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Carpenter presents a special evening

Chateau Ste. Michelle, Woodinville, Wash., June 14, 1998

By Brian Wahlert

WOODLINVILLE, WA - Even though Mary Chapin Carpenter has been out of the limelight since her 1996 album, "A Place in the World," her Seattle-area fans still came out in droves for this show at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery. Located just 20 miles or so northeast of Seattle in the middle of farmlands on the Sammamish River, the pastoral outdoor theater was the perfect setting for Carpenter's casual show.

She came onstage wearing an untucked black short-sleeved shirt and jeans, looking a little rumpled and no more a country superstar than her dog Riley, who bounded onto the stage with her.

But as soon as she started playing her acoustic guitar and singing "Flying Red Horse," it was clear the audience was in for a special evening. The rest of her band joined in quietly near the end of John Gorka's dreamy tale about "the flying red horse from the gasoline wars" before rocking out on two of her biggest hits, "I Feel Lucky" and "Passionate Kisses."

Carpenter has a sweet voice that won her the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1992 and 1993, and she's an amazing songwriter, having written everything from middle-age female anthems ("He Thinks He'll Keep Her") to goofball self-deprecating humor (a new song called "A Hundred Days") to a nostalgic tale about a well-worn old shirt ("This Shirt").

More than anything else, though, what set Carpenter apart on this night was her amazing breadth as a performer. Her stage style is so multi-faceted that it's almost contradictory, yet somehow it works.

On "I Feel Lucky," for instance, Carpenter played the sultry barroom bombshell, growling and singing the lines, "Dwight Yoakam's in the corner trying to catch my eye / Lyle Lovett's right beside me with his hand upon my thigh," with obvious relish.

During "Girls With Guitars," her two outstanding electric guitarists traded solos for several minutes while Carpenter stood between them. After a while, she started yawning and rolling her eyes before taking matters into her own hands by chasing them down and unplugging their guitars.

After that extended high-energy performance, Carpenter turned folk singer again, talking about her dog. "He's the perfect man. He's this All-American, good-looking blond. He loves me unconditionally. I've got him eating out of the palm of my hand." Then she launched into a story about one of her favorite places to get away, a town on the North Carolina coast that she immortalized in the beautiful ballad, "I Am a Town."

Carpenter clearly enjoyed the concert, and even after two hours and two encores, her outstanding songs, crack five-piece band, and laid-back friendliness had the audience clamoring for more.

Opening act Danny O'Keefe was a pleasant surprise. He's an older man with the gray hair and sweet voice of Hal Ketchum, but the most impressive aspect of his performance was his outstanding collection of songs.

It was almost heartbreaking to listen to him sing about one long-past love after another. "Souvenirs" epitomized his material, comparing past relationships souvenirs collected in small towns along the two-lane highway of life.

Fortunately, he broke up the heartache with a humorous song about "Lorraine," whose name is the eight-letter crossword synonym for "pain" and "trouble." O'Keefe closed his 40-minute set with his Top 10 1972 hit "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues."

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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