Ask anyone who has met success and a common denominator quickly emerges: at some point in his or her journey, someone stood in their corner, had their back, and did what they could to help move things along.
For American singer-songwriter Carrie Alice Williams, that someone is Omemee’s Bob Young — the older brother of legendary musician Neil Young.
As Neil’s brother, Young has enjoyed unique access to the world in which the talented roam and make their living.
Over the course of decades now, he has met and heard countless singers and musicians perform in venues ranging in size from the most intimate of clubs to theatres and arenas that seat thousands.
So when Young says we should pay attention to a particular artist, we should listen. His endorsement carries a considerable weight.
Such is the case with Carrie Alice Williams. Speaking from Florida where he is finishing his book entitled True Golf – Mind Power and the Art of the Direct Hit (which details his golfing experiences with his longtime friend, the late Canadian professional golfer Moe Norman), Bob Young’s excitement is clearly palpable as the conversation turns to Williams.
“She can sing with anybody,” Young says. “The poetic depth of her writing and her songs have struck me as being in the same league with established and known international singer-songwriters … Joni Mitchell, a lot of the songs Sarah McLachlan performs. Of all those who have crossed my path, she is the one whose talent is magnetic.”
When it comes to endorsements, that’s as good as it gets. But it’s not just an endorsement; Young is also on a mission to introduce Williams’ talent to as many people as possible.
So it is that, on Wednesday, June 5th, Young will present Williams in concert at Market Hall Performing Arts Centre in downtown Peterborough. General admission tickets to the 8 p.m. performance cost $37 or $42 for assigned cabaret-style seating (service fee and taxes included in price) at the box office, by phone at 705-749-1146, or online at markethall.org.
Peterborough musicians Melissa Payne and Evangeline Gentle will be opening the show.
VIDEO: “September Skies” – Melissa Payne
VIDEO: “The Strongest People Have Tender Hearts” – Evangeline Gentle
“Bob has been forever supportive of my songs and my songwriting,” says a grateful Williams when we reach her in the Palm Springs, California area where she has a gig “working in the sun by spa mineral pools of varying temperatures.”
“Bob knows a lot. He has been around Neil his whole life and knows what’s what. When he says something is good, it’s a big compliment. I’m very grateful. You don’t just walk through those doors easily.”
VIDEO: “My Baby Left Town” – Carrie Alice Williams
One of those doors opened for Williams last year in California at a private gathering of Neil Young’s family and friends. Williams, who attended the gathering as a guest of Bob Young, was given the opportunity to play her song “How ‘Bout The Moon” to a group that included, besides the Young brothers, Stephen Stills, Lukas Nelson, and the members of Young’s band Crazy Horse (Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, and Nils Lofgren).
After Bob Young told her she could play a song or two that evening, Williams had some time to dwell on the prospect of sharing her music with such venerable musicians.
“I asked myself ‘Are you going to fold under this or are you going to stand up to the challenge?” All you can do is step up to the plate and be yourself. If they don’t like you, well, too bad. You are who you are.'”
As it turned out, Williams didn’t fold under the pressure. In fact, according to Tim Mulligan (Neil Young’s sound man since 1972) who recorded her at the gathering, “She nailed it” — a sentiment echoed by everyone who was there, including Neil Young himself, who expressed particular admiration for her piano playing.
As if that wasn’t special enough, Williams also had a chance to meet and chat with her idol, the legendary musician Joni Mitchell.
“There’s this big black car and there she is. Bob introduced me to her. She has been my idol forever. She was instrumental in my starting to write songs and there she was. She was just the sweetest person ever. It was a beautiful experience for me and I’ll be forever grateful Bob did that for me.”
Fast forward to late January 2019, where Williams had another opportunity most musicians can only dream of: she opened for Neil Young at two concerts in Minneapolis, Minnesota — the first at the historic 2,500-seat Orpheum Theatre.
“The Marx Brothers played there,” notes Williams. “When I got on stage, I said ‘Hey, I guess I’m the only person I know who followed The Marx Brothers.’ They all cracked up.”
For his part, Bob Young clearly remembers the impact Williams’ performance had.
“The audience came to see a singer-songwriter they had probably been following all their lives and here’s this individual they had never heard of,” he recalls. “Every song she sang was an original, so they had never heard any of the songs.
“There was a little set of steps off the front of the stage. I said to Carrie ‘Let’s go back to the sound board and watch Neil’s show from there.’ So we went off the front of the stage and into the aisle toward the back of the hall. It took quite awhile to get there, because all these people who had just seen her wanted to say how much they liked what she was doing. It was quite interesting but it was real. It was sincere.”
