeing the rainbow flag here at the Ryman." Carlile has always been a pioneer for progress in country music, but on the stage of the Mother Church of country music, her position at those front lines was particularly striking and poignant.
A champion for women, queer artists, artists of color and every other country artist and fan who finds themselves on the fringes of the genre's stereotypical identity, Carlile proved once again that country music is at its best and most potent when it is at its most all-encompassing. She brought her vision of love, healing and dang country music to the Ryman on Tuesday night. With five nights -- and a whole career -- still to go, Carlile is far from finished.
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