After years of going to concerts, patterns emerge. You’ve got the artists sprinkling in pleasantries and going heavy on their past hits to get the crowd going. A sad song, a famous song, a story of triumph followed by frantic drums for an upbeat interlude — the list goes on and on. And yet, in the right setting, with the right artist, it seems as if those moments can become organic. You have to suspend cynicism when artists who truly love their craft, who truly mean it when they say Colorado is their favorite state, exist. Such is the case with Brandi Carlile.
Carlile is a household name in Colorado, booking three nights at Mission Ballroom starting with last night’s performance and ending on Sunday the 29th. We caught her at the cusp of this stint as she sized out the new venue, talking about missing Red Rocks at least once throughout the show because — you can’t not talk about missing Red Rocks when you’re not performing there. Nonetheless, the night took twists and turns that felt like Mission was the right move, with the audience feeling joyous in ways only a smaller venue could really represent.
The concert began with Courtney Marie Andrews, a singer-songwriter opening for Carlile with chops almost as pristine as the main act herself. Andrews boasts a pretty full discography — four albums since 2011, with no signs of stopping — and she did her work justice by dipping into the old and the new. Andrews was reliant on the simplicity of her guitar and her vocals working together to desperately tell her story the way she wanted it to be told. It’s hard to captivate an audience as an opener, it’s even harder to be vulnerable to a crowd of people who might not even know your name. Andrews didn’t feel like an opener and her bleeding heart was received by the audience with welcoming arms.
As the restlessness of the night started to get to its peak, the house lights went down and Carlile’s bandmates took the stage. Amongst them were the Hanseroth twins, longtime Carlile collaborators and epic musicians. Carlile came last, donning a sharp suit, a wide-brimmed smile and a guitar. The night introduced itself with “Hold Out Your Hand” and “Wherever Is Your Heart” back-to-back. Both songs are anthemic favorites that included enough harmonies and escalating drums to get your heart moving to the same rhythm as the music.
Once the momentum of the introduction came to an end, Carlile broke the gathering silence by calling her band the “Colorado house band” to a roar of cheers and introduced the audience to her storytelling by diving deep into her love of Colorado. Carlile dedicated her fourth song to the entire state, launching into a rendition of her hit “The Story” that trembled throughout the ballroom, echoing through every audience member.
The thing about an artist like Carlile is that you feel like she’s really there to sing a song and mean it. The giddiness, humility and often fear that she exuded during her set felt authentic enough to be a quirky form of charisma. This was never more evident than during her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Carlile will perform all of Mitchell’s Blue album next month in LA, so she took it upon herself to have an audience of thousands be her personal American Idol judges. The nervousness in her voice before diving deep into the song — she went with Mitchell’s original key no less — wasn’t deterring. It’s Carlile — no one out there was worried she couldn’t sing it. On the contrary, the fear felt merited. She takes her rendition seriously. It deserves to be honored and as pristine as Mitchell first performed it. Carlile did not disappoint. The room fell silent as she hit every note and then some. It felt like that ballroom was a part of something special, something reverent never to be replicated — a moment in time we were lucky enough to peek at from behind the blinds.
Usually, during a performance, you can pinpoint moments that will stick somewhere in your memory to be passed on as anecdotes to whoever asks you next how your weekend was, but the reality of Friday night’s show is that there was no standout moment. Everything meant something in personal, transformative ways that are hard to express without peppering paper with way too many words per minute. The night had no lack of highlights. From Carlile’s three-part harmony rendition of “The Eye” with the Hanseroth twins to the detail of inserting her wife’s name into her encore performance of “Party of One,” Carlile kept shining. Her voice never faltered, her stories never got boring and the audience never looked away.
Carlile’s draw lies in her vocal prowess and in her personality that radiates positivity and gratitude to an extent seasoned musicians don’t usually express. There was never a moment that felt forced or rehearsed, and although we’ll never know if she tackles every audience with the same lines, those conversations between band and audience felt like they belonged to Denver.
Every time she talked about her wife or her kids or the bandmates who have been on the road for 15 years felt like a story she would tell us while we sipped coffee in her living room. She let us see the world through her eyes for a second and live life through her words and at the end of the day, that is the ultimate gift an artist can give — the chance to feel intrinsically connected to another.