Over the weekend, I stopped by Deep Groove (well, the alley next to Deep Groove) to catch a performance by Julien Baker.
I stayed near the back so I could make sure the bike I was too lazy to lock up didn’t roll away, and I’m so happy I stood there. We did miss out on quieter moments, but Baker’s voice emerged clear and resonant and triumphant again and again, and it turned into this incredibly inspiring group experiment in active listening. During songs, people were silent. Cars drove by and the wind picked up here and there, but none of the humans assembled to see Baker made a sound while she sang. It was inspiring.
The quieter moments helped me soak in what I was seeing, from the gentle slope of the alley to the way Baker’s expressions grew more pronounced the further into songs she got. It was like a cycle — the song would build, the lyrics would overwhelm, and those of us in the back would hear the climactic words loud and clear. It’s amazing how smooth and consistent those loudest notes were. Even though they delivered the most emotional words, her singing was as steady as it could have been. That alchemy that turns turmoil into strength via music — she’s got it down.
One word I was surprised to hear emerge in one of those climactic moments was badlands, as in Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands.” I was standing next to Deep Groove’s Jay Leavitt, and I think we recognized the song at the same moment. It was awesome. Here’s a video of Baker doing the song backstage at this year’s Newport Folk Fest.