There’s a woman on stage. She’s not as young as she used to be, who is?, and yet her snarl persists, this in spite of having been softened by time and age and the experience of shedding skin to become something new. Familiar but new. Parenthood can’t help but do that to you. She’s not alone up there but the billing belongs solely to her. Still, she praises and charmingly defers to others, sharing as much of the spotlight meant for her as often as possible, almost to a fault, most especially she focuses the audience’s attention on the pair of twins that have been flanking her for a decade and a half. That’s a good amount of years, a stretch worth celebrating with a sizeable to-do, which is what my wife and I are doing here with her, with them.
She’s up there singing on a knife’s edge, tenderly but with unflinching honesty, such is her way, and that’s precisely why people adore her and hold onto her sentences and intonation with everything they’ve got, about her daughter and then, about her wife. It’s funny, it’s knowing, and it’s heartbreaking in its wild rawness, like the bright yellows and oranges sprouting alongside the dusty road one must travel to get to this place. Those who made the trip erupt with acceptance and with gratitude for her story.
There are two women next to us, and all together we’re about four arms lengths away from the stage, slightly off center to the left. They embrace throughout the 90 minute set, they kiss, they dance as if alone while still being an active part of the collective being moved, all without distrubting others, and they throw the occasional fist into the air at all the right beats. These women are so clearly in love with each other and are reveling in the joyous fact that they are sharing this moment together. I know how that feels too.
The twins, two guys in, I’ll eschew Wikipedia to hazard a guess, their late 30s, are now singing harmony together while she plays piano behind them. They are smack dab in front of us, smiling wide as they do, with arms around each other at the very front edge of the stage. Brotherly love isn’t just what we brought with us from our hometown, it has been permeating throughout this long weekend. It’s the very thing we are all here to hear and to witness At The Beach.
The couple behind us give my wife and I a spontaneous hug-handshake like strangers in matching colors highfiving feverishly after a sporting victory as the band take their final bow, while their nimble crew begin to disassemble things in the background. I could tell he had been singing along with nearly every word just as I had, I could hear that commitment in his voice as he told me how much he and his girlfriend loved seeing Brandi Carlile for the 2nd time. I talked about the Newport Folk Fest from 6 or 7 years ago and about getting The Story on vinyl for The Bear this past Christmas. We chatted for only another half minute or so but the sense of community gained in that brief, sudden and unexpected interaction was indicative of everything I’d been feeling since the first night, feelings I’d longed to validate as authentic.
We’re seeing the fractures and faultlines back on home soil but here with warm sand beneath our feet, music in the air and a moon that paints us all the same color, there’s hope in remaining the best of what we can be when we’re all together.