in performance: use your voice tour featuring patty griffin, sara watkins and anais mitchell


patty griffin.

patty griffin.

Folk stylist Anais Mitchell almost playfully dubbed her performance last night with Patty Griffin and Sara Watkins at the Singletary Center for the Arts as “Wing It Night No. 3.” That meant this installment of the week-old Use Your Voice Tour scrapped the formal notion of a set list so the three songstresses could emphasize an impromptu folk attitude, ably assisted by guitarist David Pulkingham.

The pace was leisurely, the music sounded serenely rich and the overall vibe proved inviting and loose. Sure, that meant the three would usually huddle a bit in deciding on a tune to perform. Watkins seemed especially game for the approach, taking one request from the audience and another from Griffin.

Though there wasn’t a specified headliner among the three, Griffin was unquestionably the marquee act and the clear matriarch of this onstage folk alliance. Though each singer exchanged tunes round-robin style, Griffin’s Truth #2, with its casual but commanding group harmonies, and her popular grandmotherly tribute Mary began and ended the set. In between, there were a pair of lightly luminous songs from her recent Servant of Love album (the jaggedly rocking There Isn’t One Way and the spacious 250,000 Miles), a serving of original gospel (Standing, which sounded notably stronger minus the studio ambience that ran through the song’s original version on the 2004 album Impossible Dream) and the Spanish sung Caminito de la Sierra, which was as much a vehicle for Pulkingham’s guitar work as for Griffin’s lovely, poetic reading of the Mexican revolutionary saga.

Watkins and Mitchell were often just as compelling. The former reached back to her Nickel Creek days for Anthony, turning the tune into an audience participation round of whistling, while Take Up Your Spade was full of churchy affirmation. Mitchell offered perhaps the show’s most emotively varied set of songs, shifting from the quiet sentimentality of Your Fonder Heart to the social time piece Why We Build the Wall. The latter was steeped in a sense of paranoia and exclusion that seems as sadly timely now as it did when she recorded the song for her Hadestown album in 2010.

Use Your Voice allowed the three artists do just that during the curious encore cover of Moon River, where lead duties were traded as readily as songs were earlier in the evening. As a performance coda, the tune sounded elegant, unforced, and in its sense of simple romantic longing, gleefully unapologetic.

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