“Passionate Kisses” awaited eager fans that packed The Birchmere for two sold-out nights recently to hear a hometown troubadour with a voice strong and true! Mary Chapin Carpenter had come home.
Mary’s new album, Sometimes Just the Sky, was inspired by a beautiful interview with punk poet Patti Smith. Patti said that life is hard, and it can break your heart, it can tear you apart and disappoint you, but there are so many beautiful things that you can see or experience that make life worth living. She said, “Sometimes it’s just the sky.” Sometimes a phrase just jumps out and all of a sudden it means everything.
Stream Sometimes Just the Sky by Mary Chapin Carpenter on Spotify:
The cover of Mary’s new album shows her on her farm deep in the Virginia countryside, which she bought for a song or two. And in between songs laced with compelling stories on Oct. 29, one story put sad in my eyes.
“John Doe #24,” Mary read, in the obituaries of the New York Times in 1993, and she wrote the song from his perspective.
In the early hours of Oct. 11, 1945, a scantily dressed young black youth was found by two police officers rummaging in an alleyway in Jacksonville, Illinois. Unable to communicate, the deaf, mute, and later blind boy was believed to be mentally retarded. Because of his bizarre behavior, he was committed to an institution.
He survived institutionalized hell: beatings, hunger, overcrowding, and the dehumanizing treatment that characterized state institutions through the 1950s. John Doe No. 24 was never positively identified, and he would spend the rest of his life being cared for by the state. People who knew him found him remarkable. The nurses said he made friends, took on responsibilities, and developed a sense of humor. His one-time nurse Donna Romine reflected sadly on his mystery. “Ah, well,” she said, “God knows his name.” He died Nov. 28, 1993.
In 2000, a biography of John Doe by Dave Bakke was published by Southern Illinois University Press; it was called God Knows His Name: The True Story Of John Doe No. 24. Mary wrote the foreword and also purchased the headstone for his grave.
Mary Chapin Carpenter has been enduring life’s battles, and emerging from those battles with gratitude and grace. She has been singing and playing for 30 years now, and she has sold over 14 million records, which has taken her around the world and back home to The Birchmere, where she started.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Birchmere,” Mary affirmed.
She is still a sassy, sexy class act with her strong smokey voice and remarkable guitar playing and finger-picking that produces unique sounds warm and familiar… ever timeless and tender, revealing a life fully lived.
Why Shouldn’t We
Why Walk When You Can Fly
Stones in the Road
The Moon & St. Christopher
Naked to the Eye
Passionate Kisses (Lucinda Williams cover)
The Bug (Dire Straits cover)
This is Love
John Doe #24 // I Have a Need for Solitude
Shut Up and Kiss Me
I Feel Lucky
I Take My Chances
He Thinks He’ll Keep Her
Sometimes Just the Sky
Down at the Twist & Shout
For more on Mary Chapin Carpenter, visit her website. Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards opened for Mary Chapin Carpenter at The Birchmere on Oct. 29. From Boston, Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards is a quartet of singing string players performing original music based in the lyrical rituals of folk music but exploring new territories of rhythm and sonics. Their album California Calling is out now on Compass Records.
Here are Laura Cortes & The Dance Cards performing at The Birchmere.
Here are some pictures of Mary Chapin Carpenter performing at The Birchmere on Oct. 29, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Chester Simpson.