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  • Rich Kassirer

Concert Review: Patty Griffin, Parker Millsap in Portsmouth 6/21/14

Patty Griffin at Prescott Park.
Patty Griffin at Prescott Park.

It was one of those most magical of evenings. Outside, 70 or so degrees, beside the ocean, sun about to set, your favorite concert buddies sitting alongside you. Oh, and it just happens to be the summer solstice.

Then, Patty Griffin strides on stage, breaks your heart and lifts you up, again and again.

I have long had a one-way love affair with Patty. Her voice crushes me. Her songs are beautiful and deep, and I hear things in them that deeply affect me. “Wild Old Dog” is a song that brings me to near tears every time I hear it. But I love to hear it. Is she really talking about a dog or, when she sings “God is a wild old dog someone left out on the highway” is she making a point that people have lost faith by tossing it out of their lives?

But I digress.

Patty Griffin played Prescott Park in Portsmouth, N.H. It’s a beautiful venue that deserves more recognition. She arrived on stage just as the sun was about to set, commented on the beautiful night, told the crowd she was going to play some folk songs, and then ripped it up. The show was the final stop of her long and winding “American Kid” tour, and her three-piece band was all in from the start.

Without a set list, the order of songs is a blur, but she hit all facets of her career, explaining to the crowd that it was her 20th-year anniversary of her full-time music career. She played a rockin’ “Flaming Red” (with a bluesy opening) and she touched on tha album “Silver Bell” (though I don’t really think she is fond of this album because of her bitter memories of making it). “Making Pies,” as always, was wonderful. I can’t imagine anyone ever getting sick of hearing it. The “American Kid” album ¬– mostly a tribute to her dad ¬– was well represented, with the aforementioned “Wild Old Dog,” a rousing “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida,” and the boozy “Get Ready, Marie,” among them.

The depth of these songs is astounding. Each takes you to this place, this time, and makes you feel deeply about the characters. In “Go Wherever You Wanna Go,” she sings “You can get up on some sunny day and run/Run a hundred miles just for fun now/Heartaches and yesterdays don’t weigh a ton now/You can get up on some sunny day and run.” She’s explained in an interview that the line was inspired by her father’s love for jogging. It’s simple line, but the idea of him being up in heaven running without any worries to weigh him down is poignant.

Patty mixed in few gospel tunes and a Mexican number, and ended the evening with a Jimmy Durante song. But it’s her own songs that floor me. And it’s not just one song. She just keeps rolling them out. Each album seems to get deeper and deeper. I love “Impossible Dream,” but “American Kid” may be even better.

This is why we listen to music. It hits you deep and hard and it’s relentless, until you just give in. With Patty Griffin, I gave in a long time ago.

I want to give a shout-out to two other performers I saw this night. Parker Millsap, a 21-year-old kid from Oklahoma, opened the show and is the real deal. I’ll be writing about him more soon, but if he comes around your town, catch him. He really commands the stage, has a lively personality, and a crop of pretty great tunes. I’d say see him in a small club soon… he might not be playing small venues for long.

After the Prescott show, we ventured to the nearby Book & Bar to catch Sarah Borges play a solo acoustic set. I was a big follower years ago when she played with her band the Broken Singles in clubs around Boston. Since then, she got married, had a kid, the band broke up, but she’s back playing and has new album out called “Radio Sweetheart.” She’s still as sassy as ever, which is one of the great reasons to see her live. I wondered how her old tunes that were done with a crankin’ band would hold up solo. I was happily surprised she was able to make them sound whole acoustically. Even her most rocking songs like “On the Corner,” from “Silver City,” stood up in the solo setting. I’m looking forward to catching Sarah again sometime soon, hopefully with a band because that’s where she really shines.

Also a quick note about the two Portsmouth, N.H., venues: This was my first time at Prescott Park, a two-minute walk from the center of town and a beautiful space down by the water. The shows are free ($10 donations are suggested and are worth it!), they rent chairs and blankets and sell food there. The sound is impeccable and the crowd was mostly respectful of the music. The Book & Bar, in the center, is a wonderful spot for a drink, a nibble and for browsing books. They have music on weekend nights, mostly no cover unless they have a bigger-name act. No matter what the cost, it’s a chance to see and hear musicians up close and personal. Portsmouth has become a go-to town, with the Music Hall and the Press Room also hosting shows.

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