Brandi Carlile knows how to throw a birthday party.
Great music? Check, courtesy of herself, Emmylou Harris and Neko Case.
Great venue? Check, the Gorge Amphitheatre.
Great crowd? Check, 16,000 people strong.
Carlile, a Ravensdale, Washington native, kicked off her birthday concert, which she dubbed Echoes Through the Canyon, Saturday with back-to-back-to-back performances of “Hold Out Your Hand,” “Wherever Is Your Heart” and “Hard Way Home.”
Then, she stopped and laughed, finally allowing herself to take in the crowd in front of her during her first headlining show at the Gorge.
“Some things you have to see to believe, and sometimes you have to believe to see,” Carlile said. “I didn’t think I’d ever see what I’m seeing. This is unquestionably one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Carlile went on to tell the crowd that, after performing at the Gorge as a high school band member, she would sit on the lawn and dream about one day headlining the venue.
“I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” she said. “You’ve given me the best birthday present ever. (Band members Phil and Tim Hanseroth) and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being here.”
After a performance of “The Story,” Carlile reiterated her disbelief at the headlining show, sharing a story about once opening for the Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge on a beer garden stage.
Carlile and the Hanseroths rented a U-Haul and lugged their own PA system to the Gorge. They ended up sleeping in the U-Haul after the show.
“Has there ever been another artist on this stage that’s slept in a U-Haul after playing the beer garden stage?” Carlile asked the crowd, triumphantly.
From there, it was back to the music with an acoustic performance from Carlile and the Hanseroth twins of “The Eye,” from “The Firewatcher’s Daughter,” and “Raise Hell,” from “Bear Creek,” which looked to be as fun to play as it was to hear.
Carlile then told the audience that becoming a mother (she and wife Catherine Shepherd have two daughters.) had given her “debilitating empathy” which meant she couldn’t get mad at others anymore because “At the end of the day, you realize everyone is somebody’s baby.”
It was this empathy that led Carlile and the Hanseroths to write a song about a Jane Doe who was found in Georgia’s Fulton County.
Little was known about the woman except that she was 30, had given birth and had a tattoo of Jesus on her hand.
“It bothered us that someone’s baby could leave the earth without a name,” Carlile said. “If we could do something about it, she sure as hell isn’t going to leave the world without a song.”
That song, “Fulton County Jane Doe,” appears on “By the Way, I Forgive You,” which was released in February 2018 and earned Carlile three Grammy wins from six nominations.
Before playing “The Joke,” which won the Grammys for best American roots song and best American roots performance, Carlile told those in the crowd who didn’t already know about the song’s success with a casual “We recently won two or three Grammys for this one. Then we got to play it on TV!”
Somehow, Carlile’s performance of “The Joke” at the Gorge was even more passionate than her performance of the song at the Grammys.
Carlile followed that up with fantastic covers of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and Joan Baez’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” which was composed by Anne Bredon.
Carlile shared more of her experience becoming a mother for the first time before performing “The Mother,” then performed “Whatever You Do.”
After introducing the band (Carlile introduced herself as Elton John.), she launched into “Pride and Joy” then brought Harris onstage for a performance of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.”
The audience then took a moment to sing “Happy Birthday” to Carlile before she and her band played a cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and her own “Mainstream Kid.”
Carlile and crew then kicked off their encore with “Every Time I Hear That Song,” from “By the Way.”
“I wanted to add a couple things to the setlist because I’m having so much damn fun,” Carlile said before telling the crowd that she knows they want to leave early to avoid traffic but that they should stay and party.
A vast majority of the crowd stayed put.
Carlile continued with a John Denver medley: “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High” and “Sunshine On My Shoulders.”
She returned to her own discography for “Party of One,” from “By the Way,” before bringing out sister Tiffany Hanseroth for a cover of Jane Siberry’s “Calling All Angels.”
“Hey Tiffany, that’s 16,000 people out there. No big deal,” Carlile said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so comfortable with an audience. This is one of the best days of my life. Happy (expletive) Birthday to me.”
But, really, it’s a draw about who had the better day: the birthday girl or the audience, who got to revel in Carlile’s glee while she took them through her discography for nearly two hours.
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