By: Kevin Rolfe
Brandi Carlile made her much-anticipated return to Utah Saturday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, easily the largest venue she’s played in the Beehive State. Carlile was originally set to play Vivint Arena on December 6 but found it necessary to reschedule due to a bruised vocal chord following a bout with laryngitis. Rescheduling a show can be difficult. Most of your tour is already laid out, and usually, it’s taking you further and further from the location you’ve had to cancel. I was happy to get a firm rescheduled date. Sometimes the “We’re working on a new date…” can hang in limbo until we forget about it or the artist is ultimately unable to find a new date on the calendar to play. But Brandi Carlile made sure she was coming to Utah, and we didn’t have to wait too long. She rescheduled the arena date to February 8, almost two months exactly from when her original show was meant to be. That can also be unusual. KISS, for example, had to postpone their September 2019 show out at USANA Amphitheater and weren’t able to reschedule the date until this upcoming summer. So, a huge thanks to Brandi for making up her show so soon!
The evening kicked off with country legend and winner of two Grammys this year, Tanya Tucker. Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker have been working together recently as Carlile contributed on Tucker’s award-winning comeback album, 2019’s While I’m Livin’. It was pretty obvious that many of the people in the audience were at the show specifically to see Tanya. They were not disappointed as Ms. Tucker covered made her way through songs off of While I’m Livin’ and some major crowd favorites like “High Ridin’ Heros” and “Texas (When I Die )”. Even those unfamiliar with Tucker’s work couldn’t seem to help themselves from singing along, “When I die, I may not go to heaven. I don’t know if they let cowboys in.”
Tanya is at a special place in her career where she has the catalog of music that people have fallen in love with over the years but also has that album later in her career that is both critically and commercially acclaimed. It was clear that this was not lost on her. She shared with us that Merle Haggard advised her to get out there. She seemed very glad she listened to those words of encouragement. She thanked the audience for loving her when she didn’t love herself. She then thanked the Man Upstairs for blessing her life. She stated that he was very important. She followed these words of gratitude with “Amazing Grace” which merged into her first and possibly most famous hit, “Delta Dawn”. The moment the piano intro was recognized, her fans cheered generously their approval. It’s amazing that this was her first hit as a teenager. Listening to her sing it at 61 gave the song so much more meaning. When Tucker finished “Delta Dawn” the audience went nuts, and all those who were sitting rose to their feet. Tanya Tucker bowed, put on her cowboy hat and sauntered off stage.
While Tanya’s staging was being removed, and Brandi’s was being set up the audience was treated to some of the most iconic songs from women across the ages. Songs like “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “Jolene”, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” got the crowd singing along and excited for the rest of the show.
And just like that, the crew finished their setup and the lights went out. When Brandi Carlile appeared on stage, all of Vivint Arena was on their feet cheering. Carlile started with a song that could have easily been her closer, “Hold Out Your Hand” from her own Grammy-winning album, By The Way, I Forgive You. People were singing and clapping along and I could see so many excited faces. Yes, we only waited a couple months extra for Brandi Carlile to play Salt Lake City, but when the moment finally arrived where she was performing, it hit me how long it felt waiting for this much anticipated moment.
I have a feeling Utah isn’t the only state to feel this way, but I feel like we got Brandi and connected with her early on in her career. Right now Brandi Carlile is coming off a 2019 that was probably the most successful year of her entire career. I remember watching her sing “The Joke” on the 2019 Grammy’s and feeling so happy for her that she was finally getting the recognition she deserved. The recognition we’ve been giving her here in Utah for over a decade. It was almost like watching a friend get finally having their time to shine. She’s having that moment most artists work for their entire career, and we couldn’t be happier for her.
Brandi addressed the audience and said, “God bless you all for coming to a rescheduled show!” Brandi mentioned how different a place Vivint Arena was compared to where she has usually played in Utah. She mentioned playing Red Butte and The State Room in the past. She said those venues made her think about her relationship with Salt Lake City. She told us this next song was for us. Carlile then performed “The Story”. I honestly don’t know if there is a more perfect song in existence. It’s vulnerable, is heartfelt, it’s emotional, and it ROCKS! The audience was touched by the dedication and it was one of the most special moments in the entire show. By the way, whoever got to see her at The State Room, I’m incredibly jealous.
