Kristin Hersh and her husband/manager/number one fan Billy O’Connell are always pioneering new ways of getting her music out to her fan base outside the realm of the record companies who have let them down in the past. Their latest venture is the Shady Circle, a series of house concerts in which Kristin performs a repertoire consisting of the Appalachian folk songs she was raised on, as well as some of her original compositions. Tine (Kristin’s webmaster) and Steve were kind enough to invite us to a Shady Circle gig at their house in Franklin last night.
Not knowing quite how long it would take to drive there, we left home early and were the first guests to show up. Tine and Steve’s adorable daughters answered the door, and Billy immediately greeted us and gave us a warm welcome. The girls asked people to fill out name tags. Billy wrote “Mr. Hersh” on his, and Kristin wrote “Mrs. Billy O’Connell” on hers. Kristin dubbed Tine the “Web Ho”, which Tine wrote on her own name tag. Other guests arrived, and the first hour or so was spent mingling, and enjoying snacks and drinks.
Then at around 7:15 Billy called out, “So are we going to do a show or what?” and everyone filed into Tine and Steve’s big, comfortable great room. Kristin sat on a chair in front of a shoji screen with her electric guitar and a small amp. The lighting was subdued and augmented by flickering candles. Guests sat on the floor as well as on couches and chairs. Kristin introduced the set as Appalachian folk songs “about murdering your girlfriend” she had learned during her childhood. Some of these were familiar to us from previous concerts and her “Murder, Misery, and then Goodnight” album, while others were new to us. Billy heckled her good-naturedly, scolding her for not announcing song titles.
Tine and Steve’s 17 pound cat kept wandering up to Kristin as she played, and she commented on the "devil cat" a few times. She did some of her original songs as well, such as “City of the Dead” (!!), “Sno Cat”, and “Teeth”. When Billy mentioned that the amp was buzzing a tiny bit, she talked about a recent show she did where the rain made it sound like an old record album. She thought it was cool: “I’m an old blues guy!”
After slightly over an hour, she closed the set with “When the Levee Breaks” and a request from Billy which he called “Tuesday”. It was a tremendous set – very intimate and the small crowd was absolutely enthralled. You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone was transfixed. After the set was over, everyone hung out in the dining room, eating and drinking and chatting. We got a chance to talk to Tine, whom we have seen at shows for years but have never really spoken to. As the crowd thinned out and Billy was breaking down the equipment, we got a chance to chat with him. He remembered that we had been traveling when Kristin had played with Tanya in Boston last October, so we had been unable to attend. He asked how our trip was, so we chatted about Bhutan. He told us about their recent gig in Mexico, which they totally enjoyed, and upcoming opportunities to play in Beirut and Tel Aviv. We talked about Guatemala, and took the opportunity to show him a picture of Aracely on our cell phone.
We talked about Kristin’s music, and the recent projects she has been working on. It is apparent that he is just as awed by her talent as the rest of us. I was reminded of a line from her song “Juno”: “Her husband of 19 years danced madly at her feet”. That’s Billy. We talked about all of the memorable times surrounding Kristin’s music – the Gut Pageant at the Paradise, Bellows Falls Vermont with the quaint train ride, the show at Hi-n-Dry Studios which was recorded for a DVD release… Billy brought up the show at Club 608 when Kristin tried out a bunch of new songs, some of which (my favorite “Somewhere in America” and Billy’s favorite “Blessed”) never took off because Kristin didn’t think they were real enough. Craig raved about how much we love the new “10-4” recordings Kristin has done, and campaigned to have her record the rest of her catalog in that manner as well.
We wanted to get a nice photo of Billy and Kristin together, so he called her over. We chatted with her for a few minutes, and then Craig helped them to bring the equipment out to the car. We thanked Kristin, Billy, Tine, and Steve for such a wonderful night, and then headed home.