Singer-songwriter-musician Natalie Merchant opened the Public Library Association’s 2010 conference today at 1:30 p.m. with a presentation and concert featuring songs from and the story of her newest album, Leave Your Sleep. In this album Merchant has adapted and put to music the words of many poets, some well-known, others quite obscure. Her presentation included photo slides and notes of and about her various collaborators. And, while her comments were both elucidating and entertaining, it was the music that stole the show.
Accompanied by a pair of guitarists and a cellist, Ms. Merchant’s resonant voice filled the Oregon Convention Center’s Portland Ballroom with beauty and emotion. The approximately ten songs the musicians performed were alternately moving and funny, joyful and serious. It was a wonderful performance, and an inspired pairing of words and music, that left us wanting more.
And more we got. Merchant’s encore was definitely a show stopper. After recounting how she spent much of her youth in her local upstate New York public library, reading books and magazines, participating in the summer reading program, and discovering an almost unused boxed set of folk music recordings that “blew her mind,” she said that she wanted to take the opportunity to thank librarians for what they brought to her youth and continue to provide to their communities. To do so she sang her classic hit, Thank You. Some of the the lyrics to that song follow:
You’ve been so kind and generous
I don’t know why you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
For your selflessness–my admiration
For everything you’ve done
You know I’m bound–I’m bound to thank you for it
Clearly moved by, as she put it, “an opportunity I never thought I’d have,” Merchant had to stop singing twice to compose herself. Finally, she continued to sing as she walked through the audience shaking hands, and calling out the states of the librarians she was thanking. There wasn’t a dry eye in the hall.
Next up: Keynote speaker, New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof.
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