There’s no question Williams made quite an impression when she opened for Neil, because she’s been invited to do it again during his West Coast tour in May. She’ll be opening for him at his May 17th show in Portland, Oregon.
As for Williams’ June 5th concert at the Market Hall, Young sees it as “a building block” in his quest to give more audiences that same experience.
Another major step in the process came last October when Peterborough-based SLAB Productions hosted two intimate performances by Williams as part of its Visiting Artists Series.
Both shows sold out, causing series founder and organizer Phil Connor to remark afterwards:
“It is extremely rare to find an artist who can play, sing, and compose at a high level. Joni Mitchell is one. Laura Nyro is another, Carole King and, in today’s pop music, Lady Gaga. Carrie Alice Williams is one of those. Her performances are transcendent. It is no wonder she was invited to open for one of Canada’s most iconic artists.”
If you’re getting the impression that all reviews of Williams’ performances are over-the-top in a similar vein, you’re right on the money. There’s a reason for that, notes Young.
“There are very, very few people who have this kind of talent. I’m sure there are others across North America, but the only people that know they exist are the people where they live. That’s basically Carrie’s position except it’s now shifting. It’ll be very interesting to watch what happens in Peterborough.”
For her part, Williams is looking forward to her second visit to the city, buoyed by her experience the first time around. Her stay included a recording session at James McKenty’s studio — “He and (wife) Kelly are the nicest people ever. I adore them.”
On her way to Peterborough last fall, crossing into Canada from New York State, she admits to having taken a wrong turn but quickly notes the added driving turned into a blessing. It gave her more time to form the lyrics for her song “Anywhere but Home”, which she later recorded with McKenty, the first take being the keeper.
She has since shot a video to accompany the song, which was done in rural Pennsylvania with her brother along for the ride, but the song itself came together “in the wilds of Canada.”
VIDEO: “Anywhere but Home” – Carrie Alice Williams
To see the complete video, visit www.carriealicewilliams.com.
Despite the praise that has followed her, Williams is as grounded as they come.
“When people ask me who I am, I say ‘I’m myself,'” she laughs, admitting to being excited over her Market Hall appearance but far from nervous or overwhelmed.
“It gets back to the concept of being interested or being interesting. If you’re really interested in other people, you’re interesting to them. I don’t think about myself a lot. It’s heartening that people want to hear my music. My purpose is to make people feel good. So many people come up to me at gigs and say ‘Oh my God, you just made my day’, that makes me feel good.”
As for her songwriting — she has one album, A Bird In Hand, but her original compositions number several hundred — Williams keeps index cards close by to jot down thoughts and musings as they arise. She adds penning lyrics is not a process she forces to happen.
“The minute you try to put a lot of effort into something it takes creativity down a notch. For me, the practice is creation. I don’t mess with it. When it comes, it comes. And if it doesn’t come, so be it … I’ll just do the dishes or something.
“When I did Flowers From The Sky at Neil’s gig, I walked out into the audience and people came up to me saying ‘Oh my God, you just made me feel so good. I have a four year old, I have a two year old, I have children, you made me cry.’ People are the same everywhere.
“I’m just being myself but it’s their reality. I don’t talk about myself. I let them talk and I say ‘Thank you’ and then I move on.
“I’ve played to two people and I’ve played The Orpheum Theatre. It (the Market Hall show) will be what it is and I’ll do the best I can. That’s all I can promise. But this time I’m going to check out the roads before I go.”
Young, meanwhile, says it’s a different time than the late 1960s and early 1970s when artist development was a record company thing and venues for up-and-coming musicians abounded. Musicians today, he says, “are sitting in their houses with computerized recording equipment and recording all these songs.”
“I’m functioning as the manager, the agent, the promoter here. I’ve got many hats to wear but that’s okay because in this situation it directly involves my family: my brother and his management company. It’s difficult for anyone to walk into the middle of that and use it the way I can. Nobody objects to what I’m doing or saying because they all think Carrie is really good.”
Young adds his famous brother — Bob brought him back to Omemee in December 2017 for a Coronation Hall concert and, back in 2010, the pair visited the now closed Youngtown Museum — “is well aware of what I’m doing with Carrie and trying to be helpful. That’s a very useful direction to have help coming from because it’s effective. But it’s based on the fact that Carrie has the talent to back it up.”
For more information on Carrie Alice Williams, visit www.carriealicewilliams.com.