I first became aware of the true talent of Ingrid Michaelson one sweltering afternoon back in 2010. I was in Manchester, Tennessee attending the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, and I happened to be passing by one of the smaller stages when I heard her voice. If you’ve heard Michaelson on the radio or live in concert, then you likely know what I’m talking about. Her voice is strong without being overpowering, feminine without being overly cutesy, and the songs she writes to which to apply that voice are ridiculously catchy and clever. I’d heard songs like “The Way I Am” and “Be OK” on the radio prior to Bonnaroo, but had all but dismissed them as pop fluff. Now, hearing her sing live and in person that Sunday afternoon (I’m pretty sure it was Sunday, but as anyone who has been to Bonnaroo will tell you, it all starts to run together after Friday night), I paused. I ended up watching her entire set, something I’ve rarely done at a multi-stage music festival. There are always two or more bands that you’re interested in seeing playing at the same time at those things, and so I inevitably find myself running back and forth, trying to experience as much music as a I can. I’m not complaining; it’s certainly a great problem to have, but listening to Michaelson sing her songs and then interact with her sizable audience through witty banter and call-and-response, I have to admit that I was artistically smitten. I’ve been a fan ever since.
Apparently, I’m not the average Ingrid Michaelson fan. I’m a middle-aged male, and while my musical tastes run pretty far and wide, you’re not going to look at me and say, “Gee, I’ll bet that the perfect birthday gift for that guy is an Ingrid Michaelson tour t-shirt.” Nevertheless, I would indeed be thrilled with that item being gifted to me, although I doubt the best designs come in my size. My suspicions were confirmed this past Monday night when I stepped into the Charleston Music Hall to catch Michaelson’s concert. Scanning the audience, everyone seemed so...young...and mostly female. This bald, gray-bearded, six-foot-three guy with glasses felt a bit out of place, but no matter. I took my seat and waited for the show to begin.
Although I’d specifically come to see Ingrid, when the opener stepped out on the stage and started singing, it was like discovering perfection at Bonnaroo all over again. Greg Holden was born in Scotland and grew up in England. Flanked by a couple of backup musicians, the young man turned in a spectacular yet short set of original music, demonstrating songwriting skills that would make folks like Tom Petty and Bob Dylan take notice. Indeed, Holden mentioned those two music legends as he paused to take a picture of the audience, something he apparently does at every show. “I’ll put this up on Instagram,” he said, then apparently considered what he’d just said. “I hate saying that,” Holden said, smiling sheepishly. “I grew up listening to Tom Petty and Bob Dylan and they’d never say that. I hate myself.” I wasn’t the only one who seemed to enjoy Holden’s performance. The crowd at the Music Hall, which had given him a lukewarm reception at the beginning, was enthralled as he sang the songs “Boys in the Street” and “Hold On Tight.” The former song was a touching story about a young man trying to get his father to come to terms with his son’s sexuality, while the latter was drenched in a wonderful Americana sound that reminded me of Big Country or The BoDeans. Both songs are from an album that will be released in April. Holden also wrote the song “Home,” which was a big hit here in the US for American Idol winner Phillip Phillips. He’s a truly gifted singer-songwriter who will hopefully get wider exposure thanks to opening for Michaelson. The headliner even came out and sang with Holden on the final song of his set.
Ingrid Michaelson had a radio hit late last year with the song “Girls Chase Boys,” which was a departure from her usual simple tunes, often strummed on a ukulele. After playing a couple of songs with her band, Michaelson took notice of the row of fans that had pressed up against the lip of the stage to get closer to their idol. “Did you guys pay extra to be able to stand there? If I was paying extra, it would be to sit down,” mused Michaelson. Along with her band, Michaelson charmed the crowd with songs that spanned her career thus far. Some of the biggest reaction was for radio hits like “Be OK” and, especially, “The Way I Am,” a charming little tune that name-checks the hair-growing medicine Rogaine, of all things. Midway through the set, Michaelson performed a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” that really showcased her impressive singing voice. As she performed it alone on the stage with only a ukulele, the 20-year-old tune seemed tailor-made for her. Holden and his band came out to sing on the wistful “You and I,” and Michaelson ended her main set with “Girls Chase Boys,” then returned for an encore. Throughout the show, Michaelson demonstrated her trademark self-deprecating behavior between songs. The geek is strong in Ingrid, and she doesn’t seem to mind looking goofy in front of her fans. Indeed, it only makes her more irresistible. Michaelson’s new album Lights Out, which features “Girls Chase Boys,” comes out in April, and judging by the strength of the new material performed at Monday night’s show, the song collection should be another triumph for the artist. In the meantime, local fans were treated to a spectacular performance by both Michaelson and Holden.