The Hippo


Apr 22, 2019








Patty Griffin. Courtesy photo.

Patty Griffin w/ Anais Mitchell
When: Sunday, July 22, 7:30 p.m. 
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $35 & $45 at 

Clean slate
Patty Griffin brings new outlook (and music) to Concord


 By Michael Witthaus
On her current tour, Patty Griffin is scaling back, playing acoustically with longtime accompanist David Pulkingham. The performing configuration reflects where the singer-songwriter is at artistically, as she works on a new studio album — her first since 2015’s Servant of Love.
“It’s pretty stripped down,” Griffin said in a recent phone interview.
She said fans can expect a preview at her upcoming Concord show — though she won’t pull a Neil Young and leave out her much-loved songs. 
“I don’t like playing the old stuff sometimes,” she said. “I’d really rather sit down and play an entire set of all new material. I’ve done that once, and it really pissed off somebody that I was working with. I got that out of my system; it was risky business.”
Her current songwriting is informed by what Griffin termed “some very difficult health issues” as she entered her 50s. She’s “doing really well now” — but illness and recovery “reset my life completely” — leaving her a clean slate musically.
“It really was a life-altering moment,” she said. “I feel a little bit like I’m coming out of the ashes now... in that time I think some of the old references completely burned out of me, so I’m literally starting from scratch in some ways. And that’s a really nice place to be. It’s not an easy place, but it feels really good to be there, and that’s more of the state of the mood that the music reflects coming up than anything else.”
Due for release next year, the as yet untitled album will include Griffin’s former band mate (and significant other) Robert Plant on some vocals, according to a recent interview with the ex-Zeppelin singer. Apart from that, anything could happen. 
“I’m in a different time in my life, I don’t have to worry about what’s going to get on the radio at all,” Griffin said. “Even though I’ve haven’t ever really been a pop artist, there’s a certain expectation when you have a record deal of things — several little restrictions. … I think that this period of time in my life leaves me out of that, and I feel like I can really open my ears up to other ways of doing things that I sort of maybe didn’t connect to before or just kind of never thought of as something that could influence me in a direct way. I’m really enjoying this time, it feels pretty good.”
Opening her July 22 show is Anais Mitchell, a singer-songwriter who did a brief run of trio shows with Griffin and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek, I’m With Her) in 2016. Mitchell’s folk opera, Hadestown, will open on Broadway in 2019. Though released in 2010, one of its songs, “Why We Build the Wall,” became something of an anthem for the pro-immigrant movement during the election season — and beyond. 
As a resident of Austin, Texas, the issue is an important one for Griffin. 
“I have had thoughts of what it was like for people living in Germany in the ’30s, to be close by to these atrocities and not exactly know what to do,” she said. “We’ve had a situation in Texas going on for years, starting with the first kids that came up from El Salvador and were housed in these private facilities. A couple of these girls were raped in the prison holding them and some were sent back to El Salvador and killed. This ... has been going on a long time.”
Griffin has done several benefit concerts to raise awareness of the issue, which has become starker lately, as images of children in government detention facilities began appearing in news reports.  
“The thing that’s pretty horrifying about this is the political pawn aspect of it — it’s hard not to be completely downhearted,” she said. “We have to proactively figure out as a people how to fix this ... go inside ourselves and then reach out to each other in our communities and fix these problems. Going through the press, even government, is probably not — it seems like it’s impossible to have a conversation that’s constructive about it in that way, one that continues.” 
Griffin once cited writer and activist James Baldwin’s statement that however bad things got, one can never tell the children there is no hope. “I have a couple of pictures of him in my house prominently displayed and I really believe that,” she said.  “It takes a lot of guts to be alive, and I think especially right now it’s a little more true. You gotta keep going.” 

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