Written by Jane Ponte
It is always a special moment when one comes face-to-face with someone they’ve admired for some time, and that person turns out to be every bit as kind, engaging, sincere and just plain cool as one has hoped and envisioned them to be. That’s what happened for me last Thursday night at The Mucky Duck in Houston when Grammy-nominated Americana-Folk singer Mary Gauthier graced us with her presence for 2 back-to-back, sold-out shows and gifted us with a thought-provoking evening that glowed from start to finish. Accompanied by Austin singer-songwriter Jaimee Harris, and Italian violinist extraordinaire Michele Gazich, Gauthier shined a bright light over her appreciative crowd, and, through 2 sets of beautifully-executed songs, reminded us that we are more connected than we often choose to believe, and that love and understanding are ultimately the cure to what ails us.
I must preface this review by saying that The Mucky Duck is one of my favorite Houston music venues, for several reasons. Aside from their superb food & drink and stellar music on a nightly basis, the main reason that I dig the Duck is for the camaraderie and inclusion I always feel when I’m there. Everyone is always made to feel welcome and appreciated at the Duck. The friendliness is always palpable; I can show up solo for a show there and always find a friend, even if it’s someone I just met. Seeing Mary Gauthier and Jaimee Harris together at this venue was just super special, because they are special women. I could not have asked for a better evening of friendship and music, and even as I write this, days after that evening has passed, I still feel fortunate to have been a part of that intimate and special evening.
Jaimee Harris opened the show, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much she has grown as a performer since the last time I saw her play, which was just in April. Don’t get me wrong—Harris has been a musical force to be reckoned with since her early days of performing in front of an audience, but these days she appears more confident in her abilities and talent, and it shows. She played several songs from her debut album, “Red Rescue,” (2018) including the deeply personal tune, “Snow White Knuckles,” which touches upon her journey into the rooms of a 12-step fellowship where she found identification and a personal relationship with a Higher Power after years of struggling with substance abuse and the unmanageability that stems from addictive behavior. Harris writes and sings from her heart—she is an open book who invites her listeners in to share her struggles, triumphs, and doubts that come from simply being human and trying to find her place in a sometimes confusing, sometimes beautiful world. I found myself listening in awe as Harris shared her vulnerability and rawness with us; her powerful, emotional voice is a rare and beautiful instrument in and of itself and conveys the message of her music perfectly. It is no wonder that “Red Rescue” has received critical acclaim from music critics across Texas and beyond—it is an exceptional first offering from this gifted and promising young woman.
Mary Gauthier joined Harris on stage for a moving rendition of “Red Rescue,” along with Italian violinist Michele Gazich, and all three performers remained on stage for the remainder of the evening. Harris took the role of backing vocalist and sometimes lead guitarist as Gauthier took her spellbound audience on a moving and deeply personal journey through several of her best-loved songs, including “Our Lady of the Shooting Stars,” and “I Drink,” both from her critically acclaimed release, “Drag Queens in Limousines.” (1999) The latter was a perfect song for both Gauthier and Harris to perform together, as Gauthier is also in recovery from substance abuse and has been for many years. With a past that is as colorful as the pictures she paints through her songs, Gauthier has the uncanny ability to exude humility, gratitude, joy, and salvation every time she performs, and it was both a gift and a privilege to watch as she left her heart and soul on the Mucky Duck stage, and did so with grace and tenderness, alternating between older and newer material for the next few songs of her set.
I would be remiss in my duty as a music lover and fan of all-things-phenomenal-and-genuine if I were to gloss over the contributions that world-class violinist Michele Gazich brought to both sets of music on this magical evening. His “less-is-more” approach to playing, and his stripped-down, classical nuances were the perfect accompaniment to Gauthier’s emotional songs. His extraordinary playing added richness, movement, and meaning to each song, and I felt a lump in my throat as I watched him gracefully and passionately glide through each tune, his body and bow swaying gently with the tempo. These wonderful sets of music would have been lovely had they stood on their own, but Gazich’s contributions enhanced their depth beyond measure.
This was particularly true when Gauthier performed a few of the songs from her 2018, Grammy-nominated album, “Rifles & Rosary Beads.” Perhaps her most important and impressive work to date, Gauthier explained to her captivated crowd that the album stemmed from the collaborative efforts between herself, wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their families, under the auspices of the non-profit Songwriting with Soldiers. Persuaded by friend and songwriter Darrell Scott, who had just returned from one of songwriter Darden Smith’s retreats—(Smith founded Songwriting with Soldiers)—Gauthier stated that at first she did not think she was capable or qualified to participate in this worthy project, as she had no military experience and did not know if she would be able to give an adequate voice to these survivors’ trauma. Based on the songs she performed for her spellbound audience, which included “The War After the War” and “Stronger Together,” Gauthier has not only given a powerful voice to some of the survivors of these tragic wars, but has also shed some much-needed light on the necessity for continued healing for these individuals and families. Accompanied by Gazich and Harris, Gauthier delivered a riveting and thought-provoking set-within-a-set that opened the hearts and minds of everyone in attendance and left us with more awareness and empathy than when we first arrived.
Gauthier closed both sets with one of her most well-known and deeply loved songs, “Mercy Now,” from the 2002 album with the same name. As I sat in my chair, surrounded by friends and music lovers in one of my favorite venues, I could not help but feel a deep sense of gratitude and connection in that moment. I knew we were all witnessing something that was important, relevant and special, because Mary Gauthier—as an artist, a poet, an activist, and a human being full of grace and humility– is important, relevant and special. I am a better person simply for having attended this moving and inspiring evening of music and fellowship with Mary Gauthier, Jaimee Harris, and Michele Gazich, and I cannot wait for them to come back soon. Until then, I’ll hang onto the gifts of music, kindness, humor, empathy, and connection that these phenomenal artists so selflessly gave to me—and my friends– last week at The Duck.