3 Girls & Their Buddy – Woodland Park Zoo – Seattle, WA – July 2, 2009
It was a little bit too good to be true—four of the best singer-songwriters in modern acoustic/roots/folk/country music (Shawn Colvin, Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin, seated in that order) onstage together, lending their voices to each other’s exquisite compositions, filling in guitar solos, bounding off each other’s inspiration. It took half the 90-minute show to settle into the fact that this was how it was going to be. It was just going to be that good. All night. Period.
Emmylou, the eldest and most stylistically versatile of the bunch, led the night off, before handing things off to her friends and collaborators. They went down the line, from Colvin to Griffin and back again, each taking a turn at the vocals. Each had at least one moment which brought the crowd to utter silence. For Harris it was “Boy From Tupelo” (which she introduced as “misery with a beat”). Colvin’s was “I Don’t Know Why.” For Miller it was “Gasoline and Matches,” which saw Griffin filling in on the harmonies Miller’s wife Julie recorded for their recent release Written in Chalk (which is, by the way, one of the best of the year so far, and you should pick it up if you haven’t already). Griffin, in all her extraordinary vocal shapeshifting prowess, sounded almost exactly like Julie Miller back there. Buddy, who gave the Americana world pause earlier this year when he underwent a triple bypass, looked and sounded well—a relief. As a guitarist, he is one of the most intuitive and artful soloists around, and his input was a welcome addition to every song on which he participated.
Griffin let slip early in the night that she and Miller had just finished recording a gospel album, titled Downtown Church, for a gospel label who will release the disc early in 2010. She said she’d been nervous about how the label would receive her, since she’s a “lapsed Catholic,” but they didn’t seem to mind. “Lapsed Catholics need our gospel music too,” she asserted before sharing her rendition of Eddy Arnold’s “Where We’ll Never Grow Old.” But, in a town prone to thick clouds and cool temperatures, on this clear blue sky day with the trees gently blowing in a soft, welcome breeze, it was “Heavenly Day” which stole the show.
When not singing, the four pals swapped stories, tried to one-up each other on songs people might play at weddings, and insulted Tacoma (or at least Miller did, though he made an earnest attempt to explain later he doesn’t have a problem with the smelly, less-sightly city just south on I-5). He also made up for the insult by referring to his female counterparts as the “three sweetest people in the world, with the sweetest voices.” Indeed, musically and otherwise, the whole show felt like a nonstop lovefest, about which nobody would complain.
The quartet closed their main set with all voices on deck for “We Shall All Be Reunited.” Then the Three Girls gathered around one mic for an a cappella turn on “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” and finally an excellent rendition of Griffin’s “Mary” rapped the encore.
This was originally written for SoundNW.com.