Very few artists earn the chance to perform at the Ryman Auditorium, and even fewer earn multiple nights. Not only did Brandi Carlile perform six nights in one week, she sold out all six shows. I got the chance to see her final show of the residency. Armed with special guests and musical surprises, Carlile was set for an unforgettable night that left me with a newfound sense of music-making inspiration.
Having been well aware of both Carlile’s and the twins’ (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) musical and vocal capabilities, nothing could’ve prepared for the magical combination of their talent and the Ryman’s acoustics. The fast-paced verses of “Hold Out Your Hand” bounced off the walls of The Mother Church, fighting to overpower the screaming crowds as everyone was immediately brought to their feet. Backed by an orchestral trio and a powerful rhythm section, Carlile captured the complexity and full sound of her studio recordings.
Carlile frequently monologued between songs, including humorous stories of her wife, Catherine, and her children, Evangeline and Elijah. Others were more meaningful, including a reflection on her path to success and its connection to the Ryman’s deep history in hosting the Grand Ole Opry. Carlile said:
“I’ve always been a big believer in playing what got you to where you are now, and growing up being inspired by the Opry, that’s what I’ve come to know… They’d always tell those new kids before they got on stage, ‘go out there and play what got you here.'”
As a result, we were blessed by all of Carlile’s most beloved tracks. “The Story”, “The Joke”, and “The Mother” all played out with incredible emotion and were received with cheers that shook the pews of the Ryman, as well as abundant harmonies to complement the already incredible talent onstage, because Nashville. (Turns out if Brandi Carlile wants to continue making hits, she just needs to title more songs The+Noun.)
My favorite moment came when the backing band left the stage, and Carlile and the twins came to the front of the stage for an unplugged rendition of “The Eye”. It gave me a reminder that Carlile and I, and everyone else, were sharing this space and experiencing it together. As the trio perfectly harmonized, I sat forward in my seat, taking in what I had come to realize as a special experience.
Then, things got crazy. Carlile covered “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell and honored her supergroup, The Highwomen, with “If She Ever Leaves Me”, which she referred to as “the gay one.” The first guest appeared, Australian artist Courtney Melba, who bravely opened the night with just her and her guitar. The duo covered Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free” near the end of the set.
Luckily for us, the “end” of the set was just the beginning of the excitement. The encore brought out more guests, including Nashville star Ruby Amanfu, as well as a three-woman choir, decked out in church robes and everything. The already-large-band-now-grown-larger band delivered powerful covers of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and the timeless Bonnie Tyler hit, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
To top off a five-song encore, Carlile led the audience in an impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace”. I’d be lying if I said that this moment didn’t pull at the heartstrings. Not only was it Carlile’s attempt to preserve the end of what truly must have been a historic week, but a reminder that music serves as a binding force for all walks of life. Regardless of lifestyle, beliefs, and the stories that united and divided those of us in the room that night, everyone came together for one last song to honor a legendary residency.
As a musician, the constant mental struggle of trying to justify a balancing act of school, work, life, and music and the intense desire to make it in a difficult and often closed-off industry is exhausting. I’d again be lying if I said that I hadn’t considered giving it up, just to make life a bit simpler and more manageable. But hearing Brandi Carlile’s stories and songs had me walking back into the cold, Nashville weather with a renewed purpose and inspiration. If I can ever perform and make someone feel like I felt by the end of that night, then all my struggles will have been worthwhile.