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Acoustic evenings with Lyle Lovett & Shawn Colvin

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ORONO/BROWNFIELD - Longtime friends Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin are about to hit the road together for the first time in March for an acoustic tour of songs and stories which will include shows at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono and the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield.

The duo will perform songs from each of their careers while swapping stories about their music and lives.

Lovett and Colvin’s first Maine stop on this tour is scheduled for Tuesday, March 6, at Orono’s Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine at 7 p.m. The next night, the pair will offer up their acoustic evening of songs and stories at Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield.

As a singer and composer, Lyle Lovett is an American treasure with a singular ability to craft richly-layered songs which defy convention.

From his debut self-titled album issued in 1986 to his most recent studio effort, 2012’s “Release Me,” Lovett’s timeless body of work spans multiple genres, including country, folk, pop, swing, jazz, gospel and blues.

A four-time Grammy-winner, Lovett is also a formidable actor with roles in 15 movies, including “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “The Opposite of Sex” and “Ready to Wear.”

A native of South Dakota, Shawn Colvin signed with Columbia Records in 1989 and released her debut album “Steady On.” Her commercial breakthrough came with 1996’s “A Few Small Repairs,” featuring “Sunny Came Home,” a #7 Billboard Hot 100 hit.

A three-time Grammy Award winner, Colvin was the 2016 winner of the Americana Lifetime Achievement Trailblazer award. Bonnie Raitt presented the prestigious award to Colvin, saying “She’s simply one of the best singers I’ve ever heard and a truly gifted and deep songwriter and guitarist.”

“The Starlighter,” Colvin’s 11th album, is scheduled for a February 23 release. The new collection of songs was adapted from the classic 1965 children’s music book “Lullabies and Night Songs,” which combined composer Alec Wilder’s arrangements with artwork from “Where the Wild Things Are” illustrator Maurice Sendak.

For this Maine Edge piece, I reached out to both Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin to ask about their lives in music, their upcoming duo tour and their favorite memories of Maine.

Lovett phoned from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was about to perform with fellow Texan Robert Earl Keen, while Colvin kindly responded to my questions via email while flying out of New York City, following two concerts with Marc Cohn.

My interview with Lyle Lovett was a fascinating and freewheeling conversation which actually began about 10 minutes before I started recording.

After apologizing for calling earlier than planned, Lyle segued into the topic of electronic communication and the increased demands it places upon all of us. He revisits that theme during the interview.

As I told Lyle, I’ve been an enormous fan of his music since I purchased his debut album on cassette in 1986. The fanboy inside of me had myriad questions relating to each of his 11 studio albums but I tried to keep you in mind, dear Maine Edge reader.  

Had I asked those geeky questions, I’m sure he would have graciously answered each one as thoughtfully as he responded to the questions I did manage to ask. He chooses his words carefully, not because he’s afraid they might be misconstrued, but because it’s important to him to convey a thorough response.

I don’t know how many interviewers Lyle had to deal with on the day we spoke but I can tell you that he made this one feel like it was the only one that mattered. He’s a true gentleman.

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An interview with Lyle Lovett

Dow: Do you enjoy performing and touring as much as you always have?

Lovett: It might even be more fun for me now because I’m not quite as scared as I used to be when I first started out. When you first start out, you think ‘If I blow this tonight, it could all be over.’ I don’t feel that kind of pressure anymore. I’m able to be a little more relaxed and engage the audience in a way that feels safe to me.

The people that support you are people you enjoy getting to meet and know. Like the folks who run the Stone Mountain Arts Center (Carol Noonan and Jeff Flag). They, and the people who work there, care so much about the place, they make you feel like you’re stepping into a real community. It’s a nice thing to see. You can tell when people work somewhere because they love the place and it makes a huge difference.

The Collins Center in Orono is a beautiful room. I played there a few years ago with John Hiatt (January 16, 2014). I remember it was very cold outside. I had to wear an actual coat which I don’t usually wear (laughs).

