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Tift in Virginia, Friday March 21st, 2008 by your New Bouncing Baby Screaming Teen

On Friday, March 21st I went out to see Tift Merritt with my best friend John Gilbert, my trusted and respected companion and fellow lover of all things musical and true. I have to apologize for the long delay in posting my story, but better late than never, this is the first show my friend and I have gone out to in nearly 10 years, left the kids and the jobs behind. It’s taken me a while to process everything that happened, what we heard and saw and the intense feelings that I have about the whole thing but if you’ll bear with me I think I have some words that can tell the story if you’ll buckle your seat belt and let me take you for a ride to another country, although there are no words that can ever really describe music or the different levels that songs are experienced on – the real kind, from genuine material and made to last.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Fantasy recording artist Tift Merritt! And that’s where the story begins, with a roar from the crowd that seemed to split the sky as Tift and the boys took the stage of the Birchmere on a chilly night in Alexandria, Virginia, no one was wondering what the French movie that played on the wall as we waited was all about anymore. She opened the show with four songs in a row from the new album Another Country, giving the new tunes their moment in the sun. It was a perfect move, every song built on the last, picking up so much momentum it was like the whole world was leaning closer in to hear and see Tift and her fantastic band in action, from the opening song “I Know What I’m Looking For Now” blowing in gently, stroked by her fingers on the keys and her voice caressing the room to the crackle and chime of “Broken,” everyone in the room feeling the goose bumps of recognition from the first note to the last line leaving her lips and touching everyone with the hope that fills her heart, “I think I will break but I mend.” The band is incredibly tight, the show is just as much an opportunity for her guys to raise the roof as Tift, Scott McCall stepping in for Brad Rice with an amazing sound on the Telecaster, as much gale force in the delicate notes as the burning solos, the fire in Zeke’s eyes as he brings the rhythm with blues eyes blazing in the rain, Danny’s cathedrals of chords and riffs firing off like rockets and Jay’s foundation as solid as a rock behind the melodies and harmonies that Jay and Tift sang like angels. I left that night with the impression that they all enjoy playing the new songs she’s written, every song on Another Country was played and often re-invented as new parts weaved in and out of the familiar, from “Something To Me” soaring like stones skipping across your favorite creek, “I’ll take the long day, come round the right way…,” into the mystic and majestic power of “Another Country,” Scott’s heroic leads taking the song higher and higher, by this point it was clear that Tift and her band meant every word and every note played, every beat that night was a joy, a chance for all of our souls to shine. This was my first time seeing her play live and I’m still living in a state of constant amazement and wonder, it was more than just a concert, this night was an affirmation of life and an inspiration that will stay with me for the rest of my days. I was a fan before but now I feel like a true believer, and I mean every word when I say that on the stage she is a seductive sorceress singing the sweetest siren songs the world has ever heard, swaying circles with her body and soul full out into every song, every sound and movement a spell of enchantment and mystery. If you’ve never been to a live show and she’s coming to your neck of the woods, get some tickets now!

As the last note of “Another Country” faded the whole room seemed to sigh as if by singing something so simple and true the heaviest burden that anyone had carried in was lifted away, “I wanna go too, wanna go with you…” This first segment of the night alone was worth the ticket price and the long drive south in Friday night rush hour traffic in Northern Virginia, through the bowels of hell, into the dust and wind and the dread and out the other side, into the door where the magic happens…Zeke and Danny take a breather now, Tift, Jay and Scott sing “Supposed To Make You Happy” together up front at the edge of the stage, Tift strumming the chords by herself and humming the harmonica like a total troubadour, a perfect segue leading into “Hopes Too High,” another beautiful version of a new song that drops in like an old friend, hugs you with honesty and warmth, “Touch me when it’s daytime…” They dipped into Tambourine next and pulled out “Ain’t Looking Closely” and turned the song into something that hit an undeniable groove, so much soul and passion in her keyboard riffs dancing in and out of Danny’s, her legs and hips dipping with the rhythms of the band in motion and suddenly it didn’t seem like everyone in the room was sitting down anymore as the song peaked and we all lifted off the ground, set free.

