Rosanne Cash at the Minnesota State Fair, 8/31/10

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Photo by Nikki Miller
Rosanne Cash
August 31, 2010
Minnesota State Fair, Leinie Lodge Bandshell

On a summer night that brought two of music's biggest female artists to stages in St. Paul - Carrie Underwood at the State Fair Grandstand, and Lady Gaga at the Xcel Energy Center - it was on a third stage in St. Paul that a third female artist renewed my appreciation for good music. Inspired an audience full of new and old fans, young and old alike. Blew my fucking mind. This woman did it without costume and smoke and lights and dancing gimmickry.

This woman is my mother's age. But really, how else could she be this good, if not through over fifty years of living?

At her free show in the Minnesota State Fair's Leinie Bandshell Tuesday night, Rosanne Cash sauntered casually, confidently on to the stage, rows and rows of benches packed before her. Doubting I'd ever seen anyone look so comfortable on stage, I settled in to a spot on the ground, cross-legged and absent the lawn chairs I'd seen so many carry in and scooter chairs I'd seen so many ride in on, ready for story time.

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Photo by Nikki Miller

An author, Grammy winner, philanthropist, mother of five, and notably, the eldest daughter of Johnny Cash and his first wife Vivian Liberto Cash Distin, Cash has many stories to tell, and she shared them by way of highly introspective song lyrics and casual, concise song introductions: I was fortunate enough to know this song's writer when I was younger - Harlan Howard. The guys in my band will be singing the parts Springsteen and Costello sang on my album. When my father met my mother, he was a radio operator in the United States Air Force; she was the girl from San Antone. Appropriately, Cash's set drew heavily from her last album, 2009's The List, which compiled 12 of a list of 100 essential songs her father had given her when she was 18 in order to expand her knowledge of country music as she embarked on her own music career, from her bluesed-out rendition of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" to Dylan's "Girl from the North Country."

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Photo by Nikki Miller

By the end of her first song, the sounds of Carrie Underwood's Grandstand show began to drift the way of the Leinie Bandshell. Greeting the audience with "Welcome to the Fair - two night stand at the Fair!" and a big smile, a great noise erupted from across the fairgrounds, and the crowd erupted in laughter. With respectable aplomb, Cash added with a laugh, "If someone tells me what song that is, I can sing harmonies." Of course, Cash had little to worry about in the way of distractions for her audience; Underwood's concert was appallingly loud, but I'd bet every member of this crowd would have taken an intimate night in the Bandshell with Cash over a sold-out Underwood show. Even if Cash's show hadn't been free.

Forging ahead with a mix of covers and originals, Underwood noise trying harder and harder to compete, Cash struck me as personable, wry, the kind of person who stops by MPR for a chat whenever she's in town (as she does), not the type who doesn't welcome critics to her shows, giving out only photo passes as she's guaranteed to look nice but the performance, um, may be subpar (ahem, Carrie Underwood, ahem, ahem, COUGH). Cash had her show down pat, but you could hardly call her slick. Let's leave that descriptor to the girls in sparkly costumes, eh?

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Photo by Nikki Miller

And speaking of sparkly costumes, just then Cash thanked the audience for not going to see Lady Gaga, adding, "I would've gone! You little monsters." Still battling with the din of Grandstand bass (and Carrie Underwood singing her cover of Randy Travis' "I Told You So,"), Cash was called upon and delivered two encores, eventually outlasting Underwood's performance and the fireworks that followed.

Rosanne Cash for the win!

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Photo by Nikki Miller

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Photo by Nikki Miller

Critic's bias: I'm sorry I resorted to some thinly-veiled Carrie Underwood/Lady Gaga bashing here. But come on. A. It's really easy. Too easy. Unavoidable, even. B. Cash, dressed simply in black (duh), doesn't rely on costume changes. Emotive and expressive in voice, not in dance moves and stage antics. She's a professional, an artist, thus her wide respect in the music community and her incredible staying power. Can that be said about the other two? Hm, remains to be seen I suppose but for now, see point A. C. I had intended to review Cash on Monday, Underwood on Tuesday, but alas was denied a pass to the latter show. So I'm reviewing you from afar, Carrie. From behind the great shadows cast by the incredible Rosanne Cash, of whom I am in awe. Cower down in her presence. From yer sold-out Grandstand show, that is.

The crowd: A mix of old folks packing the wheelchair/powerchair section who probably check out all the free shows, folks who were fans in the 80s, young fans just as pleased to discover her old stuff as they are that she's still putting out great new stuff... and the one girl who was told to sit down when she started dancing like she was at a Wookiefoot concert. Whoa. Settle down, girl.

Overheard in the crowd:
"The corn dogs are excellent." - Rosanne Cash

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Photo by Nikki Miller
Yes, Rosanne. They are.

Random notebook dump: "Seven Year Ache," even in its mellow, 80s AM lite-rock vibe manages to out-rock that shit that's floating over here from the Grandstand. Look. I'm still in my 20s (for another 2 months!), and I fuckin' mean that.

Set List:

"I'm Movin' On"
"She's Got You"
"Long Black Veil"
"Motherless Children"
"Sea of Heartbreak"
"Heartaches by the Number"
"500 Miles"
"Radio Operator"
"Blue Moon With Heartache"
"Seven Year Ache"
"Burn Down This Town" (which won her a "You go girl!" from a man in the audience)
"Tennessee Flat Top Box"
"September When it Comes"
"Ode to Billie Joe" (which she characterized as a hypothetical #101 on the list from her father)
"Girl from the North Country"
"Dreams Are Not My Home"
"The Wheel"

Encore #1:
"I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me"
"Man Smart (Woman Smarter)"

Encore #2:
"Big River"

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