Text and photo by Noemi Arellano-Summer
Americana music isn’t the most well-known or popular genre. Neither are current Broadway show tunes. However, at Arts at the Armory in Somerville on Oct. 10, we got both.
Multi-instrumentalist Mark Erelli opened the show, singing material from his Americana solo albums, as well as the gun violence protest single “By Degrees.” With guest verses by Lori McKenna, Anais Mitchell and Rosanne Cash, the song was nominated at the Americana Music Association for Song of the Year. Erelli began his set with an interesting song called “Look Up,” about a custodian working in the Sistine Chapel. He was friendly with the audience, consisting of about 175 people. The show was in a main room of the Arts at the Armory building, complete with bare stage and strings of lights. Folding chairs were set up in neat rows, and more were arranged up in the balcony. Erelli brought out a harmonica for his last song, which kicked the levels of blues and rural music up a notch.
Vermont-born singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell was the main act of the night; her tell-tale soprano soaring over her acoustic guitar. A second guitarist, Austin Nevins, joined her for her set, but did not sing. Mitchell mainly focused on past records and songs from her 2006 concept album “Hadestown,” which recently became a Broadway show of the same name. “Hadestown” opened last April at the Walter Kerr Theater and won eight Tonys in June. From the 2012 album “Young Man in America,” she sang the titular song, “Tailor” and “Shephard.” All three tell a story that is not entirely happy. She sang a duet from “Hadestown”—“Wedding Song”—but made the interesting decision to sing both parts herself. Mitchell also included the crowd-pleaser “Why We Build the Wall,” encouraging the audience to sing along. She clarified that it was written in 2006, despite the similarities with the current president’s ideology.
Anais Michell also gave a nod towards her current project, singing “Bonny Light Horseman,'' an English folk song which is also the name of the upcoming album she created with Josh Kaufman and Erik D. Johnson. Tour dates have been released. Mitchell invited Erelli back on stage for a folk version of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” again harkening to the timeliness of Michell’s music.
It was a night for familiarity, as Michell noted that she had friends and family in the audience, and told a story about her high-school sweetheart, who also attended. She sang a song she had written for her 6-year-old daughter Ramona called “Morning Glory” towards the end of the evening. Mitchell’s music reminds me of picking fruit with family in the last golden days of summer, in that time when seasons never end because you’re a child, and it’s too early to really think about things like that. Days seem to go on forever.
Americana music brings us back to the past, and to quieter days. However, it can still bring us to the now, and Mitchell’s music shows how both ideas can be true.