Tift graciously introduced her partners after the applause swelled all around us like ocean waves, and then asked us if we’d mind if they tried a new song out that they hadn’t played on the new tour yet, the song they jammed on was “Tell Me Something True,” now channeling Memphis and Detroit soul, Scott chopping and slashing like Steve Cropper, Tift taking the spirit of Aretha out and slipping into the sweet pocket of her song, boogieing across the stage and picking up her tambourine to bang out the bump and grind in the happy Motown and Stax beats, there weren’t any horn players blowing that night but I could hear them anyway, Tift was so lively on this one it was like every second was a chance for the song to keep rising to a new height of playful, melodic, pure joy. I hope they keep this one in the set list as they travel on the road. As the first notes of “Keep You Happy” began to sparkle a gentle hush fell on the music hall, another gift from Another Country that is even better live, Scott’s talents at filling the spaces in Tift’s songs really showed here, stoking the flame at the heart of this slow burner, smoldering like the sun on glass in the hours before dusk. Then everything changed, Tift reaching for her hot rod, a red Telecaster with a chrome pickguard, it’d been sitting patiently all night like a muscle car parked on the stage, and they burned through “My Heart Is Free” like they were on a mission, just tearing it up and rocking everyone’s socks off, thunder and lightning now, taking us into the eye of the hurricane through the rock and roll and raw kinetic energy that Tift and her boys layed down and kept going to the first chord of “Neighborhood,” working it out on the Telecasters like a Rolling Stone, like all of the best elements of country and rock fusing into a motif that is entirely hers and also belongs to all of us who still believe in music, the saving grace and salvation in songs played from the heart and soul, written for the open road, for the smoky bar, the deck and patio of your house or mine, “Just ask anybody in the neighborhood…”

Back to the keys again, she warned everyone that the next one was going to be serious, and “Tender Branch” flowed out like a river, currents of words and notes traveling through time, the songs on Another Country are so tightly connected through Tift’s lyrics and the way they’re arranged that switching the album order in the show was perfectly logical, “Morning Is My Destination,” and we’re still on that river but with a port in sight, a place to dock at a harbor with the first light of day breaking, the theme of morning and renewal carried on from “Something To Me,” Van Morrison in the house, this is another new one that got an incredible boost from the stage, Tift never sat down once the entire night, her piano skills are sharply honed and its seems as natural for her to be strumming a guitar as to stand behind the keyboard, swaying and singing about the sound and the fury, the longing and heartache, the bliss and contentment of certainty and purpose, while the band builds and builds and the melody climbs like a clematis vine about to flower, reaching for the sun and opening the first bloom of the season. “Good Hearted Man” was played solo by Tift on the keys, slowed down for her to hold the torch high so everyone could see, a transformation that revealed more of her honesty and integrity she puts into every song she writes, then picking up her red and white acoustic again for “Stray Paper” and weaving a story of regret, what could have been, what was and what’s left behind, with the backbeat of the ghost of ages and as sharp and stinging as a paper cut. Then the first notes of “Virginia, No One Can Warn You” jumped out and took center stage, what was really impressive was that she didn’t lose a bit of composure when either Scott started in a different key or the sound engineer changed settings unexpectedly or both, she still sang the song as if nothing was wrong and ended with a smile on her face, everyone but Jay taking a break and she and Jay sang “Are You Still In Love With Me” back up at the front of the stage, slowly and sweetly. Tift joked with the crowd about her French movie from earlier in the evening, “You were making fun of my movie, weren’t you?” She told the story of how living in France while she wrote the songs on Another Country she discovered and fell in love with the story in the movie about two people that had a bond so special that they were together when they were apart, no matter what the distance was, if you don’t see me you can find me in the tender moments, when someone shows a kindness to another, in the delicate, fragile things of the world, that’s where I hide – “Mille Tendresses” is a gorgeous song and Scott played lines that added new dimensions, expressing emotions with the guitar that blended in so well with her vocals sung in French that we all knew that the song could only be sung in that language, a poem that touched everyone with a gentleness like a hand that makes contact with you and lifts away the stress and worry and reminds you of how extraordinary people are when they show care and empathy for each other. Total enthusiastic applause was given in return, a standing ovation as she threw her arms out as if to say I don’t deserve this much, it’s just me, but everyone just applauded louder anyway, cheering and raising our voices to make sure Tift and her band knew how much we appreciated what they had done that night for all of us, exit stage left for Tift and the boys and the house lights came back on.