The show moved quickly as Brandi weaved her way through songs and stories. She talked about Tim and Phil Hanseroth, twin brothers who have been with Brandi since the late 90s. She said she has a great love of three-part harmony, a la Crosby, Stills, and Nash. She called their sound, “Seatle Harmony”. There’s a thing in music called “Blood Harmony”. That just means family members who blend well together possibly because they are related and their voices are close. Voices like The Everly Brothers or The Louvin Brothers are good examples of this. Well, Brandi is not blood-related to the Hanseroth brothers, but there was definite “Blood Harmony” when the three of them sang “The Eye”.
Brandi talked about her wife and kids. She Talked about just wanting the right to exist. She even joked that “We (LGBTQ community) just want the right to screw up our kids like everybody else.” She told funny stories about how her British wife, Catherine, parents and how different her children are. Her stories of parenting were hilarious and relatable. She stood on stage by herself with only her acoustic guitar and performed “The Mother”, a song she wrote for her daughter, Evangeline.
Carlile told us that she was sick with the flu last week. But she told herself there was no way she was canceling on us twice. So she got better and flew to Salt Lake City to be with us. She gave a disclaimer that if she sounded sick or not as good we would know why. Truth is, we didn’t need a disclaimer. Carlile was in peak form as far as my ears are concerned. She has such incredible knowledge and control of her voice. I’m so impressed with what she can do vocally.
Carlile covered songs like Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” The Highwaywomen’s “Crowded Table” (Not really a cover since she’s in that band) and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”. She shared that she was nervous to sing Mitchell’s album Blue in front of Joni recently, and she was nervous to sing one of Mitchell’s songs for us. She stated that the three greatest songs ever written were “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton and “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell. I thought she performed it beautifully.
One of the biggest highlights of the entire evening was when Tanya Tucker returned to the stage while Brandi was singing “That Wasn’t Me”. The audience roared as she appeared from the darkness into the light. I had to laugh because these women behind me mentioned (Not to me, they were just talking so loud I bet Brandi Carlile heard them backstage) that they were only at the show to see Tanya. The people next to them encouraged them to stay to listen to Brandi because she’s amazing. They annoyingly talked for the first three songs of Brandi’s set and left, much to the delight of everyone around them. However, they missed the climax of the show. Not only did Tanya Tucker perform “That Wasn’t Me” with Brandi Carlile, but she also sang the song she performed with Brandi at the Grammys a couple of weeks ago, “Bring My Flowers Now”. The arena lit up with everyone’s phone lights. At the conclusion of this beautiful duet, the entire venue once again gave Tanya a standing ovation. She bowed and was escorted off stage by her dog. Those Tanya fans that left really missed out. I mean, reeeeally missed out. As Tucker left the stage, Brandi stated, “There is no end to my love for Tanya Tucker”. Tanya Mother Tucker, y’all! It’s good to have her back.
Brandi Carlile concluded her main set with “The Joke”. There was a large portion of the audience that was part of the LGBTQ community, and it was clear to me that this song is an anthem to them. It was impactful to see them react to the lyrics,
“Let ‘em laugh while they can
Let ‘em spin, let ‘em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I have seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them”
I felt like this show was a great place of unity between the various communities and cultures that make up this state. “The Joke” is such a powerful song. Everyone was there to hear an incredible artist perform, and that is exactly what happened.
Brandi and her band which consisted of a keyboard player, drummer, three-piece string section, and Tim Hanseroth and Phil Hanseroth returned to the stage and performed “Pride and Joy”. Just when I thought Carlile performed all of her best songs, she gives us this gem. I don’t know how I forgot about this song, but I was so grateful to have heard it. Brandi made her way to each side of the stage mouthing, “Thank you so much” to the audience.
The night ended with Brandi performing alone on stage at the piano. She sang “Party of One”. Brandi told us this song was about forgiveness. She said, “Thank you for the second chance Salt Lake”. When she was finished with the moving closer, her final words to us were, “Salt Lake City I’m yours.” I’m sure you can imagine how that went over. The audience cheered relentlessly as the rest of the band returned to the stage to bow with Brandi.
I wondered as I drove home what that December 6th show would have been like. I don’t think it would have been better than this. The love this state has for Brandi Carlile and the anticipation of this rescheduled date combined to create an unforgettable evening.