5-12-11 Kate McGarrigle Tribute Concert in NYC’s Town Hall
I originally posted this review for an Emmylou Harris discussion board, which is why part of it focuses on her, but I thought I’d cross-post here:
I attended Thursday’s tribute to Kate McGarrigle at Town Hall in NYC. It was a remarkable concert, alternately and simultaneously bittersweet, joyous, heartbreaking, raucous, and ultimately, life affirming, but never sentimental. In short, it was a fitting celebration of an extraordinary woman who left us far too soon. Emmylou appeared singing onstage in many of the ensemble numbers but was featured on (1) Darlin’ Kate, with Anna McGarrigle and her daughter Lily Lanken on backing vocals, (2) a duet with Teddy Thompson on I Eat Dinner, (3) a duet with Nora Jones on Fast as My Feet Will Carry Me, (4) Entre La Jeuresse et la Sagesse, in which she sang a verse in French, and (5) Heart Like A Wheel, in which she sang the first verse with other verses being taken by Anna, then Martha Wainwright, and finally, together, Lily and Krystle Warren.
The love and affection almost all of the performers seemed to share was evident throughout; for example, one tender moment I caught occurred as the five women who sang Heart Like a Wheel were leaving the stage and Martha, who was walking behind Emmylou, put her hands on Emmy’s shoulders and then gave her a hug from behind, with Emmylou reaching behind to put her hand on Martha’s arm and squeeze. Another took place just before the final number, Love Over and Over, when Martha came out and held her very young son, who’s not even a toddler yet; as he gazed out, facing the audience with eyes wide , everyone on stage and in the audience grinned broady at the only grandchild Kate lived to see. Many must have been thinking as I was–he’s our reminder that this family will go on and Kate’s music and spirit will be passed to another generation.
Some of the performers who moved me the most were artists I’ve never seen or heard sing before such as Krystle Warren, who was stunning performing I Don’t Know, Anthony of Anthony and the Johnsons who did an astonishingly moving rendition of Go Leave, and Sloan Wainwright (Loudon’s younger sister) who, when performing Blues in D, revealed a voice that was as full and expressive as anyone who appeared on stage.
Highlights, in addition to the ones I listed above, included Nora Jones singing Talk To Me of Mendocino with Rufus and Martha on harmony vocals; Teddy Thompson soloing on Saratoga Summer Song; Jenni Muldaur channeling her mother, Maria, on Come Back Baby; Martha performing Tell My Sister; Rufus, exhibiting deeply passionate yet controlled emotion on Walking Song; and the group rendition of the last song Kate ever wrote, Proserpina. However, for me, the single most memorable and bittersweet moment was Anna’s description of coming to New York just after Kate and Loudon broke-up– when Rufus and Martha were still both very young–to bring a devastated and resisting Kate with her children back to Montreal so they could be surrounded and supported by the family. Anna then noted that she hadn’t sung the next song since she was in the studio to record it 35 years ago, and proceeded to sing Kitty Come Home, with Rufus and Martha accompanying her– both seeming to fight back tears.
I don’t want to convey the impression that sadness and melancholy pervaded the evening– there was Rufus playfully teasing Martha while bragging and then disclaiming that the next song, First Born Son, “was written about…well…. ME”; Chaim Tannenbaum’s joyfully spirited rendition, backed by all, of Travellin’ on for Jesus; Rufus’s friend, performance artist and transvestite Justin V. Bond’s humorous yet impassioned delivery of The Work Song, Jimmy Fallon’s terrific take on The Swimming Song, and the final group encore of Love Over and Over– I swear at the end, with everyone dancing, it included Emmylou and Justin V. Bond doing the bump.
Anyway, it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of performance (and I can’t believe it but they repeated it the next night). I wish that anyone who loves music could have been there, and hope that the documentary of Kate’s life, for which this concert was filmed, can capture the spirit and range of emotions shared that evening.