On stage, Alice Clair makes sense. A Nelson County native and a Miller Arts scholar, Clair writes all her music, plays the guitar and the mandolin and does it all as a full-time student. She makes sense making music — her album “Loop”, released February 25, is a tour guide of a young musician’s life as woman and a Virginian but mostly as a person with a story.
A rising anthem — one that emulates a Lucinda Williams cover — opened the set on March 29 but it was better than that — it was Clair’s final product from a project she’d been envisioning for years. She is a master musician, songwriter and guitar player on stage in a black jumpsuit with a grin on her face and a certainty for cultivating a fervor in her audience that builds beyond any words. She directed her words towards the sound people in the back of the Southern after the first song asking for more mic on her electric, or the fiddle or a little more sound on her own voice. The clarity for what was needed wasn’t driven by a selfishness to have the best possible show for her own sake but rather by her own artistic belief in giving to her listeners.
“I could actually use some more electric.” After she made this request, the entire place erupted. They couldn’t wait to hear what Clair’s sound was after even more refinement, even more clarity. “What matters is what’s on your end guys!” she said.
The listener’s point of view does matter. Clair herself is a constant listener, and it’s evident in her music. She listens to the people playing around her, respects them, loves them and introduces them multiple times by thanking them profusely— “It’s because of you here in the audience and the people behind me that this was able to happen.”
These accompanists surrounding her represented every age, every moment in this young artists’ career. She wanted all of it here with her for this defining moment. Every addition intended to make the experience greater truly did — every pluck on the mandolin, every solidified, grounding bassline and every throaty note from her mouth. Her vocals should not be understated. Clair has a driving voice, and you trust it behind the wheel.
The presence and atmosphere of this artist and her music could be seen on stage as a dominating swell of Clair picking up people and letting them have their go at adding to her sound — leading to collaboration manifested through features on her songs. The combination of people from Nelson County, from the University and from anywhere else is what gives “Loop” such a statement.
“Let’s change things up,” Clair said before she began a country song heavy on the fiddle and loose on the guitar.
“It was fun to put a diverse array of songs on my album, I couldn’t help it.” She went from rock to folk to slow folk to folk rock to country and back to rock without a moment of hesitation.
The fiddle player performing with Clair is the head of the drama department, a girl in the audience notes. The banjo player’s fingers began to bleed after his first song on stage — someone had to wrap his hand in a towel while Clair was speaking to him about trying to take a break. Although there was blood dripping down the front of his banjo, he remained on stage only grimacing slightly. This moment showed how much these people wanted to play Clair’s music with her.
“Max really doesn’t want to miss the next song!” Clair said. The audience was only shocked for a moment — they were more excited about how real it was and how funny and lighthearted Clair made it.
“That’s the true Alice Clair show!” she joked, as if someone bleeding on stage from playing so hard was a regular occurance.
Although it is hard to remark on the appearance of a female artist without it feeling reminiscent of most of music journalism about women, Clair’s clothing was inherently apart of this experience she cultivated for her audience. Her black jumpsuit was classic and mature, but most importantly it demonstrated her commitment to the utilitarian power of a outfit typical of a blue-collar, functional uniform.
“I no longer have a desert in my mouth.” Clair said after she needed water during her set. It made everyone giggle a little because if she was uncomfortable, no one could tell. It wasn’t time to fool the audience. She wasn’t going to lie. Her commentary is all feelings and no frills.
In “Take Me to the Place,” one the most bluegrass-inspired pieces, she yearns for someone to take her to the place with a motive of spiritual fervor. The song also intervenes with getting older with an moment that’s joyful, somber and soulful.
“But I’ve come so far in my life / Things come to my surprise / Yesterdays and birthday cakes / Pass before my eyes.”
Alice Clair takes us to the place— a place for lingering in a moment of internal wonder. A place where music sounds homemade and close to a young, female musician’s soul.