This post is one of a series I’m writing as part of my participation as an official blogger for COUNTRY Financial/Cotton States’ Road Trips and Guitar Picks tour program, covering Jewel’s June 13 concert in Huntsville, where I had backstage access.
The rest of my pre-concert Jewel blogging can be read here.
Contrary to the promise of opening act Radney Foster, Jewel did not, in fact, rock.
I wasn’t really expecting her to, despite the potential for rocking raised by the last time I saw her at Lilith Fair 13 years ago. Given that this concert was billed as an intimate, acoustic evening with Jewel, I wasn’t really expecting rocking.
Nor was I expecting how incredibly the evening showcased Jewel both as a singer and a songwriter.
The evening started off on a rather cool note. Having been selected as official blogger for COUNTRY Financial/Cotton States’ Road Trips and Guitar Picks tour program, a good friend and I had the opportunity to go backstage before the show, have our picture made with Jewel and be part of an exclusive session. The picture making part, to be honest, didn’t set the bar very high. Jewel was in a curtained-off booth, so you couldn’t see her until it was your turn to have your picture made. Everyone went in in groups of four, no more, no less, stood next to Jewel, who didn’t move, had the picture made, no autographs, no conversation, and then filed back out. Jewel did make eye contact, smile and speak briefly on our way out, but that was it.
Once that obligatory part was done, however, the Jewel who came into the backstage room with us a few minutes later was friendly and personable. During a question and answer session, she joked with long-time fans and gave great responses to others.
I hadn’t planned on asking anything, but couldn’t resist the opportunity. I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship that artists have with their material. Once you have a hit song, you’re expected to play it forever. In Jewel’s case, she wrote “Who Will Save Your Soul” twenty years ago. There are things I wrote two years ago that I no longer identify with in the same way, and, frankly, some I’m just embarrassed by. I can’t imagine having to put my heart into things I wrote as a teenager. I asked her she related to songs differently as she was at different places in life.
Jewel didn’t answer the question the way I was thinking, in terms of continuing to sing old songs. Instead, she took it in a different direction, explaining that anytime she releases an album, she goes back through her collection of unreleased songs to see if there is anything she feels differently about or has new ideas on. She said that it’s funny to see things that she has written that she herself understands in a different way than she did when she wrote them. I talked about how I’ve experienced that with Paul Simon songs over the years, identifying more with the emotion in songs as I experience more in life. It was neat hearing Jewel talk about having that same experience with her own material, and, as a writer, I can completely understand how that could happen.
After the Q&A session, Jewel performed an unreleased song for us that I really hope she someday puts on an album. For the record, even in those close quarters and laid-back setting, she has an amazing voice. The chorus went “there’s a hole in my heart in the shape of you,” which I’m including in this blog entry mainly so that I can occasionally check and see if the song has been released yet.
And then, it was time for the actual concert. The opening act, as I mentioned, was Radney Foster. I immediately bought one of his songs, “A Little Revival,” from his new album off of iTunes, as well as Keith Urban’s cover of Foster’s song, “I’m In.” Good stuff.
Jewel’s set was fantastic. The stripped-down, acoustic setting really showed off the power of her voice, and she interspersed between the songs bits of her life story, which put the songs in context. Fascinating stuff for anyone, I would imagine, but for me, it was a really cool peek behind the curtain at her process as a songwriter.
Jewel has always had fun showing off a bit; certainly that was evident in her encore performance in which she came back on stage to yodel for an enthralled audience — “Want me to do it faster?” But the crowd really got into it when she showed off a bit as a songwriter by singing her “Huntsville Song,” a song she had written before the concert about Huntsville. I’m sure she has to have a template that she uses and fills in local details, but, even so, wow! Great stuff!
(ADDENDUM: OK, I’m embarrassed. Jewel herself read my post, and let me know on Twitter that every song is written completely from scratch. Take my amazement at the song, and multiply it by a couple of orders of magnitude. WOW!!!! She’s got a busy tour schedule, so creating songs for each city as she tours is mind-blowing. As is, for the record, the fact that Jewel just read my blog. How cool is that!?)
At the concert, you could pay to be able to download a recording of the night’s concert, and the Huntsville Song by itself was a great reason to do so. (I had been planning on buying the recording anyway; I’m too modest to let myself brag too much, so I have to be passive-aggressive about my bragging. I figured I could get the recording and play songs from it in the future when people would hear it, and then be able to say, as if it were completely random, “Oh, hey, you hear that song playing? That’s actually from this time I got to …”)
Of course, the Huntsville Song was both one of the high points and low points of the concert for me. Sure, it was great, but I had a bet with my friend Heather, who also went to the concert, as to whether she would play her version of Sweet Home Alabama, which she recorded for the soundtrack of the movie by the same name. The smart money seemed to be that she would, so I agreed to a bet that the loser would bake cobbler and bring it to work for the winner, a culinary feat neither of us had attempted before. When I heard the Huntsville Song, I figured the odds she would do both it and Sweet Home were pretty low, and I was right. So, I’m going to have to figure out how to fix cobbler. Given my skills in the kitchen, I imagine it will be a rather pyrrhic victory for Heather.
Given Jewel’s recent foray into country music, I was a little surprised that the entire concert was performed without a hint of twang; I never would have guessed that she’s had a genre change since I’d last seen her. The set list was a great mix of new songs, unfamiliar songs and old favorites.
All in all, it was a great evening — an awesome concert, a unique opportunity and an incredible experience!