Monday, November 5, 2012

Sharing Grace with Sloan Wainwright

A recent folk concert I attended turned out to be more than a great musical experience, rolling instead into one of those great moments of connectedness that linger long after the event.  Sloan Wainwright and The Kennedys were playing at BlackRock Center for the Arts as part of the center’s coffeehouse series.  I haven’t been to as many concerts as I’d like in the past year, but wouldn’t miss Sloan Wainwright coming into town for anything.  This woman could sing the phone book and I’d pay to listen; her rich contralto voice is unlike anyone’s and I adore her style.  Yes, she’s one of those Wainwrights, sister to Loudon Wainwright III, aunt to Rufus Wainwright, and so on, but I couldn’t give two figs, because with her voice and her songwriting skills she’s one of a kind.  I also enjoy the Kennedys, this time finding it a particular treat getting to hear Pete Kennedy play the electric sitar, a beautiful instrument. 

This concert I was struck by the powerful, affirming lyrics in Sloan’s songs, especially on her new album Upside Down & Under My Heart.  The first glimmering that I’m connecting at a deeper level with her lyrics now, not just her voice, comes as she sings in “Little Bit Right”:

Everybody’s a little bit broken. 
Everybody’s a little divine.

I got chills.  What delicious wordsmithing, what perfect truth!

Her lyrics speak to me in meaningful metaphor:

Even when it’s all uphill
Somehow you find the will
To meet the sun halfway

These are lines in a song she wrote on her album Life Grows Back about meeting a 90+ year-old woman Phyllis in the mountains, but I hear that in challenging times we still need to turn our faces to the sun so we can feel its rays when they come, and that any time we need to be open to happiness to receive it.

Sloan talks about “All that dwells between the layers of living” as she introduces her song “Between the Lines,” and I am gripped by the eponymous refrain:

Between the lines
Is where I¹ll find
What I am after
The answer lies there
Between the lines

I hear the affirmation that we live and find grace in life’s gray areas, between the lines, in the questions, amidst the paradoxes, in all that is unexpected and must be accepted. 

During the break between sets I was the first one out to the table in the lobby to buy CDs and had a few minutes alone with Sloan.  I told her how I sat straight up in my seat when she riffed between numbers and shared this epiphany in real-time, “I’m becoming very much at one with the gray area, never mind context.” I told her about my former Grace in the Gray Areas column in Washington Woman magazine, now morphed into this blog, and we connected eagerly over this and over the stunning and rare deep lavender jade pendant of the goddess Guan Yin she wore around her neck, the goddess of mercy who also graces my home in two sculptures.  Did I mention both our 20-something sons are named Sam?  I love a good synchronicity!

I bought two of her CDs during the break, and went back for a third (Rediscovery, a great collection of cover tunes) after her second set hearing an amazing rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”  Yes, I have an iPod, but I confess I don't use it much; I just love to load CDs into the car player, old school, and rock out while I drive.

If you’re not already familiar with Sloan Wainwright, get to her website ( and buy some CDs or get to iTunes and start downloading.  Since it’s almost that time again (yup, I started seeing the Christmas commercials before Halloween, even), treat yourself to On a Night Before Christmas, a live recording with friends including The Kennedys. 

A wonderful and unexpected evening, music, a shared gift of grace, and the goddess of mercy--what could be better? Sing on, soul sister!