The Best Concerts of the Year: Brandi Carlile at Red RocksMain photo by Josh Jackson, second photo by Jade Ehlers Music Features Brandi Carlile
As the year comes to a close, Paste writers and editors look back at their favorite concerts of 2022.
Brandi Carlile got her first taste of the rush that comes from entertaining a crowd at the age of eight when she sang Roseanne Cash’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box” in front of 300 people. Fortunately for the rest of us, she hasn’t stopped chasing that feeling since.
From singing in church (before getting chased off when she came out at 15) to busking out in front of Pike’s Place Market to her recent IMAX live concert filmed in Laurel Canyon, that joy she finds in performing just doesn’t seem to fade. It was that joy as much as the her stellar songwriting and powerful voice that had my wife, my friends and me all flying out to Colorado to see her at Red Rocks in September.
I’ve written a lot about Brandi Carlile since first hearing her self-titled debut album in 2005. We invited her to come play the inaugural Paste Rock ’n’ Reel Festival the following year. I wrote about how my kids fell in love with her music in 2009, and months later she played a Paste Studio performance that happened to coincide with my oldest daughter’s 11th birthday. The studio audience was mostly pre-teen girls, and she seemed as delighted as they were.
In 2015, I wrote a our cover story on Carlile upon the release of Bear Creek. And one of the cooler conversations I ever got to be a part of was moderating her discussion with one of her biggest idols, Amy Ray of The Indigo Girls.
But as big a fan that I am of Carlile, my wife Lori is even bigger. And it was her bucket item list that we were checking off in Denver: seeing Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks. Carlile has been vocal about what the historic Morrison, Colo., venue means to her in her memoir, Broken Horses.
On Sept. 10, 2022, the supporting acts were Allison Russell and the Indigo Girls, and, as is usual with Carlile, both were more than just warm ups. She’s always been a champion of talented up-and-comers like Russell and those who helped pioneer her path, like the Indigo Girls, and they all returned to the stage at various points of her show.
Russell was seemingly everywhere this year, from a Paste Studio session to the Newport Folk Festival to just about every awards stage in America, and she looked and sounded right at home at Red Rocks, especially as she closed out her short set with “Nightflyer,” a timeless song that already sounds like a decades-old standard.
She was followed by the Indigo Girls, who may have played the stage at Red Rocks more times than anyone over the years and seemed overjoyed at being back. The crowd was just as glad to have them there, as they kicked off their eight-song set with “Shame on You.” Carlile came out to sing the Michael Stipe part of “Kid Fears” and then Russell joined them all for a glorious rendition of “Closer to Fine.”
But the night was just getting started. The twins, Phil and Tim Hanseroth, took the stage like towering heralds with guitars before Carlile joined them on “Broken Horses.” Her set list tended toward the recent with several tracks off last year’s In These Silent Days. But she also played older hits like “The Story” and “The Eye.” In between she peppered the set with covers of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Radiohead’s “Creep” and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.”
At one point, her niece, whom Carlile immortalized with the song “Caroline,” came out to sing her own song. After thanking her Aunt Brandi for opening up the show for her, she wowed the crowd with the kind of lyrical and vocal prowess that made me think she’ll be headlining that same stage in the future. She was joined by a dozen or so kids of the performers for a delightful family moment. And talent runs deep in these families.
The encore saw Carlile bringing her guests back on stage to sing their own songs—Allison Russell joining Brandi for Our Native Daughters’ “You’re Not Alone” and then Amy Ray and Emily Saliers coming back out for “Least Complicated” and “Go.” She closed out her marathon set with “Over the Rainbow.”
As we filed out of the stone-cut amphitheater, still awash with the joy and love Carlile exuded on stage, the stars shone clear in the cold night air. We’d traveled 1,200 miles to get there, and we’d happily travel 1,200 miles to do it again.
Josh Jackson is Paste’s co-founder and editor-in-chief. He’s on Twitter @joshjackson and @BirdsAtl.