“That’s not even the gayest thing that’s gonna happen tonight,” Brandi Carlile told the audience at Wolf Trap on the second night of her Out & About Festival. For the second evening in a row, she was headlining the music festival, which featured a lineup of queer performers in celebration of Pride Month. And those performers kept the wonderful evening full of good vibes and “gay things.”
At Wolf Trap on June 25, locals Oh He Dead — which Carlile said is a great name — started the day with a set at the Meadow Stage. I wasn’t previously familiar with their work, but I really enjoyed their mix of rock and soul. They had a great energy, and they got the day off to a hot start.
Watch the official music video for “California” by Oh He Dead on YouTube:
Here are some photos of Oh He Dead performing at Wolf Trap on June 25, 2023. Photos copyright and courtesy of Steve Satzberg.
The day’s second act, seven-time Grammy Award nominee Brandy Clark, was a real treat for me. Often working with writing partner Shane McNally, Clark has been one of Music City’s top songwriters for more than a decade. Her songs have been covered by Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Leann Rimes, Darius Rucker, Reba McEntire, and others. In addition to her Grammy nominations, Clark won the Country Music Association’s Song of The Year award for “Follow Your Arrow,” and she won a Tony Award for Best Original Score for her musical Shucked.
Along with her success as a songwriter, Clark has received critical acclaim as a recording artist, beginning with her 2013 debut 12 Stories, followed by 2016’s Big Day In A Small Town and 2020’s Your Life Is A Record. She was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2015 Grammys — the timeframes for those awards are always a little strange. Brandi Carlile produced her most recent, self-titled album, which came out earlier this year.
When she took the stage, Clark, who is openly gay, noticed and complimented the “I Love Lesbians” sign in the crowd. “Isn’t it great,” she said, “we can all be here for Pride?” She began her set with “Who You Thought I Was,” from Your Life Is A Record, followed by two more cuts from the album, “Take A Long Walk (Off A Real Short Pier)” and “Pawn Shop.”
Watch Brandy Clark perform “Pawn Shop” live for Sundance ASCAP Music Cafe on YouTube:
Brandy then switched to material from her latest record, playing “Dear Insecurity,” which was recorded as a duet with Carlile. “I don’t want you to think she’s going to walk out,” said Clark, explaining that Carlile was off backstage rehearsing for her set later.
Someone shouted a request which I couldn’t quite make out make out. Clark handled it masterfully, shutting it down by saying, “I’ll play any song you want, as long as it’s on the setlist.” In this case, she couldn’t play the requested song because she’d had to get a sub for her band after one of the members had to leave to attend to a family emergency.
Brandy played a couple more new songs, “Come Back To Me” and “Northwest.” The band left after “Same Devil,” and Brandy played “Buried,” “Tell Her You Don’t Love Her,” and “She Smoked In The House” solo. Clark wrote that last one about her grandma Ruth, who passed away several years ago. She was “my biggest and best character,” she said.
The band returned to close the set with “Get High.” Clark wrote it about a girl who she graduated high school, but it became a “composite character.”
After Clark’s set, the festival moved to the Filene Center, the main, largest stage at Wolf Trap. (I was delighted to see more of the park Sunday. I’d been to the Filene Center and the Barns, but I’d never been to the Meadow Stage. Located next to it is a lovely enclosed area with a number of trees and signage describing their role in the ecosystem. It’s definitely worth checking out, if you have a chance.)
First up at the Filene Center was Celisse, an R&B artist who was new to me. She has a fiery stage presence to go with her excellent vocals and gritty, grooving guitar work.
Celisse began her set with “Are You Listening?” After the song, she explained she was under the weather. “I couldn’t get out of bed earlier this week,” she said, but she was on the other side of it and feeling better. “I might hack up a lung,” she warned. I have a friendly suggestion to her: if you do hack up a lung, you should monetize it by turning into a one-time-only, one-of-a-kind piece of merch. It’d make a great discussion piece sitting in someone’s living room. Honestly, though, she’s a pro, and I really couldn’t hear any problems with her voice. I remarked to someone sitting next to me on the lawn that, if was how good she was she’s ill, she must be a firecracker when she’s 100% healthy.
Watch the official music video for “Freedom” by Celisse on YouTube:
Introducing her next song, Celisse said, “I don’t talk much about my dating life, mostly because it’s so horrid. She went on to say, “I date men and women and everything else.” She continued, “Any gender presentation can be horrible,” and the next song was about a “garbage person.” “Lost,” she said, “I’ve been singing for a couple of years, and the meaning deepens and changes.” It’s about how, after a breakup, you can be feeling, only for the most trivial things to provoke a flood of emotions.
