Anaïs Mitchell and John Gallagher, Jr. brought their five-stop East Coast tour to the Hamilton in Washington, DC for a one-night performance on Thursday, September 22, 2016. The two immersive singer-songwriters make up a winning bill for any fan of modern folk music.
Opening act John Gallagher, Jr. took to the stage with straightforward professionalism and energy. One man and a guitar, and trust me, that is all that was needed to fill that room with sound. Gallagher performed seven original songs, most from his recent debut album Six Day Hurricane (Rockwood Music Hall Recordings, 2016) and covered Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons,” a soulful tune that compliments his own music.
Gallagher with an acoustic guitar in hand is a force of nature. His voice fills the room effortlessly and a frenetic energy and intensity underlies his playing. Six Day Hurricane is an album that defies labels and on it one can hear a diverse range of influences from classic folk songwriters like John Prine to the Indie Rock sound of Wilco. In an acoustic setting, the songs were distilled to the basics and took on a folkier feel. What remained was the intensity of Gallagher’s writing and performing as album favorites such as “Sarasota Someone,” “Bessie I Don’t Blame You” “Two Fists Full” and “Why Oh Why Am I This Way” filled the air.
Gallagher has a sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously, but make no mistake, there is an old soul in that young man. Seeing him in such an intimate setting was a treat. He is at home on stages and screens big and small.
In addition to writing and performing music, John is also an actor who has starred on Broadway in shows such as Long Day’s Journey into Night, American Idiot, and Spring Awakening, as well as TV shows such as The Newsroom and movies like Short Term 12.
The moment Anaïs Mitchell stepped on the stage the synergy in Gallagher and Mitchell’s music could be felt. Both musicians reach deep into the folk storytelling vernacular but whereas Gallagher’s music comes at you strong, Mitchell’s creeps up on you. Dubbed “the queen of modern folk music,” her unique, quavering voice doesn’t demand your attention but rather beguiles you and before you know it you have entered the alluring, mystical world of her songs. Hers is a voice that gently draws you in and when it does the reward is so glorious and moving that you are in awe of her bright-eyed effervescence and quiet strength.
This is not music that should be listened to in a rush. Whether drawing inspiration from Greek myth, British folk ballads or her own childhood farm, Mitchell’s songwriting distills the human experience down to its very essence. This is music that can whisper great truths to your soul if you give it the chance. Hearing it recorded is nice. Hearing it live is downright magical.
Mitchell opened with a few unrecorded songs before moving to some music from her album Hadestown (Righteous Babe Records, 2010) which she recently helped turn into an Off-Broadway musical at New York Theatre Workshop.
After playing “Why We Build the Wall,” Mitchell joked that when writing the song ten years ago she never imagined how frighteningly current it would feel in the context of this year’s presidential election (“oh yeah, and don’t forget to vote, people!”)
Listeners were then treated to “Clyde Waters” from the Child Ballads (Wilderland Records, 2013) album recorded with Jefferson Hamer and several tunes from Young Man in America (Wilderland Records, 2012) including the title track and “Shepherd”
I think it was at this point that I noticed I had tears running down my cheeks. It was just that beautiful.
Mitchell’s performance included no less than twenty poignant songs including two audience requests from her album The Brightness (Righteous Babe Records, 2007), “Old Fashioned Hat” and “Shenandoah.” She then called John Gallagher, Jr. back to the stage for an amazing duo performance of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” on which Gallagher did right by The Boss with his harmonica playing.
The large and spacious music area at the Hamilton is one of the nicest in town. Located below the famed local restaurant, the Hamilton Live space is no crowded bar, rather an elegant dinner theater with great acoustics. For $20 listeners can secure a seat at a table with excellent views and plenty of leg room. Standing room only tickets are half that price and still offer excellent views (and stools).
Exit the Hamilton and you are in the heart of Washington, DC. The storied Willard Hotel is right across the street and the White House a few blocks away. And, yes, the restaurant is named after THAT Hamilton.
Both players stuck around after the show to talk to fans and sign autographs. For an intimate night of straight up music, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes.
John Gallagher, Jr. and Anais Mitchell are currently on tour through the North East. They played one night only – Thursday, September 22, 2016, at 7:30 PM at The Hamilton – 600 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets to future shows at the Hamilton, call the box office at (202) 787-1000, or purchase them online.
John Gallagher, Jr. on Appearing Tomorrow Night – 9/22 With Anaïs Mitchell at 7:30 PM at The Hamilton in DC by Nicole Hertvik.
An Interview With Anaïs Mitchell About Appearing With John Gallagher, Jr. Tonight 9/22 @7:30 PM at The Hamilton in DC by Nicole Hertvik.
Review of Hadestown by Richard Seff on DCMetroTheaterArts.