Amanda Shires: The Power of Live Music
Have you ever left a show with a real, renewed love for the music? The kind of thing that goes beyond just ‘love,’ but requires your complete immersion in the music afterward? The kind of thing that spirals out of control; requiring music from awake to asleep, earbuds or headphones at times when you can’t listen otherwise, a playlist running while you sleep, or finds you running down musical rabbit holes at 4am on Spotify or YouTube? Does this happen every time for you?
I don’t think it does for me all the time, and I’m not sure the reason. Probably a lot of different reasons, really. But nonetheless, as much as l love this music and the community that comes with it, there are some nights where I leave relatively unchanged, no matter how much I’ve enjoyed the show. And that’s okay. Every night doesn’t have to be a barn burner, and I sure don’t expect it to be. But this particular night was.
We couldn’t pass up seeing Amanda Shires in a venue like Oklahoma City’s Tower Theatre, and the addition of local favorite Carter Sampson was like a sweet, marvelous bonus. We made the drive up from just south of the Oklahoma/Texas border, already feeling like we were going to be a part of something uniquely special, and these masters of lyricism and storytelling did not disappoint. It was a seated show; no photography or video-taking allowed for the duration, and it was one of the best concert experiences I’ve had. Even with a tired (or sleeping) 7-year-old draped across our laps for a large part of the night. And that’s saying something.
Before the show started, we hit the merch tables and learned about Carter’s Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, an amazing week-long camp she puts together for girls from ages 8-17 in OKC. Carter came out and introduced us to her band: Jason Scott on guitar and Kyle Reid on pedal steel; later telling the crowd that Kyle was on his 4th out of 5 shows for the night.
She opened with “Lucky,” the title track from her most recent album; and her set included personal favorites like “Anything Else To Do,” “Wilder Side,” and “Tulsa,” a Kalyn Fay tune. Her storytelling shone with “Ten Penny Nails,” written about Guy Clark, his wife Susanna, and Townes Van Zandt; and “Rattlesnake Kate,” a true story of a woman living in Colorado in the 20s, who killed 140 migrating rattlesnakes in defense of herself and her son. Carter’s songs and her voice are captivating and authentic. She’s as real as it gets and her heart is in her craft, and you know this from the moment you hear her sing or talk about the music, or the Rock and Roll Camp. She’s also my newest obsession and absolute perfect choice to open the show for Amanda Shires.
Amanda and her band played songs from her last two albums, predominantly, over the course of the night: My Piece of Land and To the Sunset, two albums that are very different from each other, but still capture her voice and her art in a way that you know is all Amanda. I love to see an artist not afraid to change or evolve over time, and she does so with ease and style. She led the band through almost twenty songs over the course of the night, each ebbing and flowing as the band jammed at times, and spotlighted solos at others. She started the night off on electric guitar, but being known for the fiddle, the excitement was tangible when she traded the electric for the fiddle a few songs in.
What can you even say about seeing Amanda Shires play the fiddle? It’s an experience. It’s never wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple fill for just a moment, or if it’s an entire solo, or if she’s jamming something out with the band. It’s always exactly as it should be. The highlight of the night, though, was, without a doubt, the encore. Coming out with only Peter Levin on piano to cover the Jason Molina (Ohia) song “Just Be Simple,” the two played for several minutes. It was breathtaking, literally. We were all holding our breath, all afraid to breathe for missing something or out of fear that we might make a sound and interrupt the moment. Only when it ended could we all exhale. I’m convinced there‘s nothing she can’t do. No story she can’t wield into something bigger than its original parts.
It was spectacular. I was renewed. And I left with an intense longing for the music that has yet to be satisfied, even weeks later.
And that’s the power of live music, friends. When we set aside our ideas and notions…and our phones…and really HEAR and not just listen, when we let it do what it does: wash over us, make us vulnerable and open to experiences, and allow it to change us. It does. And it makes us better.
Amanda Shires has been tearing up stages for more than 20 years, both on her own and alongside names like John Prine, Jason Isbell, The Texas Playboys, and Todd Snider. She’s a wife, a mom, a Grammy winner, and she holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry; something she earned while doing all of the above.