Though I have lived in Cedar Rapids for more than a decade and attended many events in the CSPS Hall spaces, Friday night’s concert by Pieta Brown and The Sawdust Collective was my first musical experience there.
It’s not that I was waiting for the perfect concert to break my no- attendance streak. But I might as well have been. Because Friday night, that’s exactly what I landed on with Pieta Brown and The Sawdust Collective.
Pieta Brown — a talented singer and songwriter in her own right — comes from one of Iowans first families of music. Her father is folk icon Greg Brown who had a regular gig on “A Prairie Home Companion” and has Grammy nominations to his name. Her stepmother Iris is an acclaimed singer and songwriter. And she is married to legendary producer and guitarist Bo Ramsey.
Going into Fridays concert I knew Ramsey would join her on stage as one half is The Sawdust Collective. Jon Penner of Madison, WI., is the second half on bass guitar.
And for the first part of the first hour of music it was the trio strumming out song after song with Pieta’s signature soft haunting vocals. Having never heard her live before I wasn’t expecting the raw almost ageless timbre to her voice. She reminded me at times of one of my favorite artists – Patty Griffin.
We were four songs in before she addressed the audience.
“I’m glad to be back in Cedar Rapids” she said. “You’d think since I live in Iowa city I’d come to Cedar Rapids every once in awhile.”
A few songs later she referenced her last CSPS concert, just about a year ago after the release of her latest album. “Mercury.”
“I do have as brand new record in my pocket,” she said. “I will keep it there a little bit longer.”
It wasn’t long afterward that Brown orchestrated a family reunion of sorts on stage when she invited up the man who had “serenaded her soul.”
Then standing between her husband and father – to whom shed loaned her guitar — Pieta Brown sang “All the Way to Jackson” a song she said she’d often heard both men sing.
Her younger sister Constie Brown then joined the family on stage. The sisters harmonized through “Going Up the Country” – the first song she wrote for the banjo and one she said was inspired by her dreams of her family all living and singing together some day.
“The good news” she said. “The day dream is coming true, getting pretty close.”
After a short break, the trio returned to the stage for a second half that in many ways mirrored the first. And that was clearly just fine with the capacity crowd.
Though this wasn’t an acoustic show and Pieta wasn’t alone on stage, it was still very much her concert. The Sawdust Collective subtly supported her throughout, never stealing the spotlight. There were two instances though when Ramsey good naturedly chided her to change keys.
“It’s a good thing I have The Sawdust Collective with me tonight,” she said, laughing.
For those that enjoyed the family reunion on stage at CSPS on Friday, there is the new album to look forward to. It is is sure to be a collaborative affair as past ones have.
It will be out “in late spring, early fall … But not summer,” Brown said.