On Sunday evening, Brandi Carlile emerged from a year of relatable solitude to perform for a small, vaccinated audience at the legendary Ryman Auditorium. The concert was broadcast live from the heart of Nashville, and proceeds were collected throughout the night for various arts-based charities.
In her sincerest form, Carlile stepped onstage to kick off the night with “Hallelujah,” dressed vibrantly in a red shirt-and-slacks combo she later dubbed her “’80s Elton” look. The band joined soon after with a wordless transition into “Raise Hell,” a nostalgic track that brought together gospel and alt-country, blurring the boundaries with Carlile’s vicious howl and a loose, electric outro. “Wow, it feels good to do that again!” she beamed breathlessly as the live audience stood for pent-up applause.
She was flagged by Tim and Phil Hanseroth throughout the night, showcasing their three-part-harmony talents with the beautiful, subdued “The Eye.” Their voices laced together to work as instruments in service to the song. She promised she would try her hardest not to cry, but with a warm expression of appreciation, Carlile declared, “This is the best night in a year.”
Drummer Chris Powell had fun with the building progression of “Fulton County Jane Doe,” before settling down with a simple kick drum beat for “Have You Ever,” followed by Carlile’s soft fingerpicking. The Hanseroth brothers meshed with her airy voice on the chorus, which carries a wanderlust-inducing airiness, before ditching their strings for the vocal heaven that was “Cannonball.”
“Ain’t nothing harder than forgiving yourself,” Carlile spoke, before grimacing a bit, “Except, maybe, forgiving 2020.”
In addition to her red monochrome look for the night, Carlile paid a dedication to Elton with an orchestral rendition of “Madman Across the Water,” featuring cellist Josh Newman. The performance went from soft, drawn-out strings to rhythmic, blues melody and, finally, ended with Carlile and Tim’s adrenaline-producing electric outro.
A heartfelt monologue led to “A Mother,” a raw song crafted through maternal love. Inspired by her recent Grammy win, Carlile put on a special medley performance of songs that have inspired her “country-adjacent career.” But the surprise didn’t end there; joined by Monica Denise, the duet belted their hearts out for The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table.” Denise’s appearance was rich yet short, though Carlile cheekily hinted at a future collaboration, vaguely proclaiming: “We’re doing some things.” The singer’s love for her influences continued as she moved to the piano. Joni Mitchell may have written “A Case Of You,” but every line molded perfectly to Carlile’s chilling vocal instrument.
The moment that will live on in the Ryman Auditorium permanently came along the bridge of “Turpentine,” as Carlile divided the audience into three sections and instructed each to mimic a specific part of the trio’s three-part harmony. Within mere moments, the theater was filled with a choir and the soothing sound of Carlile’s voice, as she sang, “I know…I know we’re gonna be okay.”
She stood as a spoken word poet, reciting the lyrics of “Pride and Joy” as each instrument closed in one after the other—first strings, followed by percussion. An extended outro turned into a twin guitar duel between Carlile and Tim. Once more, she sat at the ivory keys for the somber “Party Of One,” before debuting the performance of “Carried Me With You,” off Carlile’s upcoming record.
In full-circle fashion, a night that began with “Hallelujah” inevitably closed with an acappella performance of “Amazing Grace.” Lydia Rogers from The Secret Sisters accompanied Carlile and the Hanseroth brothers for the sweet rendition, stealing every last bit of oxygen in the theater before the night’s end.
Even as the credits rolled on the virtual screen, one could feel themselves present at the Ryman, stood in the everlasting aura of Carlile’s raw, invigorating talent and a night of newfound faith. “The world’s gonna go back to how it was before,” Carlile predicted, “But maybe just a bit more grateful.”
Photo Credit: Boston Lynn Schulz