Carpenter speaks loud and clear
Wolf Trap, Vienna, Va., May 29, 1999
By Tom Netherland
VIENNA, VA - Warm weather, festive fans and a star-filled night greeted Mary Chapin Carpenter. A near sell-out crowd of mostly 30 and 40-year-olds cheered merrily throughout the night as one hit after another spewed forth from the stage.
Carpenter, who once made a living playing night clubs in and around the Washington area, seemed to have attracted more than a few who remember her more hard-up days. Or perhaps crowds everywhere greet her with such gusto.
Whatever the case, her mostly upbeat set of songs focused by-and-large on her growing list of hits. Modern day classics such as Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses" translated well to the stage. While several in the audience sang along, Carpenter wound her way through the lyrics as if for the first time. Either she's a good actor, or she means what she sings.
Likewise, "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" touched something far deeper than a mere song could with the crowd and Carpenter alike. Again, some sang along, but one look at either the fans or Carpenter's face and the song's poignancy proved all the more clear.
And even while performing more partylike anthems, such as the Cajun country "Down At The Twist And Shout" or the happy-go-lucky "I Feel Lucky," both the crowd and Carpenter seemed to revel in such a manner that exuded exhilaration while stopping short of silliness.
Indeed, there was a point and purpose to Carpenter's show. Not only were thought-provoking tunes "Party Doll" and "I Take My Chances" meant to entertain, they were meant to massage the minds of those in attendance. Which they did.
The largely female crowd fawned as one of its voices sang "Wherever You Are" as prettily as ever, touching a chord with more than one wide-and-misty-eyed patron. Likewise, "Tender When I Want To Be" spoke powerfully to those who either relate or wished they could.
That's the power of music. On this night, it just happened to be the 41-year-old Brown University graduate from Princeton, N.J. whose resilient messages strode through the power of song and touched a crowd hungry for such odes that speak to them. On this night, the music spoke loud and clear. And that made all the difference.