I missed Waxahatchee when she came through Asheville last year, and I regretted it. This time around she was touring with Kevin Morby (a favorite of mine) and Mary Lattimore, and they were playing at the Masonic Temple, a seemingly civilized venue that had never before been the site of a live music show, so I resolved to go. Entering the building at 8:00 on Friday night, I was struck by the quiet inside. Soon I understood that all the people were on the third floor. Walking up and up those blond wooden stairs, I felt hopeful. And when I reached the top and realized that Mary Lattimore was already playing her harp (right on time! how refreshing!), my hope swelled a little more.
I don’t go to many concerts. I love music -- you might even say I’m obsessed with it. If I’m not listening to it, I’m sharing it on the radio or I’m talking about it or writing about it or creating my own, or wishing I felt inspired enough to create my own. But it takes a very special line-up to get me out of the house and into a venue. Live shows are a pain. On the rare occasion they don’t start too late, they always end that way. And I quickly tire of standing. And, most importantly, the crowds bum me out like little else can. But the Masonic Temple at least guaranteed that I'd have a seat, and I hoped that this seatedness would mean my fellow show-goers would be better behaved.
And I guess they were a little better than usual, until the final act. Things were fine for Lattimore's performance, which was strange and beautiful in all the ways I'd expected it to be. By the time Kevin Morby took the stage, more bodies had accumulated where I was sitting in the balcony, and with that, the temperature had risen and the air had become thick and full of strangers’ exhalations and coughs. During the next intermission I braved the bathrooms, knowing that even if the lines were long (and they were) I’d have time to spare before Waxahatchee started. Suffice it to say I did not actually end up using the bathroom, but at least I came back a little cooler than before. Within seconds of taking my seat again, I longed to remove my sweater.
When Katy Crutchfield (a.k.a. Waxahatchee, for a creek near her Alabama hometown) walked out on the stage and picked up her guitar, no one applauded. Granted, the lights did not dim, so the audience as an unthinking organism did not receive its usual cue to stop talking and start clapping. But I still found it odd that no one -- including myself -- audibly acknowledged her presence before us. When she finished tuning her guitar and the lights did finally dim, still no applause resounded. She simply started singing. I’m not saying this is bad or wrong per se. It just struck me as noteworthy. And from there on everyone applauded at the end of each song, like normal people. Everyone who stayed, that is.
A lot walked out. Some waited for a song to end; others didn’t. Some stumbled on the stairs and fell as they were coming in late. Chairs creaked like giant zip ties. Keys were dropped and picked back up with a scrape. Some of these noises couldn’t be helped. Maybe all of them were unavoidable. And on their own, they were merely annoying. But coupled with the sound and sight of people filing out between songs, they were maddening.
I don’t mean to imply I was seething through Crutchfield’s entire performance. On the contrary, I was bewitched. She was so inviting to the eye in her loose, floor-length frock with its pale gingham design, her dark hair hanging loose, too, past her shoulders, bare arms soft and feminine but strong-looking, even had they not been tattooed. Her guitar playing was very simple, mostly gentle slow strums and basic chords with the occasional hammer-ons. But she was better than I am by far, so I was adequately impressed. And when you have a voice like Crutchfield’s -- one that rings out clear but kind of scratchy, that is by turns very childlike and stunningly mature, with just enough southern twang to keep me wanting more -- you don’t need much else, especially when you know your way around a melody like she does, and when you can write your ever-loving heart out.
Maybe the people who left weren’t walking out because they didn’t like the music. I admit that could be a false assumption. But considering the other possible reasons for their leaving, I can’t see one that justifies such behavior, which is ultimately rude and hurtful. It’s one thing if there’s a whole band up on the stage and their music is loud and the energy is rowdy. It’s another thing entirely if there’s a solitary artist performing quiet songs of a clearly personal nature, songs about her life and the details of it, none of them veiled in metaphor or protected by shifting points of view, all of them naked and true. Crutchfield’s songs contain her soul. Offering them up, she is vulnerable, and the audience is meant to accept that vulnerability in a gentle way and be grateful and wish that they could be so honest and brave.
But instead a significant number of audience members -- enough to make the temperature drop -- got up and left. And many of them did not have the decency to go home. They went out into the lobby to buy another drink and stand around talking loud enough for us in the theater to hear. Or they went out on the veranda and smoked.
I knew I could be mad about it later. In the moment, though, I kept focusing on Crutchfield. She sang most of my favorites, including “Catfish,” “I Think I Love You,” “Noccalula” (and sadly not “Bathtub”) from her first album American Weekend, and “La Loose” from her latest, Ivy Tripp, among many others. Some songs were new. One was a mysterious cover that took my breath away, a gorgeous country murder ballad I’ll probably never hear again. Everything she played was either slow to begin with or made so for this tour, stripped to its bare acoustic bones. So I could see why people who don’t feel as much, or who are too drunk or antsy to sit still might desire to leave, especially if that kind of music generally isn’t their cup of tea. But some desires should go unfulfilled. Perhaps there is a time and place for walking away from someone as she shares her staggering gift with you, a stranger, despite all the risks. Friday night at the Masonic Temple was neither.