There's a lot to like about outdoor concerts at Red Butte Garden's amphitheater. You can bring your own food and drink and relax on the grass with mostly unimpeded sight lines. Part of the pleasure of the evening concerts is watching sunsets over the Salt Lake Valley, while the mountains to the east remind you that you're at the largest botanical garden in the Intermountain West.
But critics carp every year that the schedule caters to the older, wine-and-cheese crowd, criticism that seems unfair given that Wilco and Bon Iver have already sold out the venue this season.
The secret about Carlile's rousing live shows is apparently out, since her show has sold out. But those looking for another exhilarating, powerhouse show should consider attending Ritter's concert. The singer-songwriter's perpetual smile might seem a little creepy until you realize that performing is perpetual joy for him.
In phone interviews, both musicians talked about their love of the venue and their love of their craft.
Brandi Carlile • On June 10, the native Washington-stater released "Bear Creek," the best studio album of her young career. While it doesn't match the heights she reached on her lone live album, "Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony" because a studio album can't seem to capture the energy she inspires live this CD presents a rootsy slice of rollicking Americana while offering a newfound vulnerability.
"I was spinning out of control," Carlile said of the tempest that engulfed her before recording "Bear Creek." "Things weren't lining up for me in my personal life."
Take a look at her new song "100":
Because I always dream about you
Every time I close my eyes
If I live to be one hundred
Will I ever cross your mind?
But Carlile's characteristic Northwestern optimism shines though.
Here are some of the closing lines of "Keep Your Heart Young":
So take a picture of the one you love and put it in a locket
Go dig up your time capsule and the blueprints for your rocket
Keep in touch on a fake CB and that same old tic-tac box
Pack your snowballs a little less tight and in the middle still put rocks
And keep your heart young
Despite the turmoil at home, there were two things that kept her inspired when it came time to record the new album. The first was the presence of twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth, a guitarist and bassist who have been with her since well before her first album. "The twins were the organized ones," Carlile said. (Incidentally, Phil is married to Carlile's sister Tiffany, and there's a crib in Carlile's tour bus.)
The second reason is the studio where the album was recorded. The venue became so important that she named the album after it. "There's 100 reasons why," Carlile said about why Bear Creek was magical. "It's a giant old barn. It's very similar to where I live."
The turn-of-the-century barn on a 10-acre horse farm has been the home of many influential projects over the past quarter-century, including those from Fleet Foxes, Soundgarden, Ra Ra Riot and Josh Ritter, who recorded his 2005 album "The Animal Years" at Bear Creek. The first recording there was Lionel Richie's "Dancing on the Ceiling."
The suburban Seattle studio encapsulated where Carlile is agewise. "This is a big coming-of-age album for us," she said. "We wanted a record that sounded like home." Carlile added that she was a classic Gemini, whose sign comes at the transition from spring to summer.
When she thinks of summer, Carlile thinks of Red Butte Garden. "I love Salt Lake City and I love Red Butte Garden," she said. "For some reason, Utah fans are so great. The venue doesn't hurt when it's a beautiful garden."
Josh Ritter •The Idaho native is a rock-inspired singer and songwriter who has been compared to Lucinda Williams (performing at Deer Valley on Monday, July 16), with an emphasis on narrative and details. Since his last album was released, he has written and published a book, Bright's Passage,a result of a song he wanted to explore further.
His most recent album, "So Runs the World Away," which takes it name from a line in Shakespeare's "Hamlet," contains some of Ritter's most engaging stories. "The Curse" is about an Egyptian mummy who falls in love with the archaeologist who discovers him:
The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves, it's her hair that he touches
She asks "Are you cursed?" He says "I think that I'm cured"
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bulrushes
Another song on the album is "Another New World," about a seagoing adventurer who attempts to sail to the top of the world in his beloved ship, Annabelle Lee. He gets stuck in the ice and resorts to torching the ship to keep warm while awaiting rescue:
But sometimes at night in my dreams comes the singing
of some known tropical bird
And I smile in my sleep thinking Annabelle Lee
has finally made it to another new world
Songs like that made the wait for the new album difficult.
It was a surprise when earlier this year, without much fanfare, Ritter released a five-song EP called "Bringing In the Darlings," which were nimble love songs. "I got an appetite for something simpler," Ritter said of the change. "I wanted to say more with less. It's a different direction."
Ritter, who just finished recording his as-yet untitled new album (due out in late 2012 or early 2013), said the album will be along the same lines as the EP, with "unassuming" songs that are decidedly not like the epics found on his last album.
Part of the reason for the change of direction was the writing process of Bright's Passage, where he found himself editing unnecessary words and phrases that might be considered the mark of a first-time novelist. The experience was so transformative that he is now deep into writing a new novel again, inspired by a song. "I write best in the early morning," he said. "After that, I get dumber."
Returning to Red Butte Garden will be "so much fun," he said, adding that he plans to play some of his new songs. "Whatever I feel is ready to perform, I will play," he said. "It feels great. It used to be that I had to play material as soon as I wrote it because I didn't have enough to fill a set."
Brandi Carlile with You, Me and Apollo
When • Sunday, July 15, at 7 p.m.
Where • Red Butte Garden, 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Sold out
Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band with Joe Purdy
When • Tuesday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Red Butte Garden, 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $32 for Garden members, $37 for others, at redbuttegarden.org or by calling 801-585-0556