A universal sigh of disappointment but also a feeling that we were witness to an evening of the most beautiful songs anyone could have asked for in their wildest dreams. As we filed out of the hall only one thought was on my mind, make a beeline for the car and grab the cameras and the gift bag for Tift. I had the bottle of Maker’s Mark to present, a big package of sharpies and a cd of old Cajun songs done by a variety of superb musicians including Maria McKee, John Fogerty, Rodney Crowell, Linda Rondstadt and Beausoleil, with Sonny Landreth himself guesting on slide guitar on one track. Had I known how ironic this thing was to give to her I would have said something more about why I brought it, the connection points are very interesting: first there’s Maria’s songs with Tift on Tambourine and the two Maria McKee songs sung in French (all the songs on the album are in Acadian/Cajun) paralleling Tift’s journey to France and “Mille Tendresses,” then there’s Tift’s trip to New Orleans last week, just a step away from Evangeline Parish (the cd is titled Evangeline Made), the Bourbon Orleans hotel the Tenessee Williams festival set up the Art of Songwriting panel in is in pictures I took as my wife and I passed the building every day from the Dauphine where we stayed for a week in the French Quarter when we were married in 1997, and finally there’s Tift’s Mountain Stage show in Kentucky last night with Sonny Landreth – if he ends up guesting on her next album that would be beyond a twist of fate, some kind of divine intervention! We waited our turn in line, shaking a bit but smiling steady, I took my friend John’s picture with Tift after setting my stuff down on her table, then I’m on deck…the moment when she hugged the Cajun cd I gave her to herself was very precious, I hope that she enjoys it as much as I have over the years, she loved the sharpies and leaped over to my side of the table when I pulled the Maker’s Mark out and said I was going for the Screaming Teen Fan Club all the way to pull me over under the lamp for the Kodak moment. My digital camera has a delayed reaction so I was looking at Tift when the picture was taken, right away she said that we’d better get another one and kept holding on, the funny thing is that the first one turned out better because I blinked when the flash went off the second time. Now it’s autograph time, and she signed my tambourine, I’ll send a picture out as soon as I can, it’s pretty cool, and the cd covers too. It feels a little funny now to think that the last thing I said to her was a request for “Shadow In The Way” next time, but she gave that the thumbs up so it could have been worse, at least I got some words out. So we left, went back north and played Tift’s songs until 3 in the morning on the stereo, laughing and crying and just so grateful it’s amazing that sleep came at all.

I wish that she had played and sang until dawn, I wish I’d turn the flash off on the camera we used to take our pictures with Tift, I wish I’d looked directly at the camera with my eyes open, I wish I’d thought more about what I wanted to say to her and not been so damn nervous, I wish I had her sign the Bramble Rose cd too, I wish I’d handed the thank you card I’d written instead of leaving it hidden in the bag, but it is what is and it is loud, an awesome set of memories and a wonderful treasure to have had the privilege of seeing Tift and her band play and meeting her afterward, she is unbelievably friendly and open and she has a smile as wide as the sky. I hope you enjoyed my story and it didn’t drag on too long, the pictures are here too, living proof that there’s a new induction into the Tift Merritt Screaming Teen Fan Club about to happen – Repeat after me: I, state your name…your TMSTFC name is… and a big, big thank you for all the great downloads, the acoustic versions of the Tambourine songs are huge! I'm really hoping that there's another stop at KCRW for Morning Becomes Eclectic again this time. Oh, I almost forgot, for the t-shirt I'm a medium, the mailing address is below. Still think I should have got a Tift Merritt Has A Posse t-shirt, how funny is that!

posted @ Monday, March 31, 2008 11:47 AM by admin

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COMMENTS

Wow, Tom, thanks for taking the time to share your experience of the show so eloquently. I felt alot like that the first time I saw her as well. Now I'm getting really excited for the shows I'll get to see this tour! Thanks so much. Welcome to the Teens, Mack Daddy #?

