(this post was written on june 13, last week before i left town, took a little time to get posted)
tonight was the night that lori mckenna
opened for faith hill and tim mcgraw's soul2soul tour at the rose garden arena in portland. i've known a lot of musicians, but this was the first time someone i know played an arena and put me (plus one) on the guest list. the other cool part is that lori's side guy for this tour is mark erelli, another artist i have known and promoted for years (a very sweet guy whose first baby is due next month).
lori is one of the artists who was managed by gabe unger the year i worked for him in boston, 1999-2000. that was where i first learned a few things about the music business. at the time, gabe managed lori, erin mckeown, jess klein, rose polenzani, meghan toohey, and voices on the verge. i helped out in the office and at shows, and sometimes did a little road management on the side. it was a very educational year, though i was dying to leave boston (and i did move to missoula at the end of it). now, gabe manages mark erelli, anais mitchell, and shannon mcnally.
anyway, i got to know lori a bit that year, and i always adored her music. she never toured much because she had three kids. now she has five (ages 3 to 18). when she was "discovered" by faith hill a few years ago, and faith recorded several of her songs, took her on the oprah show
with her, and then lori got signed to warner brothers, i was so happy for lori. couldn't think of a more deserving person, though i was a little worried about what nashville and the country music scene would do to her music (which i don't think she or anyone else ever considered country before faith hill got hold of it).
i bring briel as my guest. she’s been a fan of lori since i loaned her a cd years ago when we both lived in missoula. we find our seats and there in the seats next to us are terry woodburn, his wife laurie, and their lovely daughter, emma. cool. :)
the last time i was at the rose garden was for the dixie chicks, but this time we have fourth row seats and can actually see the artists faces without a big screen. lori comes out in an adorable outfit, jeans, babydoll shirt and perfect layered hair. she is flanked by mark on acoustic guitar and another guy, michael davey, playing electric. they play six songs. mostly from her new album (“unglamorous”, out august 14th on warner brothers, produced by tim mcgraw), and one, stealing kisses, from her last album that was recorded by faith. before she plays it she tells the audience she wants to play a little game. "i'll play a few bars of the song, and then you pretend you know the song and cheer like crazy. ok? i know none of you know my songs, but just play along." seems to me she's got the audience in the palm of her hand. in the few stadium shows i've been to before in my life (melissa etheridge, U2, and the dixie chicks), i do not recall the crowd paying much attention the openers at all. but that is clearly not the case here. lori starts into her song, and the audience realizes they do
know the song, and they go crazy. she grins at the 20,000 people cheering for her and belts out the song. i was stealing kisses from a boy / now i'm begging affection from a man / in my house dress don't you know who i am / standing in your kitchen.
hard to tell for sure, but i think lori is well-received and will make new fans here. i hear a woman outside afterwards talking about how great she was.
when lori is done and a swat team of techies has rearranged the set, the lights go down and the crowd is insane with anticipation. faith rises from a small round platform in the floor. she's wearing tight jeans and a long black cape with all kinds of rhinestones on it. the crowd roars in appreciation. then tim rises from a platform at the opposite end of the stage, he's wearing tighter jeans, a shirt with the top buttons open, and a black cowboy hat. the loudest noise i have ever heard from an audience fills the air, some combination of screaming and swooning. tim and faith sing a duet and then tim disappears and faith does a long solo set (well, solo with her 10-piece band, which i note includes a woman drummer). she works the crowd like nothing i've ever seen, making sure they get to see her at all angles, pumping her fists in the air. they scream and reach out to touch her as she struts across the stage. i miss most of her set because i'm out in the lobby with terry & family, talking to mark (briel is transfixed by the spectacle, she stays) . so interesting to hear his take on this experience. all the buses, the great catering, lori's kids. hopefully mark will come back to portland sometime next year...
i go back in for some of tim's set, but its so loud i can't take it after a while. there's a guy in front of us in an oversized baseball jersey with “mcgraw” on the back, cheering with his hands in the air, one holding a beer. the girls in the other direction, all in cowboy hats and tight shirts, are singing along to every word. women closer to the stage are waving desperately at tim, hoping for an acknowledgment. holding out their hands to him. when he's done with his water bottle, he throws it into the crowd like he's performing the most selfless generous act. some lucky fan can cherish it forever. oh my god, tim mcgraw's saliva!
later i see him throw other things, some kind of trash, with the same flourish. a little disturbing. what have we created with this celebrity machine?
i leave wondering what country music is. i never thought it was lori. i did think it was faith and tim, but then i didn't hear anything twangy from anyone all night. it was rock music with cowboy hats. maybe it's more about what you wear and who you hang out with. maybe that's true in a lot of genres.
whatever kind of music lori makes, call it folk, pop, country, i still love it. and i certainly appreciate the opportunity to see a bit outside my usual reality. though i‘ve had enough tight jeans and stadiums for a long while.
(all pictures by terry woodburn. thanks tdub!)