Waxahatchee to headline Belly Up Aspen
The indie folk star discusses her long-delayed 'St. Cloud' tour and unintended pandemic anthems
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Saturday, April 23, 9 p.m.
How much: $30-$50
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
The songs from Waxahatchee’s “St. Cloud,” among the most indelible albums of 2020, finally found their way to live in-person performances with audiences about 18 months after its release.
The Waxahatchee singer and songwriter Katie Crutchfield is now on the springtime leg of her tour supporting the album and will be headlining Belly Up Aspen on Saturday amid a three-show Colorado run that includes shows at the Ogden Theatre in Denver and the Bluebird Music Festival in Boulder.
“In a lot of ways, sort of like riding a bike, it’s just the most natural thing in the world to get back to it,” Crutchfield said recently from home in Kansas City during a tour break. “And then in other ways, it’s super foreign and kind of anxiety-inducing, and overstimulating and crazy.”
“St. Cloud” was released on March 27, 2020, just as the pandemic’s first lockdowns were changing society as people knew it. The album, an introspective and quietly powerful 11-song statement from Crutchfield, became for many people the soundtrack of that historic and universally challenging period.
Two years later, it is one of a handful of big records inextricably tied to that grim early stretch of the pandemic alongside The Weeknd’s “After Hours” and Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” alongside pop cultural phenomena like sourdough starters, Zoom happy hours and “Tiger King.”
As the live music industry ground to halt, her tour was delayed and then canceled. Many pop artists delayed album releases, but Crutchfield decided to let go and hope the album would find listeners amid the chaos.
“There was a lot of panic in that moment,” Crutchfield recalled. “My album had already been announced and, for better for worse, was coming out like a week into the lockdown. … I tried to think of releasing the record in that moment of history like, ‘This is just not really about me. People need music right now, probably more than ever in my lifetime.’ So in that way, it felt really cool.”
It also came at a personal and professional turning point for Crutchfield, who formed Waxahatchee in 2010 as a solo project and became one of the most acclaimed and admired American indie rock acts with albums like 2013’s “Cerulean Salt” and 2015’s “Ivy Tripp” (she also sang on an inspired cover of Aspen icon John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with the band Whitney. “I love John Denver,” she said.)
Crutchfield got sober in 2018 and wrote “St. Cloud” about the intense and life-changing experience of beginning recovery from substance abuse. It has resonated during the pandemic, in part because so many of these tracks tackle discomfort and anxiety as their subjects.
Because the pandemic followed her first year of sobriety, seismic life changes that hit Americans were on par with what had already been going on in Crutchfield’s personal life.
“It’s hard for me to tell what was the pandemic and what was just all these big life changes,” she said. “Getting sober changed me so intensely and it changed my whole creative process so intensely that I definitely feel like a different person. And I’m sure that snowballed a bit into, into, you know, all of 2020 and 2021.”
Finally playing the “St. Cloud” material for audiences in recent months, and enjoying it, she said she’s accepted that the album may always be remembered as part of the pandemic.
“I wanted it to feel universal and, in the wake of everything everybody was going through with COVID, it felt weirdly applicable to what everyone on Earth was experiencing, which I could have never really predicted,” she said.
While the “St. Cloud” songs draw on her experiences turning her life around, they steer clear of hackneyed narratives and sloganeering. They do include some “Easter eggs,” as Crutchfield calls them, for the 12-step crowd who will recognize some turns of phrase and references.
“It has this big, overarching theme of addiction and I’m writing about myself, as someone who made the choice to get sober,” she explained. “But I’m also writing about a lot of people in my life didn’t make that choice and suffered different sets of consequences. So it’s all little stories sort of woven into one.”
The pandemic also created, for Crutchfield, an odd break in the time-honored cycle of album releases and tours. She saw “St. Cloud” make just about every “album of the year” list — everywhere from Pitchfork to NPR — without having played the songs for a live audience.
“To have the touring part of it delayed 18 months was a really strange experience,” she said. “It felt like the record was like in this state of arrested development or something.”
After living with it for three years of writing, recording, waiting and now touring, Crutchfield said she is ready to move on and focus on new songs after this tour wraps in August.
She has been working on other collaborative projects and also wrote music for the Apple TV+ kids’ show “El Deafo.”
Crutchfield is mostly grateful to be touring again. There are, of course, nights when she doesn’t want to go onstage as the road gets tiring and tours get monotonous. But the “St. Cloud” pandemic experience and listeners’ intense personal connections to these songs, Crutchfield said, has given her a change of perspective on how to handle herself during such times.
“In those moments, I really try and think of it as an act of service,” she said. “People are coming to my concerts for different reasons. And they need to get something out of that experience. And I’m there to just give that to them, and to perform the songs. It’s all kind of bigger than me, and not really about me in that moment.”
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