Part of the joy of seeing Mary Chapin Carpenter live is getting the chance to hear the stories behind the stories in her songs. And last night at Trinity Cathedral, there was no shortage of those tales and anecdotes from Carpenter. There was a good amount of humor — she relayed the recent experience of playing a show in South Carolina. “I was feeling frisky and asked the audience if they had any questions,” she told the packed house. One woman certainly did — she wanted to know if Carpenter thought there were aliens living life among us. The singer-songwriter was 50/50 on the possibilities, saying that it seemed unlikely that any of us would be here long enough to find out, while later joking that, “Alien life — it’s possible!” You can see a slideshow of the concert here
Other moments were more somber and illuminating — Carpenter spoke of the rough period of time that had led up to her 2012 album Ashes and Roses.
During that time, she faced serious illness, the loss of her father and the end of a marriage. She threw herself into work and found herself traveling to and from the U.K. fairly frequently. It was a weary journey filled with long plane rides, conversations with strangers who became friends and then the wait on the other side of each flight as paperwork was verified for each person to allow their entry.
The experience left her with a song inspired by those travels, “Transcendental Reunion,” and the important realization that, “The hard things that we go through, these are the things that open us up to a new relationship with the world.”
Throughout the night within the majestic Trinity surroundings, Carpenter would open herself up to share moments like that with the audience again and again. Lit only with minimal amounts of lighting and candles, she let the spirits within the room and the songs took care of the rest. “This is such a special place to be able to present music because of the fellowship that is present here,” she told the audience, while joking that “my father would be so happy to finally see me here in church.”
Working in the acoustic trio format — backed only by pianist Jon Carroll and guitarist John Doyle, might have been a “polar opposite” to the orchestral shows that she had done the previous year, but Carpenter proved that less was indeed more and a lot of times all you really need is just a couple of friends to share the stage and play your songs.
She would expand that concept slightly towards the end of the show, inviting members of the acoustic-based Irish music band Lunasa, who had played a stirring 40-minute opening set of their own earlier, back to the stage for spirited versions of some of the tracks from the more country-leaning side of her catalog, including a pair of fan favorites — “The Hard Way” and “I Take My Chances” from her 1992 Come On Come On
album and an energetic two-song encore of additional crowd-pleasers — “I Feel Lucky” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” that brought the hoots and hollers from the audience to an audible level.
“We’ve almost burnt the candles down — I like that,” Carpenter told the audience as the night came to a close. And after nearly two hours of soul-stirring music, it was a feeling that was without a doubt, mutually satisfying.
The Cathedral Concerts series will wrap up the first half of its season next week with concerts from Marc Cohn and Bruce Hornsby and after a short summer break, shows are set to resume in the fall. Without question, the inaugural season of concerts from Carpenter and other artists, including ‘80s pop singer-songwriter Howard Jones, the Airborne Toxic Event and Ohio neighbors Red Wanting Blue, has delivered a unique entertainment experience for live music fans.
The beautiful surroundings and natural acoustics of Trinity Cathedral really provide the perfect setting for a special show and it’s also an environment that has been visibly inspiring for the artists who have played there. One can hope that this is only the beginning of a new Cleveland musical tradition that will continue for many years to come.