Amanda Shires at Seattle’s Sunset Tavern
A friend’s dad dies in his seventies. Another friend succumbs to cancer at the age of 37. Trump wins. Leonard Cohen passes away. The University of Washington Huskies lose their first game of the football season. I had jury duty in Kent.
This would be a lot to endure in a year, much less a week. But this was last week, the worst week ever. And into the breach, up in the Pacific Northwest, stepped Sturgill Simpson and Amanda Shires.
Simpson is a white Navy vet with short hair and a mustache who hails from Kentucky. That fits the profile of your average Trump voter, although I can virtually guarantee you he didn’t vote for the pussy-grabbing asshole with the oompa-loompa visage. At Seattle’s Paramount Theater on Veterans Day, he brought his soulful, horn-heavy A Sailor’s Guide to Earth to life onstage, finishing with a never-ending version of “Call to Arms” that shot the roof toward the current residence of Kurt Cobain, a man Simpson greatly admires.
Simpson’s show was cathartic, but Shires’ performance at Seattle’s sardine-packed Sunset Tavern was genuinely moving. The Lubbock native, wed to a very lucky Jason Isbell, defies all easy explanations. Her closest comparison might be to another virtuosic violinist, Sara Watkins, with both bad-ass belles topping the charts in the “sing whatever the fuck I want to sing” genre. Shires’ vocal patois is Regina Spektor meets Dolly Parton—quick, clever, enunciated to a tee, and heavy on the trill.
As Shires sang “Wasted and Rollin’” early in her set, it dawned on me how much she looked like my late friend Jen Kelly, the one who died in her thirties hours before the White House got whiter. Beautiful, bright and energetic, both women would not have been conceived were it not for America’s proud identity as a melting pot. By and large, when people from foreign countries hit these shores, they do so with vigor, ecstatic to be in what they perceive as a better place. And we’re better for them. Remember that for the next four (and hopefully not eight) years.