Well, a new definition was created for the phrase, "The show must go on." Michelle Shocked was playing at the new Wildflower Pavilion on the Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons, the last artist to play in the inaugural series of Wildflower concerts (starting with Tim O'Brien in September).
Due to a pending snowstorm with heavy winds, the town of Lyons lost power at 8:00 pm, just as Michelle and her band (keyboardist/vocalist and drummer) were arriving. I estimated the time of power outage to be approximately 40 minutes or so.
But that did not stop Michelle nor Planet Bluegrass. Craig Ferguson (head of Planet Bluegrass) and his staff set up torch candles and lanterns for lighting. However, Michelle decided to just go ahead and start the show playing solo acoustic at the tip of the stage; with the acoustic Martin she played borrowed from Nick Forester (due to a problem with her original acoustic guitar).
For a thin woman, Michelle has always possessed a powerful voice, but what I love about Ms. Schocked is her unwavering spirit and willingness to do what it takes to connect with an audience. After one song, she then decided to walk to the middle of the audience to continue, with keyboardist Sean Holmes (sp) gladly behind her holding a torch candle. One standout was a spirited cover of "The L and N Don't Stop Here Anymore", played in E-minor, and having that "old time" depression feeling. What the power outage allowed Michelle to do was to genuinely connect with the audience in a fashion that genuinely refined intimacy.
It was almost sad when the power returned after a half-hour, as Michelle had commented on how much she enjoyed that connection, and that was not a canned speech but just heartfelt. Craig Ferguson went onstage to kiss her on the cheek for the admirable job she did in starting the show in that unplanned fashion.
Michelle alternated between acoustic and electric guitar for the following 90 minutes, with material ranging from Gospel covers (especially "God Bless The Child", and material from her latest live album ToHeavenURide), straight up rock (with a slight dose of Billy Bragg folk-punk attitude), to a heartwarming read of her great "Anchorage, Alaska."
It was one of those shows where Michelle owned the crowd, where at one point she had everyone seated to do seat-surfing: "Lean to your left...now lean to your right. Now lean back...and lean forward". I was standing to the right of the stage the bulk of the show, and every person seated followed Michelle in unison. "Now, go up to three people you don't know and say 'Hello, Stranger'". I sure did!
There was a religion overtone to part of the show, as Michelle shared several stories, one which included reuniting with her mother after running away from home and not being on contact for 25 years! Now, I'm not a particularly religious person, but unlike Ricky Skaggs, Michelle knew just to say her message and not continue to beat it over her audience. She was in a positive state of mind, and her presence, attitude, voice and songs made for a uplifting show. That combination conveyed her messages and songs with great effectiveness and with boatloads of positive energy.
After the show, Michelle said she would sign CDs and the merchandise booth. She was not kidding, as she was at that booth no later than one minute after her encore. She was gracious to every person, and just a class lady in general.
Michelle Shocked is an artist I've somewhat taken for granted over the years. I remember seeing her as an opener for the Summer 1992 Weir & Wasserman/Bruce Cockburn/Michelle Shocked tour, and remembered her picking with some lucky Deadheads in a Syracuse parking lot. I also remember her fantastic set in Newport 2001 where she had a sheer command on her audience just like this night. When I mentioned to her about the Syracuse parking lot, she genuinely glowed about the recollectance.
Kudos to you, Michelle, for capping the first season of the Wildflower Pavilion with a performance loaded with heart, and giving new definition to "The show must go on!"