Sunday, February 18, 2007

Nanci Griffith

I wish I had a shot of last night's marquee on the old Carolina Theater in Greensboro (photo credit to STAYFLY on Flickr).

It would show "NANCI GRIFFITH - SAT 8:00." It's a grand old building in the town with the nation's most famous Woolworth store (where the sit-ins started in 1960 - a fact Nanci alluded to before singing "Love at the Five and Dime" and again when she gave us her final goodbye). It was a fitting and lovely place for her and the Blue Moon Orchestra to play. She hadn't been to this venue in twenty two years, back when she was a rising star. Three hundred people had attended then; last night she had a sold out house. The theater was nearly torn down about thirty years ago; the town rallied to save and restore it. It was built in 1927, probably around the same time as the old Woolworth's, which is also being preserved and turned gradually into a museum on Civil Rights. Nanci is all about this kind of thing - not just the preservation (for which Nanci congratulated GSO, commenting that it was more than Nashville was doing) but more importantly the message the history teaches.

Nanci is a "child of the sixties," as she sings in "It's a Hard Life," (which she performed for us) and she still carries that rebel attitude lightly and naturally, with maybe one song in four having a message. She has worked for decades now with the group recently renamed the Veterans for America Foundation, travelling to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo to see their work firsthand. This group does many things for vets, but Nanci focused on how the vets reach out where Americans have fought and inadvertently harmed noncombatants. She mentioned providing medical care and prosthetics to people maimed by land mines in coutries like Vietnam and Korea, where most of those mines were placed (and not entirely removed) by Americans. The work of this group resonates with her, and her voice is perfect for the message.

She also has a rich warm Texas pride and it comes out in her spoken sound, in her singing, and in her stories. She's never far from Texas, even when she is singing about Saigon or Belfast. She carries the place and its colorful, strong minded people, around in her heart.

And in the end that's what you feel from Nanci Griffith, in her albums and even more from a live performance: her heart. It's hurt and lonely ("Working in Corners"), it's ever full of hope for the future ("Love Conquers All"), it's angry about injustice of any kind ("It's a Hard Life"), it's proud of her past and her state and the causes she supports. It's got the tenderest spot for the people in our armed forces whether in harm's way now or veterans. There are countless references to military people and military service in her stories and songs. Her politics may be to the left of many in the military, and she loudly questions the motivation for military action and its methods, but in Nanci the soldiers and their loved ones have a "True Companion" and a "True Believer."

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