Keeping up with the Adventures of Brandi Carlile could be a full-time job. It’s felt like one at times, as the seemingly everywhere folk rocker transitioned from proven Americana star to household name, headlining arenas and running with some of her musical heroes.
Underscoring all the prime-time performances and showbiz glitz, Carlile has cemented herself as one of music’s most voracious, pure-hearted collaborators, a genuine spirit with a creative drive that’s spawned purposeful connections across the musical universe. Too many to fit on even a Gorge-sized stage, but that won’t stop her from trying.
Carlile’s fourth annual Echoes Through the Canyon returns to the Gorge Amphitheatre this weekend, stretching her annual concert into a three-night blowout with a little help from her friends. Most notably, folk legend Joni Mitchell will play her first headlining concert in more than 20 years at the landmark venue with an epic backdrop fit for such a monumental occasion.
While Mitchell and her continued return to the stage following a 2015 brain aneurysm left her unable to speak (let alone sing and play guitar) is undoubtedly the main event, the weekend lineup pulls together five years of life-changing rock ‘n’ roll adventures that brought Carlile and the Hanseroth twins to some pretty cool places, from red carpets to legends-only jam sessions at Joni pinch-me Mitchell’s house.
To borrow some backstage words from the Grammy-winning organizer herself, Carlile is now “bringin’ it home to the 206.” Er, make that the 509.
For the hardcore Bramily fans and casuals alike, here’s a primer on all the Carlile connections who’ll be rockin’ the big stage next weekend.
Ahead of Carlile’s headlining set Friday, the weekend starts with Allison Russell, one of Americana’s most exciting “new” stars, who’s been on a roll since breaking out as a solo artist with 2021’s “Outside Child” – a Grammy-nominated concept album that deals with the trauma and recovery from childhood sexual abuse Russell endured at the hands of her adoptive father. Russell’s expertly crafted emotional heavy-hitters (which aren’t without rays of light) stood out on their own, but it didn’t hurt that the Canadian singer-songwriter had some of the genre’s best in her corner. Russell had already been performing with various ensembles for roughly two decades, gaining wider recognition with Our Native Daughters – a group of Black female banjo players assembled by Rhiannon Giddens.
Carlile became a friend and fan, and as Russell prepped her solo debut, Carlile played record-label matchmaker, connecting Russell with the same imprint that released Tanya Tucker’s Carlile-produced album. The two teamed up more directly last year on the bright-eyed duet “You’re Not Alone,” a safe set-list bet next weekend.
Friday night’s other supporting slot goes to the Mumford & Sons co-founder, Marcus Mumford, whose still-fresh solo album is a galaxy away from the rollicking boot-stompers he and the sons found fame with more than a decade ago. Though it’s hardly the only theme on the British folk rocker’s “(self-titled)” LP, the album is bookended by chilling tracks that also deal with childhood sexual abuse – the introductory single “Cannibal” and Carlile-assisted closer “How,” which directly address his abuser.
The latter stemmed from a Pacific Coast Highway drive the two took together the morning after a dinner party at Elton John’s house. Mumford played “Cannibal” and other demos that had Carlile “crying behind my sunglasses,” she told Variety. The drive ended at a recording studio where Carlile, after clearing her schedule, helped Mumford finish the unflinching “How,” cutting their intimate vocals “2 feet away from each other’s faces” in a single take. Carlile’s voice rides just under Mumford’s like a gust beneath a new pair of wings he’s still figuring out how to fly with.
Joni Mitchell and the Joni Jam
Carlile might be the home state host, but there’s no mistaking who the belle of this year’s ball really is (and Brandi would be the first to say so). Last summer, Joni Mitchell, 79, gave her first public performance in years at the Newport Folk Festival, a heartwarming milestone in the music icon’s recovery from that 2015 aneurysm. “It’s amazing what an aneurysm knocks out,” Mitchell told CBS Mornings last year. “How to get out of a chair, you don’t know how to get out of a bed. You have to learn all these things by rote again … There’s a lot of, going back to infancy almost, you have to relearn everything.”
Joined by Carlile and an all-star band that included Mumford and Phil and Tim Hanseroth, Mitchell’s unannounced Newport set mimicked living room jam sessions Carlile helped wrangle with a rotating cast of music A-listers. (If we’re dropping names, everyone from Dolly Parton and Herbie Hancock to Harry Styles.) Those in-home jams paved the way for Mitchell’s return to the stage, and that fabled Newport show is getting the live album treatment with a release date next month. But not before the Canadian folk hero, after an opening set from Carlile, serenades a sold-out Gorge – a rare treat that will draw fans from well beyond the Northwest.
Speaking of rare gigs, for all the headlines this country supergroup generated with its industry-challenging debut, the Highwomen have still only performed together a handful of times, most recently supporting Chris Stapleton at Wrigley Field last summer. So it goes for the quartet/collective formed by Americana vets Amanda Shires, Carlile and Natalie Hemby, and country-pop star Maren Morris – four in-demand artists with main-thing solo careers. In fact, next Sunday marks the first proper, separate-ticket headlining show from the group, which coalesced to take on country radio’s boys club.
Four years later, country radio is still a Solo-cup-hoisting dude fest. But The Highwomen’s self-titled album succeeded in raising awareness around the genre’s woeful gender disparity, earning critical acclaim and nominations at all the major country award shows. (Their inclusive singalong “Crowded Table” won best country song at the 2021 Grammys.)
The weekend goes out in honky-tonkin’ style, with the Highwomen joined by one of country music’s great firecrackers: Tanya Tucker. A former child star whose first hit came in the early ’70s, Tucker’s career has reignited like a Saturn Missile since linking up with Shooter Jennings, Carlile and their extended musical family on 2019’s “While I’m Livin’,” Tucker’s first album in a decade. The ink was still drying on the Hanseroths’ matching Tanya tattoos when Tucker and the gang won best country album and song (“Bring My Flowers Now”) at the Grammys three years ago.
Now, fresh off her Country Music Hall of Fame induction, Tucker released her second record with the familial dream team, “Sweet Western Sound” on June 2. The first three singles flash some of the rhinestone magic that made their first outing sparkle, so if the rest of the album is half as good as the Hanseroths-penned “Kindness,” the Grammys might come calling again.
Michael Rietmulder is The Seattle Times music writer.