• Christopher McHale

Amanda Shires in Space






I’ve got to write about this before it slips away.


Listen.


Saturday night in Evanston, Illinois. Quiet. Chilly. A club called Space. First time there but what got us there was a couple of years ago watching Brandi Carlisle at Madison Square Garden. In the middle of her set Brandi brings some friends on stage. One of them is Amanda Shires and two-notes from that voice is all I need.


Who is that?


I listen and watch some interviews but in Evanston we want to truly connect.

It’s our first Amanda Shires show.


Space is tiny, maybe 100 people. As soon as we walk in the room we turn to each other. Special. This small room with this compelling artist. I don’t know why she’s playing a room like this. I don’t know too much about her career. But I do know about the musician’s life.

Shires is a sideman. Sidewoman. Fiddle mostly. Played with the Texas Playboys when she was 14. On the road with that PG family show. Traveling around in an bus. Churning up dust.

There’s this gap between the front of the stage and the back. Most side players get back there and there they be. It’s safe. It’s low pressure. It’s a steady paycheck.


Stars come and go but every star needs their players, so you can have a good career back there in the shadows, moving from band to band.


Thing is that back line career fades fast if you step up into the light.


It’s a risk.


It’s our gift that night that Amanda Shires took the risk.


I don’t mean it to be Amanda is some kind of revelation. She’s married to Jason Isobel. She’s a member of the Highwomen.


I was a freedom rider

When we thought the South had won Virginia in the spring of '61 I sat down on the Greyhound that was bound for Mississippi My mother asked me if that ride was worth my life And when the shots rang out, I never heard the sound But I am still around


Shires sings to us a soft rendition of this beautiful anthem, guitar/voice, and when she gets to this verse she stops, overcome with emotion.


We’re with her. Everyone in that small room. My friend tells me you could hear a pin drop. That’s it. That’s the bond between us, forged by the naked emotion of this exceptional artist’s voice.


I’ve a lifetime of shows behind me. You come across one every now and then. The ones that rearrange you.


There’s so many weirdos in America right now. We need our artists to shape emotions just so we can handle the shit. Amanda is right on time with her voice cutting to the heavans. She gathers us in and lets us feel the numbing pain with her song The Problem.


No bigger than a baby bird Do you think God still sees me? Coming out of this twilight sleep I'm not sure who I am



Her final number goes south. Twice. The band stays with her. Nashville tight. Super pros. Studs in cowboy hats backing up the singer who stepped into the light. You can feel the love there. Amanda is one of their own. A player.


“We can’t leave it there,” she says.


She picks up her fiddle and counts off. She reaches deep now. A raw voice against a fiddle sawing the club in half.


I can hardly move when the house lights come on. I’ve barely breathed for a hour.

We walk through a chilly night in this quiet Midwest backwater. Amanda gets on her bus and heads to Wisconsin. She spins magic in the late autumn air. A compass for the shivering upon us.


Listen.


Listen to our artists singing to us.


We need them now more than ever.

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