With mountains of snow falling in a typical Midwestern blizzard outside, Bloomington, Indiana’s Buskirk-Chumley Theater had the pleasure of hosting two amazingly talented female folk singers, Anais Mitchell and Patty Griffin. Those brave enough to trudge through the blustery winter weather were well rewarded for their effort.
The Chumley Theater is relatively small, so it offers its audience an intimate experience. The performers didn’t feel like distant beings we idolized from afar, but like family members who had invited us into their living rooms for an evening round of stories spun into song.
Anais Mitchell, a young woman with a very old soul, opened the show at 8 p.m. Her songs spin tales of despair and heartache that are reminiscent of storytelling Appalachian folk songs. Clearly she had a distinct impact on the crowd – they sat on the edge of their seats, listening with a rapt attention generally not given to opening acts. Though her songs are often spiced with a maudlin tinge and breezy guitar technique, it is Mitchell’s innocence and genial stage presence that make audiences love her.
Patty Griffin arrived onstage at 9 p.m. for her 90-minute set, accompanied only by her guitar player and producer, Craig Ross. With quick grins to the crowd, they strapped on their guitars and went immediately into the first song.
Following the success of Griffin’s recent albums “American Kid” and “Silver Bell,” a bulk of the set was dedicated to bringing those songs to the forefront, which Griffin did spectacularly. Of course, different songs were thrown into the mix, including a brand new one tentatively titled “Winter’s Lullaby.” With Griffin’s gentle vocals weaving in and out of the soft chords of the piano, the audience was immediately under her spell for the rest of the night.
Griffin is petite, and when she stands amidst her equipment, she almost disappears. But if you see her perform in person, don’t let her gentle or delicate appearance fool you. As soon as the show began, I forgot everything else and focused only on the musical dynamo before me.
With her breathtaking, achingly beautiful powerhouse of a voice, Griffin captivated her audience from the first words of her songs. The lyrics evoked a strong emotional response and gave the set a very intimate feel.
The instrumentation provided by Ross and Griffin was top-notch; Griffin’s long, delicate fingers flew over the frets of her guitar in wild but controlled abandon. Her fiery red hair bounced in time to the beat as she stomped her feet on the wooden stage and her voice crescendoed to reach the final note.
The audience was enraptured, completely caught up in her performance. I think we all realized we were in the presence of a true master – a music legend.