Brandi Carlile’s multi-night headlining debut at the Ryman Auditorium on Tuesday (Jan. 14) was as much a display of empathy and forgiveness as it was about Carlile’s storied catalog.
The beloved star set this tone by opening with a song that turns sadness into forgiveness with “Every Time I Hear That Song” off her 2019 Grammy nominated album By the Way, I Forgive You, setting the pace for the self-proclaimed “six life-changing, dream realizing nights,” in regard to her half dozen sold-out shows at the Mother Church of Country Music. Carlile shared that she listened to the Grand Ole Opry with her parents growing up on the opposite end of the country in Seattle, citing the famed radio show as “the place of my dreams” that embodied the “selfless traditional art of entertainment,” a quality that Carlile carries into her own work.
These reverent comments lead into her breakthrough hit that solidified her as an icon in the making, “the song that got me here,” she noted (using the phrase that’s often advised to those performing on the Opry) with the harrowing “The Story.” Yet one could hear a pin drop when Carlile and longtime band members and songwriting collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth shared the magic of the three-part harmonies they felt 20 years ago on the a capella “The Eye,” soon followed by the poetry that is “The Mother.”
Throughout the night that included a 90-minute set and nearly half an hour encore, Carlile’s devoted fans filled the Ryman to capacity with their faithful support, whether it be in the form of enduring applause or multiple standing ovations that lasted long after she sang the final note. Perhaps one of the reasons why Carlile is able to capture audiences in such a pure, honest way is that she’s willing to offer a glance into her soul, something she did with aplomb throughout her Ryman set, particularly as she spoke about the concept of forgiveness. “I write about it so I know how to do it,” she analyzed, describing forgiveness as “radical,” “filthy” and “dirty.” She shared that through raising daughters Evangeline and Elijah, she’s learned how to see others from a more empathetic view, which inspired a performance of “Sugartooth” about a person living with a drug addiction. This notion of acceptance translated to the audience as Carlile observed, “it’s nice seeing the rainbow flag at the Ryman” as she introduced the Highwomen’s gay country anthem she “loves to sing live,” “If Ever She Ever Leaves Me.” In the midst of these potent messages was a mesmerizing cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” that flexed the impeccable range and mellifluous tone Carlile’s long been revered for.
After inviting surprise guest Tanya Tucker to roaring applause for a performance of Tucker’s Grammy nominated song co-written by the pair, “Bring My Flowers Now,” the superstar ended the set with the song whose message she admits she needs to hear as much as she sings it. With a voice that was straight power, like an electric shot coursing through one’s veins, Carlile brought the monumental show to a stunning close through “The Joke.” But she didn’t leave the stage long, soon returning for a multi-song encore that began with a passionate dedication to one of her musical heroes, Kim Richey, before bringing the acclaimed singer-songwriter on stage to perform a peaceful and pristine rendition of Richey’s “A Place Called Home.”
But Carlile truly left the audience with their souls stirring as she officially ended the night on piano with the haunting “Party of One,” the piercing words made even more powerful with her gripping voice and the emotion behind it. With her incomparable voice and beautiful tapestry of words that pour from her soul, Carlile proved with the dreamlike show that she’s a gift that keeps on giving.