Thursday night at Wolf Trap was exactly what a perfect summer night looks like-- warm weather, a serene setting, and beautiful, beautiful music. From start to finish, Brandi Carlile, Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, and The Lumineers put on show that had the crowd singing along, dancing, and at times, sitting spell-bound.
The evening opened at exactly 7:00pm (Wolf Trap runs a tight ship) with The Lumineers. It’s always fun to watch a crowd discover a new band. People chatted and found their seats through the opening songs of “Submarines” and “I Ain’t Nobody’s Problem But My Own,” but by the time the Denver-based band started “Classy Girls,” the crowd had warmed up, tapping their toes, intrigued to hear more. As they closed up the catchy “Flowers in Your Hair,” lead singer Wesley Schultz thanked the crowd, saying that even with all the seats that were yet to be filled by latecomers, this was the largest crowd to whom the band had ever played.
Unlike their show at Jammin’ Java in April, which was at a small venue filled with fans who already knew all the words to their songs, this time, The Lumineers had to work for it a bit more. They used their hit song “Ho Hey” mid-set to pull people in, and later drummer Jeremiah Fraites stood up during “The Candidate,” encouraging to people to clap along.
Before their last song of the night, “Stubborn Love,” The Lumineers taught the audience the words to the chorus so they’d be prepared to sing along. After a weak practice round, Schultz chided, “I know we’re not Josh Ritter, and I know we’re not Brandi Carlile but if you could help us out a little bit more during the real song, we’d appreciate it.” Emulating the energy coming from the stage, the crowd joined in, enthusiastically singing, “Keep your head up, keep your love!” to close out the set.
Josh Ritter next took the stage with the Royal City Band. He went straight into “Good Man,” the full band bringing the oft-acoustic song to life. As he closed “Wolves,” he dropped to his knees, howling wildly into the night. He then got up and said hello to the crowd, referencing the perfect evening, and dedicating his next song, “Girl in the War,” to all of the women serving abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan. The song was somber, but beautiful, the crowd moved by lyrics such as, “I’ve got a girl in the war, Paul, the only thing I know to do is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through.”
Josh Ritter further demonstrated his ability to evoke emotion through his songwriting by playing “The Temptation of Adam.” The song tells the story of romance found in a nuclear missile silo when the woman charged with keeping the silo clean reluctantly falls for the man with the man keeping his “thumb above the button.” The imagery of their love is intertwined with themes of war, as he contemplates total annihilation rather than facing the idea that their relationship may not survive on the surface.
In addition to his songwriting, Josh Ritter has come to be known as being a darling heartthrob, relentlessly cheerful, and effusively happy during his live shows. Thursday night was no different. After these quieter songs, he transitioned into a more up-tempo show, pausing to do a verse from the Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” in the middle of a rocking “Harrisburg.” He next played an uber-romantic “Kathleen,” really hamming it up mid-song by blowing a kiss to the crowd during a dramatic pause. Ritter ended his set on “To the Dogs or Whoever,” the house lights coming on to highlight the audience as they clapped and sang along, familiar with the hit song.
By the time Brandi Carlile took the stage, it was dark, her backdrop featuring small lights to simulate fireflies on a summer night. She raised drumsticks high above her head, beating down on a drum before switching to guitar to to play “Raise Hell.” As early as the second song, “Dreams,” people spontaneously rose to their feet to cheer and sing.
Carlile spoke graciously about performing at Wolf Trap saying that she’s been dreaming of it since she was a teenager. She then played “What Can I Say,” daintily dancing with the fiddle player before taking a curtsey.
She described how close she is to Bear Creek Studios of Washington, after which her latest album is named. Tim Hanseroth, part of Bear Creek, is married to Carlile’s sister, and the two recently had a child. The band played a slew of songs off this album, many of them having a bit more of a country feel than Carlile’s previous albums. She admitted to this before playing, “Keep Your Heart Young,” also explaining that the song is also unusual for her because it seems so boyish, but she realized that she “was just that naughty as a kid.”
Sitting down at the grand piano, Carlile claimed, “I have such reverence for over the top drama in music and it will never go away.” She illustrated the point by playing a few bars from Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and explaining that many of her already-dramatic songs were made more so when she played with an orchestra for Live at Benaryoga Hall with the Seattle Symphony.
And it’s true. Brandi Carlile’s music has the power to rock your face off while simultaneously bringing you to tears. This was most evident when she played, “The Story,” a song which has been featured in practically every prime-time TV drama in the past year. The song started off soft, ended with roaring guitar solos, the crowd standing up and experiencing catharsis together.
To further prove that she rocked, Carlile did a stellar cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” again starting at the piano before switching to guitar. The cover was spot on, the lights flashing to simulate a stadium rock show in the 70s. For a less unusual cover, Carlile asked Josh Ritter to join her on Kris Kristopherson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” saying, “Do you want to be Kris or Johnny,” referencing Kristopherson’s fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash who had also covered the song.
Carlile ended the night by giving away her Gretsch guitar to a nine year old boy in the audience, making him promise him to play it. Carlile actively supports many charities, including Little Kids Rock, which brings music to disadvantaged public schools. The last song was “That Wasn’t Me,” the audience standing up afterwards to give Carlile a well-deserved standing ovation and bring a close to a beautiful summer night of rock and roll.
Never EVER stop smiling (click below) to check out the rest of Joy's killer shots from the show!
2. I Ain’t Nobody’s Problem
But My Own
3. Classy Girls
4. Dead Sea
5. Flowers In Your Hair
6. Ho Hey
7. Big Parade
8. Slow It Down
9. Stubborn Love
1. Good Man
4. Girl in the War
5. New Lover
6. Temptation of Adam
7. Hello Starling
(with “Happiness is a Warm Gun” interlude)
11. Change of Time
12. To the Dogs or Whoever
1. Raise Hell
3. What Can I Say?
4. Hard Way Home
5. Before it Breaks
7. Keep Your Heart Young
8. A Promise to Keep
9. Looking Out
10. Bohemian Rhapsody
12. Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down
13. The Story
14. Pride and Joy
15. That Wasn’t Me