Home Live Review Live Review: Sarah Jarosz w/ The Ballroom Thieves @ Sixth & I — 2/1/24 + @ Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts — 2/5/24

Live Review: Sarah Jarosz w/ The Ballroom Thieves @ Sixth & I — 2/1/24 + @ Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts — 2/5/24

Live Review: Sarah Jarosz w/ The Ballroom Thieves @ Sixth & I — 2/1/24 + @ Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts — 2/5/24
Sarah Jarosz performs at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Feb. 5, 2024. (Photo by Steve Satzberg)

A year ago, I saw Sarah Jarosz in concert at the Warner Theater with Shawn Colvin and Marc Cohn. That show prefigured the evolution in Jarosz’s music that recently was on display at a sold-out Historic Synagogue at Sixth & I, on the first night of her Polaroid Lovers tour, so named for her most recent album, which she released last month.

Shawn Colvin is an apt point of comparison for Jarosz, a folk singer who flirted with mainstream success as an adult alternative artist with her album A Few Small Repairs and “Sunny Came Home,” which became a No. 1 song. This show at Sixth & I on Feb. 1 was the third time I’ve seen Jarosz; the first was as as part of the roots music supergroup I’m With Her, with Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan. This is the first time I’ve seen her play with a conventional full band, including drums.

Since the native of Wimberley, Texas, a small town near Austin, first broke onto the music scene in her teens, Sarah Jarosz has been a darling of the roots music community, and she has the hardware from the Americana Music Association and the Grammys to show for it. But the roots music genre was always a bit too confining for Jarosz, who majored in Vocal Improvisation at the New England Conservatory of Music. As a recent article in the New York Times discusses, with Polaroid Lovers, Jarosz is aiming for the mainstream. For the first time, she’s embraced co-writing, working with some of Nashville’s go-to songwriters, and her sound has moved in the direction of modern rock.

For most of the Sixth & I show, Jarosz played acoustic guitar, though she did do some tunes on banjo. Picking up the instrument, she asked the audience, “Do you know what time it is? That’s right: banjo time!” (Not having immediately seen the instrument, I shouted out “9:30!”) She eschewed the mandolin, her first instrument.

The set began with “Jealous Moon,” which was released as a single from Polaroid Lovers, and continued with the album’s second track, “When The Lights Go Out.” Before proceeding with “The Way It Is Now” and “Green Lights,” two further cuts from the new album, Sarah took a moment to talk to the audience and mentioned it was the first night of her tour. “Columbus & 89th,” she explained, is about her feelings for her longtime neighborhood in New York City; she recently relocated to Nashville.

Watch the official music video for “Jealous Moon” by Sarah Jarosz on YouTube:

At this point, she brought out the banjo and went into her back catalog for a couple of tunes. “Annabelle Lee” is, presumably, influenced by the poem by Edgar Allan Poe. Next up was the title cut of from her third album, 2013’s Build Me Up From Bones, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best American Roots song.

Returning to her new material, Jarosz told the audience that “Days Can Turn Around” was “one of the last ones we wrote. We were just trying to write a hopeful song.” They tried to include as many nuggets of a mother’s wisdom as they could fit into the lyrics.

I kind of had to tune out a little for the next song, “Lost Dog,” as the subject matter makes me too emotional, but Sarah pulled me back in with the one after that, “Maggie.” The band then left the stage and Sarah performed “Jacqueline” solo acoustic. Introducing “Morning,” she explained that the album it appears on, Blue Heron Suite, was written on a commission from the Freshgrass Foundation in 2017. At the time, her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer; happily, Sarah reported that her mother is doing just fine now.

Next up was “1000 Things,” another track from Build Me Up From Bones, followed by a cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.” The main set concluded with “Runaway Train,” and Sarah and her band briefly left the stage before returning for an encore. They played Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” and finished the evening with “Mezcal & Lime.”

Sarah continued her tour to the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Feb. 5, when Parklife’s Steve Satzberg photographed the show. We have included those photos with this review!

Opening Jarosz, folk duo The Ballroom Thieves played an opening set. They began with “Saint Monica” followed by “Worldender.” This spring, they mentioned, they have a new record coming out, which they said is “about looking back on your life and looking forward.” “Angry Child,” which appears on the record, is “about getting older and losing all your friends.” After “Pour Down,” they previewed another forthcoming track, “Tender,” and they told the audience they’ll be playing at Jammin Java in Vienna in April. They finished their set with “Bees.”

Sarah Jarosz has come a long way from the bluegrass and old-time child prodigy she entered the music business as. This show revealed just how far she’s come, embracing a more sophisticated sound, but without losing what makes her special as a singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist.

Here are some photos of Sarah Jarosz performing at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Feb. 5, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Steve Satzberg.

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  1. The instrument that Sarah is playing in these pics is a octave mandolin, it looks similar to an acoustic guitar except for the eight strings.


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