2016 | Sarah's Favorite Live Acts

Before we bid a final adieu to 2016, and go headstrong and hopeful into 2017, it’s my turn to look back and acknowledge some of the positives to come of the year – like so much great live music! Rather than deep-diving on my impression of the year’s best new music, I’d like to take you on a cliff notes journey of some of the most memorable live events I experienced last year.

Here we go, in chronological order:

Jason Isbell / Shovels & Rope
February 27, 2016 – House of Blues, Boston, MA

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent nailed their well-versed duet, with a “get a room” performance of St. Anne’s Parade, a then unreleased tune that left jaws on the floor. Jason Isbell, joined by the 400 Unit and his lovely bride, Amanda Shires, created pure magic, which of course included a powerful and intimate delivery of Cover Me Up. It’s his most popular track for a damn good reason: it never gets old – and seeing Isbell and Shires own the stage for that song felt like we were being invited into their world. #lifegoals

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Martin Sexton
May 7, 2016 – Greenwich Odeum, East Greenwich, RI

Sexton has an unparalleled style of storytelling, songwriting, and sound-making, and he delivered on all points at the Greenwich Odeum, a recently renovated theater in the heart of charming East Greenwich, RI. Seeing him perform Black Sheep, with such power and authenticity was the highlight of the show… until he came out with Purple Rain. Just 2 weeks after the death of Prince, this was one of the most tear-inducing performances I’ve ever witnessed. #notadryeye


Newport Folk Fest
July 22-24, 2016 – Fort Adams, Newport, RI

There is no way to recap this in cliff notes fashion, but I certainly can’t overlook it, as this was one of the best music events I’ve ever attended. It was blissful. ‘Nuff said. If you want to read more about the greatest festival of the year, every year – check out the extensive Music Savage coverage – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And, get excited for this year! #folkyeah


Nathaniel Rateliff / Shovels and Rope / Caroline Rose
August 21, 2016 – Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO

It was as good as you’re imagining; being in Colorado, under the stars, on a clear, warm night, at Red Rocks, with people I love, seeing 3 high-energy, stomp inducing acts. If I could bottle up a night and call it euphoria, these would be the ingredients. I had seen Nathaniel Rateliff and Shovels & Rope prior to this, and they totally rocked the park; but a big upshot for me was Caroline Rose, with her signature tube socks, and total badassery. She’s been on heavy rotation in my mix since this performance. #iwillnotbeafraid


Rhythm & Roots
September 3, 2016 – Ninigret Park, Charlestown, RI

This was my first time attending the longstanding (19 years) Rhythm & Roots Festival in the beach town of Charlestown, RI, and I had an absolute blast. honeyhoney, Taj Mahal, Lucinda Williams, and The Honeycutters, were the big draws for me, and they surely exceeded my expectations. The unforeseen takeaway was my enthusiasm for the overall festival – which included 3 stages, arts, crafts, beer, food, CAMPING, and dancing, all with a Cajun flare. Having zero line-dancing ability, I was quite intimidated by the mega dance floor, FILLED with veteran Zydeco dancers. But, stand by long enough and you’ll get scooped up by a sweet, ole’ timer who knows his way around the floor. And that was all she wrote. #cantstopwontstop


Aaron Lee Tasjan / Brian Wright / Cowboy & Lady
November 9, 2016 – PVD House

We covered this about 6 weeks ago; a house show that happened the day after the election… a time when every person in the room was defeated, concerned, and confused. This was the best remedy for those conditions, but what I want to impress upon you now is the rendition of Shooting Star that ALT, Brian Wright, and Tyler-James Kelly collabed on, and Steve captured perfectly. Watch it. #onrepeat


Ian Fitzgerald / Zach Schmidt / Haunt the House
November 18, 2016 – Columbus Theatre, Providence, RI

Celebrating the release of Ian Fitzgerald’s latest record, You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone, in a room full of his friends, family, and fans, was a privilege. Opener Haunt the House (aka Will Houlihan) steered us through his lullaby-esque set, hypnotizing an eager audience. Up next, Zach Schmidt, with his signature hat and smooth sound, hooked me with Dear Memphis (sincerely, I love you). Ian then took the stage, solo to start, playing a few of his older tunes, including my favorite Lillian. After a few songs, Ian welcomed local act and the backing band on his new record, Smith + Weeden. They brought it down, playing a full set, and Ian, one of the sincerest songwriters around, even removed his signature denim jacket. Dun dun duuuun! It’s nights like this that remind me why I love Providence. #localmusiclove


Honorable Mentions of the 30+ shows I attended this year:

  • One Providence Experience – June 4, 2016 – The Ruins, Providence, RI
  • Big Thief – August 5, 2016 – Columbus Theatre, Providence, RI
  • Lake Street Dive / Rubblebucket – October 6, 2016 – Fete, Providence, RI
  • Julie Rhodes / The Z Boys – December 10, 2016 – Nick-a-Nee’s, Providence, RI
  • Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds – December 17, 2016 – The Met, Pawtucket, RI

Nothing is as moving and fulfilling as seeing good, live music, and I’m grateful for the many brilliant experiences I had this year.

With 2017 (finally) here, and uncertainty looming, I am confident we’ll be hearing (and seeing) even more evocative, new music in the coming months. People are inspired, and that’s a silver lining of this crazy, tumultuous time.

Happy New Year, folks.

I’d be remiss if I did not share my 2016 playlist, which highlights favorite tracks released last year.