The closing act of Perth’s 2018 Southern Fried Festival was the outstanding Gretchen Peters, accompanied by her husband, Barry Walsh, on piano and accordion, and singing backing vocals. In the second half of her memorable performance she was joined by the Southern Fried String Quartet of two violins, one viola and one cello. Six people on the stage making enough beautiful noise to seem like a whole philharmonic was playing for us.
The first half of the set had songs chosen entirely by the audience through a Facebook ballot, and their choices were loved by fans old and new. Gretchen herself was impressed by the range of songs chosen, and commented that even thought she had written them, some needed dusting off, thanks to the expertise of her loyal fan base.
What followed was a flawless performance leading us through 20-plus years of songwriting from one of the leading singer-songwriters in the world today. Her songs take you on an emotional rollercoaster, although with the most glorious soundtrack, leaving you feeling like you just explored the deepest recesses of your own life and memories. In a good way of course. The songs are at the same time uplifting, thought-provoking, political, brave, bold, fierce, sensual and soothing to the musical soul. Listening to her lyrics is like being read a dozen of the most interesting works of fiction from the last 500 years, set to music, sung by the most melodic and stunning voice, but with added
chapters on human emotions. Each song is like a life story crammed into a few minutes, and her lyrics have to be up there with the great lyricists and musical poets of the 20 th century.
So what did she perform? Starting her set with the haunting song about religion, Dark Angel, originally a duet with Rodney Crowell on her 2011/12 album “Hello Cruel World”. Rodney, a minister, incidentally officiated at the wedding of Peters and Walsh, and the song was written following a time of great personal turmoil in Gretchen’s life.
Following swiftly on from Dark Angel was The Matador, taken from the same album, a glorious exploration of duende, which certainly did heighten feelings of emotion. Next came a song written by the multi-talented Tom Russell, Guadalupe. Gretchen recorded Tom’s song in 2008. Tom, as well as being a noted songwriter in the Americana genre (he also does rock, folk and cowboy), is an accomplished artist and writer, having written a crime novel and other books. His own life has been eclectic, moving around the world, and playing, amongst other places, in strip joints, working as a New York cab driver and guesting on the Letterman show. Like Gretchen, his own life provides more than enough material for a lifetime of songs. Gretchen was accompanied by Barry switching to an ornate and exquisite accordion, to perform in this segment.
Gretchen then delighted with her tale of visiting the ghostly air base near Peterborough where her father was stationed as a pilot in WW2, and how her father’s plane crashing into the North Sea inspired The Aviator’s Song. She followed that with a newer song, Dancing with the Beast from her latest 2018 album of the same name.Later in the set she wowed the crowd with Disappearing Act, Arguing with Ghosts and Love that Makes a Cup of Tea, also from Dancing with the Beast.
Moving to the piano herself, Gretchen gave a flawless rendition of the song she says changed her life, Independence Day, taken from the 1992/3 album The Secret of Life, and going by her songs and emotionally intelligent lyrics, I think she might just know it. Her last two songs of the first set were Arguing with Ghosts, and an extraordinary song about the ordinary trials and tribulations of everyday life, 5 Minutes.
Joined on stage after the break by the Southern Fried String Quartet, who Gretchen wanted to keep forever, she delighted with Love that Makes a Cup of Tea and The Secret of Life (taken from the album of the same name and recorded by Faith Hill in 1999).
The remainder of the set included some amazing instrumental pieces with Gretchen on guitar (including a switch to a Gibson), Barry on piano and the strings, filling the auditorium with music for six very talented musicians. Belting out Revival (recorded by the late great Jimmy la Fave), Blackbirds (co-written with Ben Glover) and taking on the controversial topics of incest and murder with some fearless songwriting.The set closed with When you Love Someone, written with her long-time friend and musical partner Bryan Adams, and featured in the film Hope Floats.
At the end of a fabulous night the audience enthralled by her (and her fellow musicians), it just wasn’t time to leave yet. After a standing ovation Gretchen, Barry and the String Quartet returned to reward us with one final song, taken from her 1996 album The Secret of Life, the gorgeous When You are Old.
And with that they were gone…goodnight and adieu to Southern Fried Festival 2018, roll on 2019!