Carolyn Wonderland Re-Rocks The Big Room This Wednesday


I’ve seen Carolyn Wonderland perform live several times, in the dark of night and in the glare of a hot July afternoon. I interviewed her in advance of her first Chico appearance a few years ago, and I am an unabashed fan of her blazing guitar work, her fierce vocals, and her no-bullshit sensibility. Because I’m a fan, I plan to be there when she returns to the Sierra Nevada Big Room this coming Wednesday, January 29th.

She’s a road warrior, playing gigs all over the place all the time, but never losing her passion for the music she makes, never stinting on a performance, never holding back. When we last spoke, she said of her time on the road: “I’m in the million mile club as the driver, and I’m insanely proud of that on the one hand, but on the other I think of how much crap I’ve put into the atmosphere driving all those miles.”

She’s passionate about her politics, the kind of woman willing to go to jail for what she believes. She went to jail, in fact, protesting the war in Iraq just before that war was launched. She’s also applies her talents to an ongoing round of benefit concerts to feed the homeless in and around Austin. Texas is her home, and on some songs she seems to be channeling that other fierce Lone Star vocalist—Janis Joplin. On Peace Meal, her most recent CD, she covers one of Pearl’s songs, along with a bunch of her own.

I’m far from being Carolyn Wonderland’s biggest fan. Bob Dylan has also been pretty outspoken in his admiration. When I asked her how it felt to be admired by Bob Dylan, she said: “Whenever I have those moments when I think, ‘Oh God, I really suck,’ I remember that Dylan likes me and then I think I must be ok.”

It’s always surprising to learn about the self-doubt harbored by people who seem, from an outsider’s perspective, to have no reason at all to doubt themselves. But it is, most probably, the relentless self doubt that makes them so good, and keeps them growing. The last time I saw Carolyn Wonderland play the Big Room, she broke a string on her guitar (she plays with such energy it’s surprising she doesn’t break strings on every song). She played out the tune with five strings, then replaced the broken string in an instant, kneeling with her back to the audience as she re-tuned. A fan came to the edge of the stage to say something to her, but her concentration on tuning was intense, and she held a finger up to the guy, silently asking for a moment to finish what she was doing. It was a tiny episode in that great night of music, but it struck me as a testament to the dedication great musicians so often exhibit. Fans are important, but fealty to the craft comes first.

The Big Room is the place to be this Wednesday night if you haven’t yet heard Carolyn Wonderland practice her craft in person.

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