“I come from incredibly talented musicians,” she said of her parents. “My father is incredibly talented, but not incredibly well mentally,” which she sang about in her last number.
Here are photos of Celisse performing at Wolf Trap on June 25, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Steve Satzberg.
Over the last several years, Brandi Carlile has carved out an additional niche in the music ecosystem as a producer for a number of other artists. She won a Best Country Album Grammy for producing Tanya Tucker’s 2019 comeback album, While I’m Living, as well as Best Country Song for cowriting the title cut. As noted above, she produced Brandy Clark’s latest record. She’s also worked extensively with pop duo Lucius; she produced their most recent record, last year’s Second Nature, and they provided vocals for her song “You and Me On The Rock.”
Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, who met as classmates studying vocal performance at Boston’s Berklee School of music, make up the core of Lucius, which was formed in Brooklyn in 2007. They released their first record, Wildewoman, in 2013, and made their commercial breakthrough with the follow-up, 2016’s Good Grief, which reached No. 92 on the Billboard 2000. In 2018, they released their third LP, Nudes.
Lucius started their set with a cut from their back catalog, “Nothing Ordinary,” followed by “Next To Normal,” from their latest record. The set included several more tracks from Second Nature: “The Man I’ll Never Find,” “Heartbursts,” and “Promises.” After “How Loud Your Heart Gets,” they said, “It’s such a privilege to be in this beautiful place with all these beautiful people. There’s no greater treat than being able to make music with your friends.”
Watch Lucius perform “How Loud Your Heart Gets” live for KEXP on YouTube:
Introducing “Dusty Trails,” they said, “We wrote a lot of these songs in a difficult moment,” and thanked Carlile for her support. They played a medley of their “LSD” with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “Do You Believe In Love?” and “Simply the Best” before ending with “Genevieve.”
Here are some photos of Lucious (and Brandi Carlile!) performing at Wolf Trap on June 25, 2023. All pictures are copyright and courtesy of Steve Satzberg.
Brandi Carlile is one of the most critically acclaimed and successful artists to emerge in the last 20 years. in addition to the two she received for her work with Tucker, she’s received seven additional Grammy Awards: two for Best Americana Album (in 2019, for By The Way I Forgive You, and this year, for In These Silence Days), Best Country Song (for “Crowded Table,” as part of the supergroup The Highwomen, with Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemby, and Maren Morris), Best American Roots Song and Performance for “The Joke,” and Best Rock Song and Performance for “Broken Horses.” She’s been nominated for 25 awards in total.
In recent years, Carlile has devoted increasing attention, as I noted, to working with other artists. Beyond production, she’s used her influence and popularity to give a platform to other queer artists. She’s also helped usher in the legendary Joni Mitchell’s return to live performance, following her recovery from an aneurysm. Her appearance with Joni at the Gorge in Washington was Mitchell’s first ticketed performance in 20 years.
Brandi started her set with “Stay Gentle,” followed by a cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” That song was made famous by Judy Garland, who was a gay icon in her time, making it an especially appropriate choice for the event. “After “Broken Horses,” Lucius joined her to sing “You and Me On The Rock.” Lucius would join her again later in the set for “Sinners, Saints, and Fools” and a cover of i-ten’s “Alone.”
The set continued with “Again Today.” After “Hiding My Heart,” she noted she was wearing the same outfit she wore when she played the venue last year. Carlile’s wife, who is also a musician, came out after “I Belong To You.”
Stream “I Belong to You” by Brandi Carlile on YouTube:
Brandi acknowledged there were a lot of ballads in the set, saying “Sundays are for sad lesbian music.” She and her wife then sang Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise,” which she called “the best sad lesbian song ever written.” She described “My Song” as “an old song I wrote when I was young and all listen to was [U2’s] The Joshua Tree.” She played a medley of it with “Where The Streets Have No Joined.” Brandy Clark joined her for “The Best Ones” and “Dear Insecurity.”
The set also included “Mama Werewolf,” “The Story,” and “Right On Time,” ending with “The Joke.” The encore began with a very sweet moment as her niece and nephew played “Dream Again.” Lucius came out to join Carlile on covers of Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” She played her own “Hold Out Your Hand,” and to close the festival, many of the day’s artists returned to the stage to sing Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out.”
This was a great festival, and it gave me a chance to see some artists I wasn’t familiar as well as some old favorites. For the artists and the gay community, this was a wonderful opportunity to gather and be together and celebrate the joy of music. But you didn’t need to be queer to enjoy this fantastic lineup of artists: the music was enough itself to make this a great event.
Here are some photos of Brandi Carlile headlining the Out & About Festival at Wolf Trap on June 25, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Steve Satzberg.