Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and Maine native Patty Griffin is coming home for a pair of shows this weekend at The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor and The Stone Mountain Arts Center. The shows will be acoustic performances with her longtime guitarist David Pulkingham.
I’ve been a Griffin fan from the moment I heard her debut 1996 album “Living With Ghosts.” With songs like “Moses,” “Let Him Fly,” “Mad Mission” and, in particular, “Every Little Bit,” the album is a brilliant introduction to a true songwriter’s songwriter. Through her songs, Griffin isolates human emotion and tells stories in a way that has earned her a spot on my short list of all-time favorite artists. Her voice is warm and strong but also has an emotional pull to it that makes songs like “Useless Desires” from her 2004 album “Impossible Dream” and “Up To The Mountain (MLK Song)” from 2007’s “Children Running Through” all the more stunning.
Griffin, 54, has called Austin, Texas, home for many years but is originally from Old Town. Her mother and several family members still live in the area. I spoke with her via telephone about her recording of The Highwaymen song “I Do Believe,” which just surfaced, as well as what she’s been up to since her last visit to Maine a couple of years ago.
Turns out, “I Do Believe,” written by Waylon Jennings, was recorded a while back. A Waylon Jennings tribute album, called “The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings Vol. 1,” was released in 2011, and on it is a duet by Griffin and Kris Kristofferson on “Rose in Paradise.” “I Do Believe” was recorded by Griffin during those sessions but wasn’t released until June, much to Griffin’s happy surprise.
“A friend of mine told me that he heard it and really liked it. I hadn’t heard it since it was recorded, so I was glad it finally made it,” she said. With lyrics like, “There’s a man in that old building/He’s a holy man they say/He keeps talking about tomorrow/While I keep struggling with today,” it’s a natural fit among Griffin’s originals.
Griffin’s last studio album is “Servant of Love” from 2015, which earned her a Grammy nomination for best folk album. Currently, she’s working on new material after overcoming a significant obstacle.
“I’ve been forced to go very slowly in the past few years. I’ve had some health issues that slowed me down substantially and sort of took it out of me physically, so I had to start over again,” she said.
Thankfully, Griffin said she’s doing really well now, the new record is underway and we can expect a 2019 release date. We can also expect to hear some of the new material at her Maine shows. “I like playing the new stuff a lot better than I like playing anything’s that been around for a while,” she said.
I asked Griffin if current events are making their way into her songs, and she said they always have. “That’s not changed for me, especially with my last record. I think people tune in when they’re ready to hear what you’re saying,” she said. “For me it’s all connected; I’ve been doing both for a long time.”
Griffin went on to say that, as far as the U.S. goes, things have been bad for a while. “The spotlight is on us right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
I shared with her that I recently had seen Paul Simon and was reduced to tears when he sang “America” because it was a sobering, poignant reminder of just how divided and turbulent the mood of the country is. When asked if she, too, finds solace in other people’s songs, Griffin responded in a philosophical way.
“I think music is pretty mysterious,” she said. “It’s all moving energy and expressing energy. It’s a very strange, mysterious thing, and you don’t connect to everything, but I do it for a living so obviously it’s a huge part of shaping my life and keeping me going.”
Since I spoke with her, the news broke that Griffin would be part of Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend four-day, all-female music event in Mexico in January.It’s somewhat familiar territory for Griffin who mentioned in the interview that she has done some Cayamo music cruises and really appreciates being to spend time with her fellow musicians.
“We are all sort of out there passing each other on the highway, and we don’t really see each other very much unless we’re collaborating in the studio or at a festival,” she said.
Other acts on the Girls Just Wanna Weekend lineup are Indigo Girls, Margo Price, The Secret Sisters and Lucius.
One of the reason’s the Maine shows were booked on these particular dates is because Saturday is Griffin’s mother’s birthday. “She’ll be mad that I told everybody,” she said. It’s common knowledge, however, that Stone Mountain Arts Center owner Carol Noonan makes epic cakes, so Mrs. Griffin will likely be well taken care of.
Griffin has never been a fan of putting too much planning into her set lists. “If someone forces me to write a set list a few hours before my show, it’s very hard for me,” she said. “I like to do it pretty quickly before the show.”
I feel pretty confident that I can speak for Griffin’s entire fan base when I say that she can play whatever she wants, and we’re going to be glued to our seats enraptured. That said, I’d like to put in a good word for “Rain” from 2002’s “1000 Kisses.”
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4. The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, 86 Townsend Ave., $40.boothbayoperahouse.com
8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 The Stone Mountain Arts Center, 695 Dugway Road, Brownfield, $100. stonemountainartscenter.com