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Brandi Carlile Mesmerizes in First of Six Sold Out Nashville Shows

Here are five things we loved about the first night of Carlile's 2020 Ryman Auditorium residency.

Written by Chris Parton
Brandi Carlile Mesmerizes in First of Six Sold Out Nashville Shows
Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

If you’re a country fan who’s still not familiar with Brandi Carlile, do yourself a favor and get acquainted. The Seattle-based singer-songwriter delivered a mesmerizing and captivating night of emotional highs in Nashville on Tuesday (January 14), the first in a six night stand of sold out shows at the famed Ryman Auditorium.

Long cherished in American roots circles, Carlile is coming off a massive 2019 which saw her By the Way, I Forgive You album win a Grammy, her co-production of Tanya Tucker’s acclaimed comeback album, While I’m Livin’, and her role as the defacto leader of The Highwomen country super group. All of that versatility was on display at the Ryman as Carlile led a unique band featuring a string trio and french horn, rocked out with twin collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth and backed the iconic Tucker during a soul-stirring climax near the end of the show. Throughout it all ran a thread of self-discovery, empowerment and acceptance which brought her eclectic crowd to its feet again and again.

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

Photo Credit: Chris Wood

Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium on January 14, 2020

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“What magical night,” Carlile said about four songs in, nodding to her place at the spiritual home of country music and the swell of mainstream support that even landed her on the CMT Music Awards this year. “This is the place of my dreams. The mother ship. And it’s just the beginning of six life-changing, dream-realizing nights. Thank you!”

Here are five things we loved about the first night of Carlile’s 2020 Ryman Auditorium residency.

That Voice

During the encore, Carlile admitted that long ago she modeled her unmistakable vocal on singer-songwriter Kim Richey’s — who just so happened to be the night’s opening act — but for fans in the crowd, her sound is one of a kind. Featuring a huge range, a slow, almost theatrical vibrato and a distinctively lonesome crack that has become her calling card, Carlile admitted Tuesday was her first night back after a scary bout with losing her voice. The “trial run” went off without a hitch, with the star using everything in her considerable arsenal.

Those Harmonies

Carlile wasn’t the only impressive vocalist on stage Tuesday night. As always, she was joined by her longtime musical partners, the Hanseroth twins, and the trio spent most of the evening locked in gorgeous three-part harmony. At one point the rest of the band left the stage, with Carlile explaining the trio’s mutual love of harmony singing is what first bought them together in the ’90s, and then jumping into the force of nature that is “The Eye.” As brother Tim plucked out a delicate melody on acoustic guitar, three voices swirled in unison around the tragic romance of “You can dance in a hurricane / But only if you’re standing in the eye.”

The Songs

Which brings us to the next point: Brandi Carlile has written some of the most undeniably thought provoking songs of her era. Each one has an element of mysterious poetry to it, and all are born from the deepest corners of the human condition — there are no shallow send-ups to Friday night or ego-driven anthems here. With “The Joke,” she shines a critical light on force-fed gender roles and the damage they can do (Carlile herself identifies as a gay woman). In “The Story” she captures the soul-repairing euphoria of meant-to-be-love. “Sugartooth” offered understanding to those struggling with substance abuse. And in “The Mother,” she lovingly documents the miracle of becoming a mom — in all it’s sweet but messy glory.

The Message

Over and over again, Carlile would dig the deepest fears and bruises from her soul, present them to the sold-out crowd and remind us all of where we’re broken, too. And then she would seem to smile and let her voice rise like a breeze, and a musical healing process would begin. There were tears of joy and solidarity spilled all over the Ryman’s historic pews, and on a base level, that connection is what the best country music is built on. In the end it all came down to what Carlile called “radical and filthy” forgiveness — not just of others, but of ourselves. “We all talk about it, but it’s hard,” she admitted. “I write about it to learn how to do it.”

Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood
Brandi Carlile; Photo credit: Chris Wood

The Rebellion

Despite the respect and admiration Carlile has now earned by the likes of the Recording Academy — and the welcome mat mainstream country has begun to unroll — Carlile will likely always see herself as an outsider, but now she’s got an army at her back. Earning bows of gratitude from Tucker after her rousing two-song appearance on “That Wasn’t Me” and “Bring My Flowers Now,” the audience seemed to reach critical mass. They erupted in astonished cheers and began banging on the venue’s ancient oak floorboards as two-hours of near life-changing music wound down, while Carlile spotted something special in the crowd. “It’s nice seeing the rainbow flag at the Ryman,” she said with a graceful smile.