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Concert review: Carlile's voice, warmth delight Howling Moon crowd

She may not exactly be a household name, but Brandi Carlile, a 33-year-old country-folk singer-songwriter from Washington state, closed out the inaugural Howling Moon Music Festival on Saturday night with the style of one and, judging by the adoration the 2,000-or-so attendees showered her with, she's a known quantity in at least a fair number of households.

Carlile, who has worked with luminaries such as T-Bone Burnett, Rick Rubin and Elton John and toured with Tori Amos, Chris Isaak and the Indigo Girls, took the stage at 10 p.m. at Bayfront Festival Park to a decent-sized crowd that welcomed her and her twin-brother backing musicians with cheers that had the singer taking a bow before she'd even sung a note.

“This is beautiful!” Carlile exclaimed to the hooting crowd, before easing in to her first number, a song that showed off her impressive vocals. Carlile cooed wordlessly, starting low and yodeling up to clear high notes. “Have you ever wandered lonely through the woods?” she sang.

Carlile, like her bassist and guitarist, wore a black vest. Phil Hanseroth thumped his bass without plucking any notes, using the body of the instrument as a drum, while guitarist Tim Hanseroth played melodic figures over Carlile's chording.

Lyrics about a starry sky were altered to make that sky a Minnesota one, and the crowd cheered the trio for the name-check. Early on, it was obvious that the three musicians had a solid rapport, and it seemed as though they were more of a trio of equals than a singer with two people backing her up. It may be that Carlile's name was on the bill, but the approach was more Peter, Paul and Mary in spirit.

“We have come here to howl at the moon with you,” Carlile proclaimed, “and raise a little hell.” Whether the latter happened is up for debate, but the former definitely occurred, as Carlile let loose a wolf-like yelp before continuing on. Lyrics about broken hearts and dreams were prevalent, and Carlile used her dynamic voice to great effect, going deep for gravelly Melissa Etheridge screams and high up to sing atop the twins' supple CSNY harmonies. Her pitch was dead-on, all night.

Throughout the set, Carlile was warm and effusive, often stopping to note the beauty of the region and voice her appreciation to the crowd for their presence. She even was delightfully loose, at times, with one particular song, a dedication to a woman Carlile had met earlier in the day, being halted due to some biffed chords. “She doesn't deserve that!” Carlile joked before restarting the tune.

Dolly Parton and Fleetwood Mac covers went over well, and the set was musically strong throughout. While the stage presentation was strictly stripped-down, the group didn't bore, stomping their feet in unison on the regular.

Whether the Howling Moon Festival returns for year two will remain to be seen, but, if it does, there are doubtlessly many who would be thrilled to find Carlile and company on the bill a second time.