SALT LAKE CITY — Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile came to town over the weekend and pulled off something big.
We’re in the throes of Utah winter and Salt Lake City inversion and normally I’m heavy with gloom, but Carlile put on a show that left me feeling enthusiastic about being a human, and determined to be a better one.
Carlile’s Feb. 8 show at Vivint Arena started out with an hour of music from opening act Tanya Tucker, who is actually in the middle of a vibrant second act. The 61-year-old Tucker just won the first two Grammys of her nearly 50-year career. The first she won for Country Album of the Year and the other for Country Song of the Year, for a song she wrote with Carlile.
Tucker helped set the tone of the night. She cracked jokes, talked about her fond memories of growing up in St. George and how her classmates in Utah showed her more kindness than anywhere else she had lived.
Tucker danced around in her cowboy boots and hat, pulling out better moves than I could’ve done, and she’s a whole millennial-aged person older than me. And in fact, she has a millennial-aged daughter who sings backup for her. The crowd loved her theatrics and it seemed many were there more for her than Brandi Carlile.
After a chilling version of “Amazing Grace,” Tucker got to her hit, “Delta Dawn” — which made her famous at age 13 — and we all sang at the top of our lungs. I’ll admit, I only knew the song from the episode of “Friends” where Monica sings the song for karaoke, but still, I was happy to be singing along.
That’s one of my favorite things about going to a live concert. Singing together with a bunch of strangers. And when Carlile came out, it only got better.
She started out with “Hold Out Your Hand,” a Johnny Cash-like anthem that we joined with reckless abandon. It’s the kind of song that has lots of da da das and opportunities for stomps and claps, you know what I mean?
The 38-year-old came out with her sixth studio album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” in 2018 and by this point in her career, she’s got quite a repertoire. She sang a few of her biggest hits early on, including “The Story” and “Wherever is Your Heart.” She introduced her longtime bandmates and friends, twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth, and together they sang “The Eye,” in perfect three-part harmony. She called it their “native tongue.”
Carlile seems to have a lot of friends. She talked about a friendship she’s recently formed with one of her idols, Joni Mitchell. Carlile said she recently sang Mitchell’s own “Blue” album to her and it was one of the scariest things she’s ever done.
We were lucky enough to get a taste of Carlile’s interpretation of Mitchell when she sang a cover of “A Case of You,” what Carlile says is one of the three greatest songs ever written. I couldn’t hear anything Mitchell would have to critique.
Carlile also invited Tucker back on stage and they sang Carlile’s “It Wasn’t Me” and their Grammy-winning song, “Bring My Flowers Now,” with Tucker on vocals and Carlile playing piano. Tucker left the stage with a big hug from Carlile and holding her bulldog, who somehow had made its way onstage.
This was the feel of the whole show. It was like a big, warm family gathering. Carlile told intimate stories about her life as a mom to her precocious Evangeline and talked about the time she convinced her bandmates, “the twins,” to join her way back when. She told the story about how she wrote the song “Fulton County Jane Doe” for a woman who had died without anyone knowing her name. “If she died without a name, I thought that at least she should have a song.”
“By the Way, I Forgive You” is all about the importance of acceptance and forgiveness. I wanted to be better at both while I listened and even after I left. The best live music makes you feel something, and that’s what I felt while listening to Carlile.
She ended the show with “The Joke,” her biggest hit from the Grammy-winning album. It’s a powerhouse anthem that also won her two Grammys in 2019. When she finished and walked off the stage, I screamed, “No!” I didn’t want it to be over.
Carlile also sang “Crowded Table,” a song from The Highwaywomen, a group she formed in 2019 with Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby. She encouraged the entire audience to sing the chorus together. It goes like this:
“I want a house with a crowded table
“And a place by the fire for everyone.
“Let us take on the world while we’re young and able
“And bring us back together when the day is done.”
That sounds pretty good to me, too.