There’s something about Mary

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All the way from Nashville, Mary Gauthier has been acclaimed as “one of the major artists of our time” by Bob Harris .

And the musician can count both Bob Dylan and Tom Waits amongst her numerous fans around the world.

So we were thrilled to welcome Mary back to the String Jam Club on Sunday, October 5, and it was a very special opportunity for local music fans to see this legendary artist live and up-close in the intimate setting of our new home at the County Hotel in Selkirk.

This was Mary’s second visit to the String Jam Club and as before, she gave us one of the most uplifting and deeply affecting live performances we’re ever likely to experience. Mary Gauthier – one woman, one guitar and a whole lot of truth – moved us in a way that very few artists can, and not surprisingly, she got a standing ovation from our sell-out audience. Since then I have been inundated with emails and texts from people asking when she’s coming back.

Originally hailing from Baton Rouge in Louisiana, Mary Gauthier’s life story reads like a classic country song.

As a newborn baby, she was abandoned by her mother in an orphanage in New Orleans and was eventually adopted into a dysfunctional family, headed by an alcoholic father. At the age of 15, she stole the family car, ran away from home and drove straight to rehab. She spent many years battling alcohol and heroin addiction in the company of society’s outcasts.

Mary finally got clean aged 29 and wrote her first song at 35.

After setting up her own successful restaurant business, she finally decided to go for the music full-time, describing songwriting as “the medicine that put me back together”.

There’s been no looking back.

Since then she has spent her life continually recording, writing, touring the world and releasing eight acclaimed albums, including her latest, Trouble and Love. Little did she know at the age of 17, sitting alone in a Kansas jail cell for petty theft, that one day she would be invited to perform at the 3,000-seater Grand Ole Opry itself – the Mecca of country music in Nashville – and have a legion of worldwide fans.

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You have to know about Mary’s personal story to fully appreciate the remarkable gift she possesses and the fearlessly honest manner in which she shares it in her performances. It is a very generous act. We all felt it. Tears were shed, and there was much laughter too at Mary’s dry wit. She is a very charismatic performer, totally in the zone, immersed in the songs, her face and body 
language showing every 
feeling.

Despite the emotional density of Mary’s songs, there was also huge space, inviting us in, engaging one and all with a deep sense of connection to the songwriter, the song and each other. And although her themes were personal, often dark, gritty and raw, they were deeply resonant with the recurring themes of love, redemption, hopefulness and healing – universal truths we can all relate to. Mary’s set was mesmerizing – as one audience member put it, “You can’t not listen”.

She took us through an hour and a half of songs from all stages of her career, including gems from the latest album, but also classics such as ‘I Drink’, ‘The Last of the Hobo Kings’ and her unforgettable signature song ‘Mercy Now’ a beautiful benediction, recently selected as one of the Saddest Country Songs of All Time in Rolling Stone Magazine.

Mary was more than ably supported by the excellent Irish singer-songwriter Ben Glover, who kicked off the evening with a knockout performance of songs from his fifth acclaimed album ‘Atlantic’. He also joined Mary on stage for some of her songs.

It takes great courage and artistry to live through trauma and transform it into something beautiful. Mary Gauthier did just that, and it was a triumph. If anyone is a phoenix risen from the ashes, it is this unique songwriter. And, if the truth be known, she left a little bit of that courage and inspiration in all of us.

Photographs copyright: Michael A. Fitch. Thanks to Allie Fox of String Jam Club for the review