Thursday, March 27, 2008

Off-Topic Post - Jewel Concert

By Nicole
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Confession: I love country music. I used to hate it – then I lived in the south for 6 years and I couldn’t escape it. I decided to embrace it and now I’d estimate 65% of my iPod is country music. I’ll admit I’m no music snob. I don’t listen for musicality or great instrument playing. I listen to music to either 1. sing along or 2. dance. Sometimes both.

I like silly, stupid and nostalgic music. I have the New Kids on the Block and Foreigner Greatest Hits on my iPod. Under no circumstances would I suggest asking me about the greatest drummer in the history of rock and roll. I wouldn’t have a clue. I appreciate that many people out there take music very seriously, but I’m not that person. My music is entertainment. It gets me through a long day of work. I’m one of those people that always has a song in my head. So I apologize if this recap is surface at best. Discussing music is a little out of my element, but I saw a really cool concert last night and I thought I’d share.

I’m a member of FM 106’s listener program in which you sign in and earn points by answering questions and entering the name of the artist of the day, etc.. I’m pretty sure every station has a program like this. You usually use your points to “buy” entries into raffles, but on occasion they’ll have times when you can just trade-in your points and you get something in return. There’s no “contest.” A few weeks ago I noticed there was a new trade-in, so I checked it out. For 10,610 points you could get 2 free tickets to see a special “members only” concert by Jewel at Potowatomi’s Northern Lights Theater. Jewel is about to release a country album, so that’s the FM 106 connection. The concert didn’t appear on Jewel’s website nor the Potowatomi calendar.

I have a friend from high school that’s a HUGE Jewel friend. We’re talking she took guitar lessons to be like Jewel. In high school she took down a Brad Pitt poster to hang up a Jewel poster and her dad came in and asked if she still liked boys. Big BIG Jewel fan.

So when I saw the tickets I traded in my points and gave her a call. Despite the fact that the concert was a week before her due date, she jumped at the chance.

As far as I’m concerned, I enjoy Jewel’s music, but it’s not really my genre. She uses a lot of vibrato which can really get on my nerves. But a free show and a happy friend were enough to get me there.

If you’ve never seen an act in the Northern Lights Theater, I’d suggest you check it out. I’ve seen a rock show there as well as another country show and they were both cool, but last night’s “intimate” performance was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been to. It felt as though Jewel was sitting in my living room, playing to me. She couldn’t have been more than 15 feet away and the whole experience was very warm and personal.

She played for an hour and a half and I’d say she played about 10 songs. There was a lot of storytelling, which really enhanced the idea that this was a casual, friendly kind of performance. It really made it special and allowed you to connect further with the music. I have to say I’m a much bigger Jewel fan today than I was yesterday. I’m heading to the library after work to pick up a couple of CDs.

She opened the show by walking on stage and singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” acapella. It was haunting with her voice deepening and then hitting the high notes. The words hung in the absolutely silent theater. It was an incredibly gripping opening. She came onto stage and without a word launched into this achingly beautiful song that went up and down the register, with the trademark yodel sound coming from the back of her throat as well as the beautiful clear high notes. I don’t think anyone expected it to start like that and we all were pretty much frozen in place until the end.

Next came a song she said she wrote for her father, who raised her. He’s an Alaskan cowboy and the song had a sort of twangy western feel. It made me think of the old Westerns where the guitar is accompanying their slow trot into town.

Jewel addressed the audience quite a bit, asking if there were specific songs we wanted to hear as well as giving the background of some of the songs. She thanked the radio station and the audience profusely, saying that she often told her label that she had fans among country music fans and they should release her singles on country radio. She said the label disagreed. She also said that she had a 6 record deal with Atlantic – which seems crazy. She was signed at 19 and she said she felt they weren’t quite sure what genre she was. In another story she said that the first time she heard her song on the radio it was played between Nirvana and Soundgarden. She also said that by her last record of that deal she was happy with the songs, but they weren’t what the label wanted, so she basically accused the label of making it flop due to under promotion. She said that without bitterness and acknowledged that after that record it was time to move on.

She played her hits like “Foolish Games” and “Who Will Save Your Soul.” If you didn’t know the lyrics, you wouldn’t have recognized “Foolish Games” but she gave it an interesting, hippie/folk treatment. After last night I feel that Jewel is one of those artists who’s “hit” songs are actually nothing like what she really plays. (Go see a Goo Goo Dolls show. They play fairly loud, hard music, but all their radio hits are soft ballads. They’re not popular for “their” music.) She drew a few of the songs into almost spoken word metered poems.

In the middle of the show I was almost brought to tears by a song she sang called “Violet Eyes” that Jewel said she wrote for her very best friend who had died from cancer. It’s was hauntingly beautiful and simple and you could tell that just singing it was a chore for her. She said none of us would know the song because she doesn’t sing it very often. I understand why it’s not on any album as you could tell it was a deeply personal song for her. I felt a bit like a voyeur watching her sing this song that was so obviously a tribute and was a part of her healing process from the passing of her friend.

I find when I go to a concert where the artist tells anecdotes and stories I’m always wary of the sincerity of them. I often wonder if the same story is told in every city. For the most part, Jewel came across as earnest and sincere. There was a part where she was talking about people asking her about which of her songs is her favorite and she launched into a polka ditty and my friend, the fan, said she’d heard that verbatim before and it was even on one of the CDs.

There were two stories that stuck with me.

The first was the story I mentioned before. Apparently “Who Will Save Your Soul” is the first song Jewel ever wrote at the age of 16. She told the story that it was played between those two bands and she had a very dramatic build up about how she pulled over to the side of the road and was crying and then she said “I was so embarrassed. I sounded like Kermit the Frog!” You were ready for her to tell you how moved to tears she was about finally hearing her song and instead she just kept saying how embarrassed she was. Then she paused and said “I was embarrassed ….all the way to the bank! So I guess that worked out.” It was a very honest, funny moment.

The second story was to introduce the song “Hands.” She said she was living in her van in San Diego and she said she wasn’t proud, but sometimes she resorted to shoplifting things like peanut butter in order to eat. She said she was in a store and saw a sundress she really wanted that was $34. She said she was standing there, gripping the dress and she couldn’t stop staring at her hands wrapped around the material and it struck her how insulting she was being to herself as she thought about stealing it. She said it really hit her that she was giving herself no credit if she thought she didn’t have the ability to earn $34. It was a very interesting take on the things we do to survive and how she viewed herself in what was the lowest point in her life. I never took that song to be an empowerment, but as she explained it you could see how the song is about taking responsibility for yourself and not blaming others and having the faith in your own hands to accomplish what you need to accomplish. She finished up by saying that she was in the mountains with her husband on Sept. 11, 2001. She said the emerged on Sept. 13 and had no idea what had happened. They saw flags at half-mast and signs that proclaimed how much people loved America so they put on the radio and were trying to piece together what had happened. The DJ of one of the stations then played “Hands” and said it should inspire everyone out there. You could tell that was a profound moment for her.

All in all it was a really cool experience that I’m glad I was able to be a part of.

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