Brandi Carlile is everybody’s mother

Folk rock singer-songwriter created a family out of a crowd of strangers

brandi-carlile

Brandi Carlile's performance at the Sprint Pavilion last Friday was a beautiful experience, bridging people from all walks of life through the power of music.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Two cellos began the Brandi Carlile concert at Sprint Pavilion Friday on an otherwise simple stage — cobalt light shined down on them. The deep vibrato resonated throughout the crowd. A violin and French horn joined the duet. For a moment — if you closed your eyes and tuned out the cheering fans — you might assume you were venturing back into your childhood home, seeing that nothing had changed at all and every bit of nostalgia would wash down your back.

Carlile stepped out in a black jumpsuit and flowing gray sweater only for all of the lights to turn off and her strong voice to ring out over the crowd, “A love song was playing on the radio,” and everyone began to sing along. The primary focus of the night was to enjoy the music with each other, but more so to develop a sense of community founded in supporting one another. This idea tied together the fact that the concert was a benefit for the Charlottesville Free Clinic and that Carlile’s latest album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” focuses on forgiveness and forging relationships in hard times.

Carlile transitioned seamlessly between soulful folk tunes like “The Mother” with her head bowed low and close to the microphone, and power ballads like “Raise Hell” where she stood with legs spread and hands outstretched. Between songs, Carlile told little stories about her wife and two daughters. She spoke in detail about learning how to be a mother to her first born, Evangeline, and leaving her wife on their wedding anniversary to come play a concert in Charlottesville. 

Carlile managed to maintain a balance between rockstar and loving mother throughout the entire set. Before singing “The Mother,” the beautiful love letter to motherhood, she commented on not feeling any connection to her newborn. 

“If more people were honest about that I wouldn’t have Googled ‘sociopath,’” she said. After the crowd laughed, she said, “I started to earn her love. This is about my Evangeline and everyone’s Evangeline.”

With such command and power in her voice, it was impossible to deny the intensity with which Carlile believed her own message. Although her anecdotes were mostly centered around her own life, Carlile was hardly self-centered. If anything she was more focused on bringing attention to the details in our own community — “I am so happy to be here tonight,” she said. “What an amazing town you always are. Charlottesville gives me hope for the rest of the country in a lot of ways.” 

Not only did a compliment from Carlile feel like the highest form of praise, but she even went a step further and got a new purple guitar from Rockbridge Guitar Company — taking a piece of Charlottesville with her into every other town she tours.

In another particularly powerful moment of community building, Carlile introduced the song “Fulton County Jane Doe,” off “By the Way, I Forgive You.” Carlile told an anecdote about an unidentified body found in Fulton County, Ga. What was a sad story describing a woman with no name and no family, was recreated as a family by Carlile and her band — they gave Fulton County Jane Doe a memory and impressed it upon an entire crowd of people. “If she’s gonna leave this world without a name, she’s sure as hell gonna leave it with a song,” Carlile said. Every moment that could have felt lonely, every would-be-cautionary tale, Carlile turned into a story about how “literally everybody is somebody else’s baby.” 

Whether or not Carlile could be described as a stereotypical maternal figure is up for debate, but with a cathartic song for every emotion and a story to match, it’s hard to deny how comfortable Carlile can make her audience feel. If “everybody is somebody else’s baby,” then Carlile is everyone’s incredibly empathetic mother. Every song Carlile performed seemed to take you by the hand and tell you that everything was going to be all right, and if not — you forgive the world and keep moving.

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