Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 pm. and 9 p.m.;
and Sun., 3 p.m.
Assigned table seating: $25
There are few conversations in life that make me regret tucking away my acoustic guitar in the closet. Motivation struck me to return to its strums after an exchange with singer/songwriter Susan Werner.
We connected across the country from the East coast of NC to the West coast of Seattle where Werner was preparing for a show. She expressed how music is a journey best traveled into the unfamiliar. In order to find something, one must be willing to discover it along the way. It’s a lesson Werner learned while making a pilgrimage in the Mississippi Delta, winding a trail through Clarksdale and ending in New Orleans. This trip was the inspiration for her new album “Kicking the Beehive,” which exhibits a return to Werner’s musical roots.
A performer since five years old and a studied opera/classical musician, Werner meets every concert as a fun, fresh experience. Though having previously recorded and filmed at Thalian Hall, the musician has never performed in the historic theatre’s Rainbow Room. That will change this weekend when she plays four shows. She savors the anticipation that each new performance is built upon a foundation of different cities, different people and different events.
“You have to make the show about the day and the place,” Werner says. “I do think that is what a great show does. It takes you away from the rest of the week, from the rest of the day and focuses you on the present moment.”
The present keeps her transfixed rather than dwelling on a past “could’ve been.” In fact, making the transition from opera singer to solo singer/songwriter was a trying time for Werner. Feeling as though she had failed in classical music, she remembers the outlook on her career seeming dim. After spending a year in depression, she made the decision that there was something else she could do. Her friends encouraged her newly discovered talent after she picked up a guitar and started writing songs.
Now her sense of musicality is a multifaceted force, where there are no titles, no labels and certainly no genres holding her back. Her new album, “Kicking the Beehive,” has a down-to-earth folk/country sound that mixes honest lyrics with a dose of humor, a serving of wit and rounding it out with a little heartbreak.
“It’s mixing it all up with different ingredients,” Werner explains, “making something new and making something from scratch. That’s what this project was: stuff made from scratch and stuff made with new materials. ”
The sights along the Mississippi Delta allowed Werner’s imagination to flourish in a world of simple country living and sensations being churned up from the natural environment. “What I did feel was there’s a lot of music along the Delta,” Werner says. “When you start talking about the blues, there’s a lot of music to explore—so much. It’s infinite. It’s like an ocean: You’re never going to swim to the bottom of it. You will never touch the bottom of it. I felt a sense of regret that I hadn’t got to it all sooner.”
Werner’s exploration made light into what makes blues music the true prize of our country. Something she thinks is vastly under-appreciated.
“The rest of the world will pay thousands of dollars just to be near it,” Werner says. “It’s the feeling. Something in the river and something in the soil carries feeling.”
When Werner first embarked on her mission, she didn’t know what she would find. Having no expectations and letting the trail make the choices, she found her road of travel invigorating for the mind and soul.
“You get to see it for yourself,” she says. “Sometimes it’s the things that happen, you know, alongside. There are the things that happen while you’re on your journey that really reveal—that make the journey worthwhile. It isn’t necessarily the destination, it’s the things that happen, it’s the stops along the way.”
On her path of production, a host of joiners made their way toward her. The album’s guest list includes great talents, from Vince Gill, Paul Franklin and Keb Mo.
“You know what it was like was?” Werner asks rhetorically. “It was like having a week with royalty—Nashville royalty. I mean, I had Rodney Crowell producing it, running everything in the studio, sitting there holding court, really. [There were] people coming in, dropping in, then Vince Gill stopping by.”
Striving for variety, as much as innovation, Werner no longer dwells on the fear of change. “It’s a way of traveling the world right out of your imagination,” she says. “I find I do my best writing when I’m discovering a new style. If I stay at any one style too long, the excitement and discovery goes out of it. I write my best songs when a style is new to me and I am enamored of it.”
Susan Werner will be playing four shows in the Rainbow Room at Thalian Hall. She will be accompanied by Trina Hamlin on percussion and Gail Ann Dorsey on bass. Tickets are $25.