Dow: How did the idea for this tour with Shawn Colvin come about and how familiar are you with each other’s catalogs?

Lovett: Very familiar. We’re friends. We’ve known each other since the early ‘90s. We’ve done shows together but not like this where we’re onstage together. I’m looking forward to doing this kind of tour with Shawn.

Four years ago or so, we did one show together like this for a charity she supports in Austin. We had a great time doing the back and forth thing on each other’s songs and I’ve been wanting to do this with her ever since.

Dow: Will we hear songs from all of the different eras of your career?

Lovett: They’re all I’ve got and I’ve got to play them (laughs). I try to play songs from all across the board. It’s really hard to plan one of these shows because so much of what you end up playing has to do with what the other person is playing. It all has to function as one set of music. So the song that Shawn will be playing will influence my next selections.

In my experience of doing these kinds of shows with other people, I’ve never planned out a set. It’s fun doing it that way. It’s all very much in the moment. It just happens as it happens. The conversation usually goes different places from night to night and certainly the setlist goes different places.

I try to pick songs that sound complete with just my guitar but even the songs that have bigger arrangements on the recording, I get to play them the way I wrote them so there’s something fun about doing that too.

Dow: The stories you and Shawn will tell between the songs is an aspect of the show that many people are looking forward to. You’re both wonderful storytellers. Along that line, have you ever considered writing a memoir of your life to date?

Lovett: Not really, no (laughing). It’s nice of you to ask that but there are no plans for that at the moment. I think writing a book would be hard. Maybe one day I’ll write some stuff down but the thing that I enjoy about doing a show like this is that I feel like I’m in the audience half the time. I’m onstage with the best seat in the house. I’m three feet away from a performer whose work I really admire and I get to listen up close.

You know how when you’re at a concert and you sit there and a million questions run through your mind as you’re watching a performance? I get to actually ask those questions that run through my mind. When Shawn Colvin plays a song, I’ll get to ask things ‘What made you think of that? Or what’s that about?’ That’s the fun part of the show for me. I get to ask questions and find out about things that I like.

Dow: It’s been about six years since your last album “Release Me.” By the way, great cover art on that one. Do you have plans to do another record anytime soon?

Lovett: Yes, I want to record another album. I don’t have any recording sessions set up at the moment but I’ve been writing and I definitely intend to do another record. I don’t know just how soon it will be. I’d like to be able to record this year but that depends on different factors with the business and everything.

Dow: When it comes to songwriting, do ideas for melodies and lyrics come at you out of the blue? Could a hook or an opening line come to you in the shower and you just hope you remember it until you can dry off and write it down or do you approach songwriting like Paul Simon who is more of a 9-to-5 craftsman?

Lovett: All of the above. That’s what’s fun about doing something that you just make up. Sometimes you do have to sit down and engage that methodical part of the process but other times, certain things do just hit you on the head and that’s a wonderful feeling.

One element that helps songwriting is being solitary for a period of time. Driving by myself is a place where ideas have occurred in the past and still do. Being alone and kind of disconnected from responsibilities helps. Like earlier when we were talking about our phones and all of the electronic communications taking our time or distracting us. Being unresponsive to that constant communication and giving yourself some quiet time to think is really helpful.

Dow: Do you prefer people in the audience to turn their phones off before the show begins?

Lovett: When people buy a ticket, I don’t like to instruct them in any way. I find that audiences are pretty good about maintaining their own sense of what they want to happen. Audiences usually take care of themselves.

When I go to a show, I just like to watch the show. But people enjoy things in different ways. I’ve seen video clips after we’ve done a show, and if that’s how people enjoy the experience, as long as they don’t have a big light that distracts people, it doesn’t bother me.

I used to always love to start playing new songs as soon as I wrote them and it has sort of kept me from doing that because it’s so easy for somebody to post a song online and then it gets around and it’s not new anymore.

Dow: Has the sea change that has occurred in the music industry because of the internet made your job easier or more difficult?

