According to the classic story of the Velveteen Rabbit, becoming REAL is everything in life. And if that story has a thread of truth in it, then Brandi Carlile is well on her way. At 30-something she has talent and insight beyond her years, as anyone who listens to her storytelling can attest. We enjoy her music and have been trying to catch one of her concerts for years, but we were never in the same place at the same time—that is, until last Tuesday.
She performed at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz, CA—that laid-back quintessential beach town. The place welcomed her with open arms: a sold out show! She said during the performance that she really likes that place. Why? Because it’s REAL (just like her). Located outside the old town center, the Rio lines a busy street in a rather nondescript area along with many other curious home-grown shops, stretching as far as you can see. The theater has been there for quite a while and so all of the locals know it well. At one point during the show Brandi looked around the venue and said how much she liked the renovations that they’d been doing over the years. “Lookin’ good!” she said in a peppy conversational tone.
Brandi lit up the stage, wearing blue jeans and a Boy Scout shirt. There was no formal introduction, absolutely no fanfare. She was alone . . . no band members followed her onto the stage. It was just her and a few guitars. Since she rarely works solo, we felt privileged to have been included in the audience. She sang her heart out, interspersing songs with off-the-cuff stories and an occasional sip from her bottle of water perched on the stool next to two flickering candles.
She said the evening was really about the talking and not so much about the music. That’s it. After each song, she Frisbee-d the guitar pick into the audience. The crowd cheered. She invited us to sing along, and then complimented our sound. She had an “aw shucks” attitude, repeating, “Thanks Guys!” when we thunderously applauded (which was quite often). Before we knew it, two hours passed as if only minutes. At 11:00 pm, after a 4-song encore, she bowed graciously, waved and walked away just as quietly as she had entered. What a treat! Her guitar work was flawless and her voice? Well, what can you say about such an incredible voice except, “INCREDIBLE!”
Winding through the Santa Cruz mountains on the late-night drive home, we talked about the concert. We were moved. Changed. We had just had that rare honor of witnessing someone REAL.
Being REAL isn’t something that you plan. It’s what’s left after all of the pretense, pre-conceived notions, and the glitz and glamour fall away. It’s held in the tone of voice and the inflections that are “of the moment.” It’s hidden beneath the subtle words, “By the way . . .” or the off-hand comment, “That reminds me . . .” These are casual, yet meaningful phrases. Tuesday night, Brandi allowed us to step into her life for a short visit. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, she was loved by all who attended, as evidenced by the rousing response. But it works both ways, because, in Brandi’s own lyrics, “The stories don’t mean anything, unless you’ve got someone to tell them to.” For us, her openness was inspiring, beautiful, sincere and moving. But above all else, she was just plain REAL.
And as we all learned in the beautiful story of the Velveteen Rabbit, “Once you are REAL you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
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