Not long into her performance Gretchen Peters announced ‘If you don’t like sad songs then you’re in the wrong place,’ much to the amusement of the crowd, who all knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when they took their seats. Before the show people were even cheerily buying notebooks and t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘sad songs make me happy’, which were for sale at the merchandise stand. Embracing the joy of melancholy is something Scottish people are famous for, after all.
Special guest Kim Richey opened the show with a combination of winning charm and a truly breathtaking voice. A seasoned troubadour, with stories and songs of the highest quality, it was a pleasure to hear her perform live. She played selections from her new album Edgeland (read my review here) and they sounded great, especially Pin A Rose and Chase Wild Horses. Her sole ‘happy song’ was the wonderful ‘Every River’ and she finished with the beautiful ‘Straight as the Crow Flies’. Thankfully that was not the last we would hear from her on this evening.
Before I begin I should admit that Gretchen Peters has always been an artist I’ve been meaning to listen to rather than someone whose music I am overly familiar with, but there was no better introduction to her talent than this spellbinding show. She is a familiar face in Scotland though, explaining this was her ‘16th time’ in Edinburgh and immediately impressed the crowd by pronouncing the city correctly. Her partner Barry Walsh accompanied her on the grand piano, really adding to the live songs (he even played accordion which never fails to go down well with us Scots).
The set began with ‘Arguing with Ghosts’, the opening track from her new album ‘Dancing With the Beast’ which was released last week (album review to come). Sure the music is serious and sad, but that’s because these songs are about important real life experiences. Her music is full of sorrow at the passage of time and the cruelties of fate, like on Wichita. Other highlights from the new album included Truckstop Angel and the haunting Boy From Rye, which she explained was a cautionary tale of how men can manipulate and divide women.
With someone like Kim Richey on tour it would have been a missed opportunity not to collaborate and so it was a delight when she joined Gretchen on a version of Say Grace. Faith is another recurring theme in her music and listening to these two women sing was nothing short of heavenly. I couldn’t help welling up (and wishing I’d brought tissues).
The highlight of the evening was the touching tribute Gretchen made to her friend Jimmy LaFave, who died almost exactly a year ago. She explained how he had recorded the definitive version of ‘On a Bus to St Cloud’ and how she had sung it to him before he sadly passed away. When she began singing the song there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Maybe you’re never really gone when your friends can honour your spirit in music this way.
The encore included a cover of ‘Why You Been Gone So Long’ before Gretchen and her band received a well deserved ovation from the audience. She then emerged from the side of the stage into the crowd and began to sing Love That Makes A Cup of Tea, entirely acoustic and unplugged. Unsurprisingly, I was wiping away tears again at the simple beauty of her voice.
I have gone to hundreds of shows over the years and I can count on my hand how many times I’ve cried. The fact I was moved by these songs, most of whom I was unfamiliar with, demonstrated the deep emotional power of this music. Sad songs really are the best.
Despite my tears I went home so happy, believing the world is a better place with people like Gretchen and Kim in it, telling us their stories, singing their songs and making us believe that love (and music) might just save us all from going over the cliff.
Gretchen & Kim are on tour in the U.K. through May/June and Gretchen returns to Scotland to play the Southern Fried festival in July. Don’t miss them.