Lovett: It’s different but I don’t know if it’s better or just different. Is it better or just different? I think that’s the real question. Not just specific to the music business but to life in general. Does this kind of technological progress improve our quality of life? Or has it just reinvented how we live and how we communicate with one another?

What occurs to me is that with the advent of new technology, our expectations of one another escalate. The ante is upped with everything. The timeline is accelerated and our expectations increase with the frequency you respond. I don’t know if the end result is a better quality of life. There might be more productivity in a condensed amount of time but if we didn’t have that expectation of one another, would our quality suffer?

Does this faster-paced world that we live in provide a better quality of life? I actually think the answer is no, it doesn’t. But it does provide lots of things that didn’t exist before that we have to adjust to. This is something that I think about all the time.

The danger in all of it is the loss of our humanity and our sensitivity toward one another. And losing some of the enjoyment of a simple conversation with somebody and being able to appreciate the subtlety in someone’s voice and his or her inflection. There’s a possibility of not fully enjoying being here and alive. I think you have to be mindful of that because some of it could be lost.

Dow: When you think of Maine, does it stir up any memories of your trips to our state?

Lovett: Gosh, I have so many great memories of Maine. The countryside in Maine is so different from where I’m from in Texas and so beautiful.

Last summer, we played at Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery in Union. What a beautiful setting. That’s a family-owned and run winery and the very people putting on the concert.

I enjoy playing the grand old and new theatres. The places that are designed for an intimate atmosphere which is important to a show like this. Those are my favorite places to play.

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An interview with Shawn Colvin

Dow: Congratulations on your new album “The Starlighter.” I understand it’s based on the classic children’s book “Lullabies and Night Songs.” How did you decide which pieces should appear on the new record?

Colvin: It wasn’t hard. I love ALL the songs in that book. I know most of them, but one exception is “The Journey.” I learned it for the record and I think it might be my favorite.

Dow: Do you have plans to incorporate some of the new pieces into your upcoming tour with Lyle Lovett?

Colvin: Probably not, but you never know!

Dow: When you tour, are you able to spend any time exploring the area or do you primarily focus on the show coming up that evening?

Colvin: I focus on being rested and doing a good show. If I have a day off somewhere, I’ll definitely go out and about.

Dow: Of all of the music that you’ve written, which song or album is closest to your heart and why?

Colvin: That’s a very tough question. It’s like picking a favorite friend or child. I might pick my first record “Steady On,” because it was the culmination of so many dreams I had. I made a record and I wrote the songs. This was a dream come true.

Dow: Is there a song by Lyle Lovett that you consider a favorite?

Colvin: Again, very tough! I opened Lyle’s shows back in the early ‘90s and watched all his performances. At the time, he would play “Pontiac.” I’d say that’s one of his most brilliant songs, but I really do love and admire them all.

Dow: Will audiences hear you and Lyle perform together on each other’s songs during your tour next month?

Colvin: I’m happy to say that Lyle and I will be onstage together for the entire evening and will certainly join in with one another from time to time. I can’t wait.

Dow: Could you share a memory or story about a previous visit to Maine?

Colvin: The first thing that comes to mind is rather silly. I was in a coastal town – I don’t remember where – it was a long time ago. I was staying in a lovely little cottage and at the time, I traveled with my cat. The hotel was run by a family who were very kind to me.

After walking on the beach one afternoon, I came back to the cottage only to find that my cat had chewed through the landline phone cord. I was quite embarrassed and made it up to the family by singing them a song.

(Tickets for “An Acoustic Evening with Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin” on Tuesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. at Collins Center for the Arts, are available at www.CollinsCenterForTheArts.com or by calling 800-622-TIXX. Tickets for Lovett and Colvin’s “Acoustic Evening” concert scheduled for Wednesday, March 7, at 8 p.m. at Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield have all been reserved. However, the venue is offering a waiting list at www.StoneMountainArtsCenter.com.)

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