Through the years, I’ve had several conversations with many people about who my favorite singers are. I typically list the likes of Joni Mitchell, Judy Garland, Mary Fahl, Sinead O’Connor and Paula Cole. And I can’t have the conversation without name-dropping Carol Noonan.
I’ve been a fan of hers since college radio days in Keene, New Hampshire, when I would play her old band Knots & Crosses. To this day, “Come Undone” from the “Curve of the Earth” album is a favorite. Then, when I moved to Maine in the mid-’90s, she released her solo album “Absolution” on Rounder Records, and the track “Till I See You Again” became a permanent part of my musical DNA: “The memory of you never seemed that close/But thinking of you just reminds me of the path we chose/The road that you could have taken/The road I took to the end/The road that I would like to take to see you again.” From there, I followed her career as she released albums like “Somebody’s Darling,” “Waltzing’s For Dreamers,” “Big Iron” and “Tears Go By,” among others, including two holiday albums that have become staples of my Decembers.
It just so happens that, not only is Carol Noonan one of my favorite singers, she and her husband Jeff Flagg opened my favorite music venue back in 2006. The 200-seat Stone Mountain Arts Center is tucked away in Brownfield and has become a world-class destination venue. I have tickets to see Secret Sisters, Indigo Girls and Shawn Colvin there in the coming months, but first, Noonan’s own band plays Friday, and I wouldn’t miss it.
I can’t remember what the first show I ever saw at Stone Mountain was, but I’m guessing it was sometime around 2007. What I do remember is meeting Noonan for the first time and being totally starstruck. I may have literally bowed down to her, such is my adoration for her music. A few years later, at one of the Stone Mountain Christmas shows, I finally heard Noonan sing live for the first time, and within the first few notes of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” I was in tears.
Noonan’s latest release is last year’s “Raven Girl.” The nine songs on it are inspired by Richard and Mimi Farina. Mimi is Joan Baez’s late sister. The songs were all penned by Richard except for “Sweet Sir Gallahad,” which is by Joan Baez, and “Pack Up Your Sorrows” by Richard and Pauline Baez Marden. As the host of radio show Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ, I have the privilege of spinning many of these songs and hope to hear some of them performed live by Noonan and her band on Friday night, including “Hard-Loving Loser” and “Bold Marauder.”
I reached out to Noonan to ask her what it’s like to get onto her own stage and perform, and she said it’s easy. “There’s no hauling gear, I have our great engineer Pat, a good sound system I’m used to and a great audience.” This show is her first one in a long time with a full band, which is made up of Duke Levine and Kevin Barry on guitar, Richard Gates on bass, Sonny Barbato on keys and Jim Gwynn on drums. Said another way, this band is incredible, and I can personally vouch for the excellence of Levine and Barry, having seen and heard them live.
As for what we can expect, Noonan said she tends to leave her planning until the morning of the show, but we’ll likely hear a little bit from all of her albums and some trio moments with her, Levine and Barry. “It’s a great band, and I’ll get them to do some of Duke’s instrumentals too. Duke and Kevin and I have played together since my solo albums on Rounder, so 23 years.”
As for next projects, Noonan said there aren’t any specific ones in the fire, but she’d love to do a cookbook that has a musical influence. If you’ve ever eaten at Stone Mountain, then you know this is a very good idea that I sure hope it sees the light of day. Noonan even has a spectacular working title of “The Green Room Cookbook.”
I asked Noonan about her favorite and most challenging parts of owning and running Stone Mountain Arts Center. She said the customers and the musicians are great, but her real favorite part is the staff. “They are the closest thing to having kids I will ever get, and they make us laugh all the time and keep us young.” As for the challenges, Noonan pointed to getting people in the seats and figuring out what shows will sell. “We compete with a lot more venues than we ever did, so the audience pie is smaller. I guess the financial end is the hardest. It’s a good thing we work so much, we don’t have time to do anything anyway. The arts center is our social life and our entertainment, and that’s a pretty good deal when you think about it.”
Lastly, Noonan talked about what it’s like to hang up her apron for the night and be up on the stage performing. “It’s beyond great, especially to play with such great musicians. I never get used to that, and they are my dear friends, so as we get older being together becomes more special.” But there’s also a downside to this, Noonan explained. “Because it’s so great, I always have this post-show depression when it’s over. I get that taste of performing again and don’t want to go into the kitchen the next day and make pot pies, but it’s all good.”
And with that, I just bought a ticket to see this show, and if you see me there with tears in my eyes, know that they’re tears of joy, especially if Noonan busts out “Till I See You Again.”
8 p.m. Friday, April 7. Stone Mountain Arts Center, 695 Dugway Road, Brownfield, $30. stonemountainartscenter.com