REVIEW: Brimming with compelling storytelling, accomplished singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant made stirring Tanglewood debut

Always an unforgettable storyteller, award-winning singer-songwriter and musician Natalie Merchant made her Tanglewood debut, despite increasingly darkening skies at Koussevitsky Shed in Lenox, Massachusetts.  Her soulful, musical journey included stirring tales of war, deep love and love lost, musings from history, a deadly woman, and a curvaceous Ophelia,  each tale conjuring up a vivid picture in her brilliant, and at times, elegiac lyrics.  Natalie Merchant is a force onstage and her charisma lies in her engaging, soul baring presence.  Click here for Natalie Merchant’s tour dates.

Tanglewood’s season is in full swing, having kicked off with acclaimed BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons leading the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 Resurrection on Friday, July 7.  Natalie Merchant, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, and John Mellencamp were among Tanglewood’s Popular Artists series.  After an extraordinary season of live classical and contemporary performances throughout the summer, the Tanglewood season concludes with The Boston Pops featuring Melissa Etheridge on Sunday, September 3.  Click here for tickets and further information.

Wearing a dark blue dress and her signature long, thick flowing hair, Natalie Merchant set a deeply insightful, subdued tone before building to a lively, uplifting vibe, much to the delight of the crowd.  Surrounded by a sophisticated, intimate band composed of a cellist, guitarist, pianist, drummer, and a group of elegantly dressed violinists, Natalie started with a tune from her self-titled, 2014 album, Lulu, paying tribute to the audacious silent film star and dancer, Louise Brooks, a woman who paved her own way.

Natalie Merchant lent a patriotic spin to the song, River, a song originally dedicated to memory of River Phoenix, an actor who died too young.  This version of River is from her stripped down, latest album, Paradise is There:  The New Tigerlily Recordings, hinting at the fallen soldier, her deep, contralto voice exuding a beautiful, haunting quality.  Equally affecting is My Skin, from her album, Ophelia, a gripping song about the emptiness of betrayal and loss.

Often barefoot, Natalie was physically expressive onstage, dancing, swaying, and twirling to the rhythm, flowing like a bird to a pulsing violin.  Many devoted followers were present in the audience as sporadic whoops and hollers echoed from the crowd, often shouting her name.  Natalie Merchant has been thrilling audiences since the early 80s and her onstage presence made it easy to recognize her lasting talent.  Although the weather wasn’t always cooperating during the concert, with such a strong following, the crowd remained.  “I’m sorry you are in the rain,” Natalie acknowledged the outdoor audience as the skies opened, “But after the drought we had last year, I’m not sorry for the rain.”

Sharing her passion for social and environmental issues, Natalie briefly shared the stage with Tyler Van Kirk, National Canvass Coordinator from Food and Water Watch, based in Denver, Colorado.  It is an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s natural resources.  See what they stand for here.  She also dedicated a song to corruption in government with a tune delivered partially a cappella, Poison in the Well, dating back her days with the 10,000 Maniacs.

Her gripping storytelling continued with Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience, Ophelia, and the exotic sounds of The Man in the Wilderness.  She delivered cautionary wisdom in The Worst Thing, portrayed a looming, jazz-infused rendition of a femme fatale with She Devil, and inspiration in Lady Bird.

Natalie Merchant’s music ensemble is impressive, whether during a spontaneous jam session or in the quieter moments, a perfect complement to her often heart rendering lyrics.  The tireless performer offered a more joyous and uplifting second half, sharing some her greatest hits.  From Paradise is There:  The New Tigerlily Recordings, she offered a stripped down version of her hit, Carnival, a vivid, reflective view on life.  Accompanied by just her pianist, cellist, and guitarist, she sang Wonder, which was the inspiration behind a children’s book by R.J. Palacio and an upcoming film starring Julia Roberts in November 2017.

Tender, earnest moments were strewn into the songs, Beloved Wife, Break Your Heart, and Frozen Charlotte, the latter culminated in a gorgeous violin solo.  However, she also has a unique sense of humor, sharing a story of an old cookie jar that “carries the emotional weight” of every song.

The moment of the evening was her epic encore, as the band jammed and Natalie danced furiously, the audience was brought to their feet in a spectacular version of These are Days followed by a heartfelt performance of her hit song, Kind and Generous.  Fans couldn’t have asked for better, rain or shine.

Click here to see where Natalie performs next.  Located in the Berkshires at 297 West Street in Lenox, Massachusetts, Tanglewood’s outdoor venue is a must see during the summer, whether under the tent at Koussevitsky Shed or under the stars for a lawn picnic.  Click here for more information on its Tanglewood’s Music Festival summer series and follow them on Facebook.

Tickets for 12th annual Duxbury Music Festival, featuring live seaside concert music & more, go on sale June 1

For the past twelve years, South Shore Conservatory’s Duxbury Music Festival (DMF) has welcomed summer with seaside entertainment and extraordinary live music along the South Shore of Massachusetts.  With more than a week-long concert extravaganza exploring reggae, jazz, classical, and blues, the Duxbury Music Festival kicks off their summer series at a seaside tent on Duxbury Bay at Freeman Place for Blues on the Bay Cabaret Concert on Friday, July 14.  The evening offers cocktails and appetizers featuring live music from Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones at 6:30 p.m.  Tickets go on sale to the public on Wednesday, June 1.  Call 781-934-2731, ext. 11 or click here for the full list of events and tickets.  Follow Duxbury Music Festival on Facebook for updates.

Duxbury Music Festival Logo

Photo courtesy of South Shore Conservatory

Set in in several locations in Duxbury, Massachusetts, the Duxbury Music Festival will be held from Friday, July 14 through Friday, July 28.  On Sunday, July 16, the Duxbury Music Festival continues at the seaside tent at Freeman Place with Festival Overture Concert and Reception featuring works from Haydn and Hurnik at 6:30 p.m.

Duxbury Music Festival Sunday-in-the-Park-2015

Photo courtesy of Kathy Dixon

Founding Duxbury Music Festival faculty member and soloist Oxana Yablonskaya returns to the festival on Tuesday, July 18 for the All-Rachmaninoff Faculty Concert at South Shore Conservatory, Ellison Center for the Arts, 64 George Street in Duxbury, Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m.  This special concert funds scholarships for Duxbury Music Festival students.

Duxbury Music Festival - Tent crowd shot

Photo courtesy of Kathy Dixon

Travel to Duxbury Town Green and enjoy Reggae on the Green featuring the Berklee Reggae Ensemble with opening act and South Shore Conservatory rock band, Toast on Friday, July 21 at 7 p.m.  Other events on the Duxbury Town Green include Rhythm and Blues on the Green Dinner Dance with party band In the House Saturday, July 22, Family Fest with plenty of kids entertainment and interactive activities featuring South Shore Conservatory’s ImagineArts band followed by Picnic in the Park featuring live entertainment from DMF students, lobster roll, and concessions on Sunday, July 23.  Back at South Shore Conservatory in Duxbury, take in Duxbury Music Festival’s All That Jazz featuring quintet Elan Mehler and a Duxbury Wine and Spirits tasting on Wednesday, July 26.

The Duxbury Music Festival concludes with a Winners Concert and Farewell Reception including a Duxbury Wine and Spirits Tasting on Friday, July 28. Tickets go on sale June 1, but subscriptions are now available.  Call 781-934-2731, ext. 11 or click here for tickets, see the full schedule, and all that the Duxbury Music Festival has to offer.