Fresh off a weekend at the 60th Newport Folk Festival, including a historic woman-powered Saturday sundown jam curated by Brandi Carlile, songwriter Amy Ray brought a stage full of friends to play country music for an exclusive WMOT member audience on Wednesday evening. The Indigo Girl and folk icon has been making solo music with varying degrees of punk and twang since 2001's Stag. On this evening's set for WMOT's series Wired In, much of the material was drawn from her 2018 album Holler, including its chill and melancholy title track.
While late day sun tried its best to infiltrate the black box music venue that is The Basement East, the vibe inside felt distinctly late night as Ray struck up the mandolin chime that intros "Duane Allman" from her 2014 Goodnight Tender album. The artist set up her next one with memories of driving from Georgia to Nashville ages ago to sing at the Bluebird Cafe, because that's what the opening stanza of "Tonight I'm Paying The Rent" is about. The swaying honky tonk tune about the life of the road-weary musician set up a chat with Wired In host Jessie Scott about how those early travels shaped her. "I had so many great experiences with music in the South," she said on the live broadcast. "It's important."
The six-piece band included special guest Alison Brown on banjo. Her rolling picking propelled the striding minor-key roots rocker "Sure Feels Good," one of several where the audience felt ready to sing along. Ray's pal Becky Warren, whose career she's helped nurture into one of the more exciting among new Americana artists, joined the band as harmony vocalist for the shuffling country lament "More Pills." And the set closed out with "Sparrow Boogie" whose rustic stomping verses were offset by a broader folk chorus. Presumably quite a few of the fans who cheered lustily for Ray's finale came back for the double bill of Becky Warren and Amy Ray later that night. It was a benefit for WMOT, which is also something to cheer lustily for.