With hearts in mind
Nanci Griffith visits Chico for a Valentine’s night celebration
“How’s the weather in Nashville?”
“We’re expected to get some snow,” the ex-Texan said in her pleasant, Southern-tinged voice.
The voice at the other end of this telephone interview is the woman Rolling Stone magazine dubbed “The Queen of Folkabilly,” Nashville-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Nanci Griffith. After being informed that the weather here in Chico had been nice and sunny lately, she replied, “I’m looking forward to it.”
Griffith has been to Chico once before, in the early ‘80s, when she was on tour with widely known folk singer Rosalie Sorrels. Griffith, in fact, wrote the sympathetic song “Ford Econoline” about Sorrels’ life as a touring performer who, after a divorce, took all five of her kids on the road with her: “She’s the salt of the earth/ Straight from the bosom of the Mormon church/ With a voice like wine/ Cruising along in that Ford Econoline.”
Griffith began learning to play the guitar at age 8 from an instructor on TV and had played her first gig by the age of 14. Her life since has been one of musical and spiritual growth and accomplishment. She’s earned five Grammy nominations (and two wins) for her beautiful singing, as well as high praise for her songwriting in the form of big country stars such as Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss recording her tunes.
She’s released over 20 solo albums, but her songs are probably best known by the renditions others have recorded, such as Mattea’s hit version of “Love at the Five and Dime” (which received a Grammy nomination) and Harris and Nelson’s duet on “Gulf Coast Highway.” Griffith’s 1986 album, The Last of the True Believers, contains her own pretty version of “Love at the Five and Dime,” but she’s also done great work with covers of others’ tunes, most notably on her popular 1993 album Other Voices, Other Rooms, on which she sings, among others, Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather,” which he had requested she sing at his 1992 Madison Square Garden 30th-anniversary concert.
On her most recent CD, Hearts in Mind, Griffith dwells on the universal them of love, and from admiring her mother’s life with the lovely opener, “A Simple Life,” to a loving tribute to her 82-year old stepfather on “Beautiful,” Griffith praises love throughout.
On her duet with Mac MacAnally on Ron Davies’ “Rise to the Occasion,” she reminds the listener that “Love should be pure and free/ A smiling inspiration/ And one should never fall in love/ But rise to the occasion.”
I mention to Griffith that I notice a recurring theme on this album of rising up to love. “It may sound old-fashioned,” she acknowledges, “but it’s so much easier than to give your heart to war.”
Griffith is also known for her anti-landmine work in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Kosovo and Bosnia with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the UK’s Mines Advisory Group.
She then shared with me a tender story of holding a child, a landmine victim, in her lap while he’s being fitted for an artificial limb, “a day-long process,” she reminds me, that she can only allow herself to feel grief over after she returns home, having to remain strong, loving and supportive for these children.
“You have to understand,” she points out, “that you’re representing your country.” Griffith, who speaks fondly of another passionate anti-landmine campaigner, the late Princess Diana, adds, “My goal in life as a pacifist is to spread peace, not war.”
Opening for Griffith at Laxson will be singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier, whom Griffith describes as "just the best I’ve heard in probably 10 years. I find her to be incredibly talented and gifted." Gauthier’s raw, emotional voice and sensitive, observant lyrics, together with Griffith’s performance, promise to make for what Griffith says "will certainly be a night of hearts and minds."