Shug

posted @ Monday, March 31, 2008 12:56 PM by Shug


Tom--thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful review--you do realize that you are eligible for an official mack-daddy t-shirt and number designation, yes? If interested, contact me directly at preid@ec.rrcom. Phillip.

posted @ Monday, March 31, 2008 3:30 PM by Phillip Reid


Hi Phillip,

Thank you for the kind words on the review, it was a
total labor of love, I'm really glad that it was so
well received. Of course I'm in for a t-shirt, I
wasn't sure about the TMSTFC initiation steps so I
tried to post my review on Write My Ticket and didn't
get too far so I emailed Chris directly. I'm still
surprised and very grateful for the opens arms welcome
for my story, it means a lot to me that you guys are
so gracious to new fans joining in. I've been a fan of
Tift's since the first time I saw the Virginia video
on CMT and it's about time I jumped in the water with
the rest of the gang. Unfortunately yahoo kicked your email address back, if you can send me a message at tmiller9us@yahoo.com I'll send out my mailing address and we can set up a paypal exchange for the shipping/etc. I pasted the address out of your post and double checked it so I'm not sure what happened but we'll work it out, "what is broken falls into place once again."
Tom

FYI: from yahoo -
<preid@ec.rrcom>:
Sorry, I couldn't find any host named ec.rrcom. (#5.1.2)

posted @ Monday, March 31, 2008 7:45 PM by tmiller9us


Hi Shug,

Didn't mean to leave you out, I appreciated what you said very much as well. How many shows have you been too? I'm curious about the early shows, from the Bramble Rose years, the download section has so many cool songs that would have made great album tracks, not sure which ones are covers and which are Tift's. See you on the message board...
Tom

posted @ Tuesday, April 01, 2008 12:55 PM by tmiller9us


Hi Shug,

Didn't mean to leave you out, I appreciated what you said very much as well. How many shows have you been too? I'm curious about the early shows, from the Bramble Rose years, the download section has so many cool songs that would have made great album tracks, not sure which ones are covers and which are Tift's. See you on the message board...
Tom

posted @ Tuesday, April 01, 2008 12:55 PM by tmiller9us


Tom,

I saw Tift for the first time on the Tambourine tour. You can check out my review in this same section, its the 3rd and Lindsely show in Nashville, TN. Then I saw two more shows on the same tour, in Memphis and in St. Louis. The Memphis show was the one at which the first bottle of Maker's was presented to Tift. You can read Phillip's story about that in the origins of the Mack Daddy FAQ. And then I've seen her twice solo acoustic since then. I really like the full band shows, so I'm stoked for this tour, will catch Los Angeles and Tucson. I was not really aware of Tift for Bramble Rose, so didn't see that tour, I would have liked to hear the band when Dave Wilson and Greg Readling were in it, I really like pedal steel guitar.

You should really check out the DVD from Austin TX, you will see the full power of Tift with Brad Rice, its quite staggering to me. I'm looking forward to hearing Scott, too, though.

posted @ Tuesday, April 01, 2008 2:28 PM by Shug


Hey Shug,

I loved your review of the Tambourine tour concert, been jamming the DVD since stumbling across on the shelf in Borders in February. Thank God they put that out, it renewed my love for Tift's songs in a huge way and I converted another fan from the first song when I took it over to his house. I even played it for my son and his fellow 9 year olds and they were as captivated as me, I was trying to tell them about the Birchmere show but you really have to see her and her band doing their thing live to appreciate it. Here's hoping that the NC show will be released sooner than later. I swear I didn't read your review before I wrote mine, funny how we used some of the same descriptive terms, but there's only so many words that are available to convey the emotions and to describe perfection and natural beauty. I'll try not to double post this time...

Peace, Love & Understanding,

Tom

posted @ Thursday, April 03, 2008 8:45 AM by tmiller9us


Glad you liked the piece I wrote. I don't think I captured how blown away I was at that show, it was one of those time when you have a hunch you are about to see and hear something really good and it turns out to be true and even exceeds your expecatations. I felt very very lucky and was just beaming for a long time after that show. There was no backstage, so after the show Tift and the guys were just hanging out on the sidewalk and I practically acosted them with my enthusiasm, which I think they appreciated even though they might have been taken aback a little bit!

Glad you are enjoying the DVD, we are lucky to have that great document of the band on that tour, especially now that we know it will probably not happen again with that particular line up. A great moment in time to have preserved for enjoyment again and again.

posted @ Thursday, April 03, 2008 1:55 PM by Shug


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