Mary Gauthier/ Photo by Rodney Bursiel
The monthly Real-Phonic Radio Hour is usually a two-hour hipster takeoff on “A Prairie Home Companion” at the stately but comfy J.J. Hill Reference Library in downtown St. Paul.
Instead of making the usual featured artist’s five-song cameo, alt-country singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier turned the evening into a true concert, playing 75 minutes to the delight of the crowd of 300 – by far the biggest turnout for Real-Phonic, which is actually a webcast, not a real radio show.
Sort of a female Townes Van Zandt, Gauthier (go-SHAY, she’s from Louisiana) sang of life’s underbelly, including drag queens, a hobo king and a female double murderer. Her detailed, finely told story songs are dark, heavy stuff. So Gauthier lightens things with her cutting patter between the tales of drinking and dying.
Gauthier explained that she was the first openly gay person to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. “They put me on the bill with Charley Pride,” she said, referring to country’s first black star. “It was minority night at the Opry.”
She proudly announced that she won an award from GLAMA as the best gay country songwriter of the year. “You’re thinking,” she told the overflow audience, “what a fiercely competitive category. When they created this category for me, I was happy. Now that there is a category, they’re all coming out the day after they turn 40. Because country radio turns you off at 40. They can all come out and compete in my category.”
Gauthier gushed about the Hill library, saying as “a lover of language and books, I’m playing inside of a dream here.” She praised the acoustics and the reverb of the room. “I want to thank the rich white guy for leaving it for us,” she said of railroad baron Hill. “Of course, if he was here, he wouldn’t think much of this [show]. We’ll still credit him for his vision.”
The Nashville-based Gauthier delivered her jokes –self-deprecating and otherwise – with disarming charm. Combined with her deep-cutting songs like “Wheel Inside the Wheel” and “Mercy Now” (performed with the Real-Phonic Radio Band), it was an unforgettable evening.
The program also featured Minnesota’s own Dave Simonett in a rare solo performance, doing one new number and reimagining tunes from his two bands, Trampled by Turtles and Dead Man Winter. Molly Maher and Eric Koskinen did some fine selections with the house band (that Koskinen leads), Gauthier read a passage from a Flannery O’Connor short story and host Thom Middlebrook told some jokes.
You can hear it all at the realphonic site.