There is a lot of anxiety amid the return to live shows.
How does one socially distance in a pit of hundreds of people? Do you need to sing along if no one can tell? And is it really the safest, most comforting feeling knowing you are sweating alongside total strangers at the end...errrr...in the middle of a plaguing pandemic?
Before my return to the Sylvee this Friday, I wondered how the night would play out. I love the Madison music scene, and I missed it dearly. I woke up on Friday with pre-show jitters just because I had longed for the feeling of being back on the east side of Madison.
Indie singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, known to listeners as Waxahatchee, headlined a show this past weekend, touring her fifth studio album “Saint Cloud” that dropped in March 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Waxahatchee was forced to put an anticipated tour on hold; rescheduled dates began Sept. 2.
“Saint Cloud” tells a story about Crutchfield nearly reaching rock-bottom, only to lift herself up through her journey with sobriety. The music itself is a hybrid of brooding indie and hopeful Americana, the latter tapping into her Alabama roots. Nothing about the music itself is complicated, the lyrics are paired with often simple guitar melodies. “Saint Cloud” is an intriguing album because even as it captures dark topics, the lights continue to shine through all the tracks.
I was first introduced to Waxahatchee by my dad. He used to tell me about an artist he saw a few times at small, intimate venues in New York City — always raving about her voice. Fast forward almost a year and a half later, I scored a ticket to her show and got to tell him that it was finally happening at one of my favorite venues.
The Sylvee is great because it welcomes people with all different types of expectations. I went to the show alone and knew that I was not looking to be right up front, pushed up against the barricade. However, some people were in fact right at the front of the barricade, while others were scattered throughout, with several staying a level-up, by the bar. I always appreciate the venue because I know that I can have the same, solid time anywhere inside.
Right away, I was reintroduced to the pleasant surprise of finding a new artist to fawn over. Opener Kate Kirby quickly established a calm, soothing energy that would continue throughout both her and Waxahatchee’s set. A Nashville native, Kirby got the audience excited to hear live music again. With songs like “Cold Dry Place,” “Portals” and an Alex G cover to close, her set proved to produce new fans — myself included.
With roses wrapped on microphone stands and a sweet, cloud-filled blue sky backdrop, Waxahatchee took the stage with “Oxbow,” an honest song that sets the tone of an album all about transparency. Between bouts of songs, Waxahatchee took the time to thank the audience for their support. She also voiced her love for the state of Wisconsin and reminisced on how well Madison has treated her. She sounded like a native, announcing that “this set is dedicated to Giannis Antetokounmpo.”
Crutchfield’s stage presence is similar to that of her music. She radiated like an angel in her white dress, matching a sober story told throughout all 11 tracks. During her set, I could not help but think about my dad. How he would make such a point to tell me about her voice. I always figured she was a decent performer with a solid voice. On songs like “Lilacs” and “Fire,” her voice was isolated, soaring through the room as heads bopped and hands clapped. I finally understood what he was talking about. Crutchfield’s voice is as chilling as it is raw and pairs nicely with goosebumps.
Throughout the show, I maneuvered around. I watched a few songs from the pit and then others from the outskirts. Waxahatchee’s performance aligned well with my night of introspection. Standing alone in the Sylvee, any nerves I had about what would play out disappeared. The audience managed to respect each other's personal space, and the crowd echoed the calmness carried out by the set.
My first show back at the Sylvee only got me more excited for the upcoming concert season. Seeing “Saint Cloud” live, as well as pleasing my dad, was an all-around success. If you get the chance to see Waxahatchee or Kirby live, do yourself a favor and go!