Laudizen King Banner gathered along the way
long road home Signposts and Junctions      

Joan Osborne


An appreciation and remembrance of Joan Osborne

The years fall away and my memory of events, happenings I once described as recent, now peer back at me through the fog of years. Personal milestones and the moments of a life, points in time that once sat illuminated in the foreground of my mind now slowly grow dim, small stars that recede ever faster with the passage of time. Occasionally, if the stimulus is right, the memory of some prior incident or adventure will once again brighten and become current, like a nova shining back at me through the tunnel of my past, rematerializing itself from within, and carrying all the sentiment and emotion of the original event.

Recently, I recently had the occasion to experience such a moment. In Los Angeles, I heard a radio interview with the pop and blues singer, Joan Osborne. I find the sound of her voice irresistible, even when she is only talking; it's pregnant with a gravel-throated emotion that is always surging close to the surface, threatening to break out and overwhelm the listener at any time. Apart from a discussion about her albums and musical stylings, Joan affirmed her appreciation for the resiliency of New York City in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. She originally came to New York from Kentucky in the 1980s to attend film school at NYU. One night, on a dare, she sang ‘God Bless the Child’ at the Abilene Café, and that singular experience launched her life in a new direction.

Joan released her first major-label album, ‘Relish’, in 1995. That album, powered by the single 'One of Us', propelled Joan into immediate stardom, and in 1996, both the song and album received Grammy nominations. Critics raved about her super-charged sexual voice and phrasing, a voice that, according to Rolling Stone, "conveyed whole choirs of feeling." I lived in Atlanta when her debut album exploded onto the music scene and when I listen to 'Relish' today, those "choirs of feeling" recall the friends and emotions that swirled through my life during those years when I lived on the East Coast and called the great southern metropolis my home.

My favorite album of Joan's remains ‘Righteous Love’, released in 2000. Her voice is as sensual and powerful as ever and for me, no song on the album is weak. Her lyrics are deep and abiding, and some songs are particularly memorable in their stylized beauty and delivery. The sexuality and power that is her trademark still resonate in that voice, yet the message is emotionally deeper, as in the aptly named 'Poison Apples - Hallelujah' when she sings, "Oh, I recall the moment when you ruined me for other men."

I once had the distinct pleasure to see Joan Osborne perform live on stage. The year was 2001 and I lived and worked in the Great Central Valley of California. I was in a new relationship with a woman named Shirley and late that spring, I purchased tickets for two shows scheduled for the Summer Concert Series at the upscale Wente Vineyards, an outdoor music venue in Livermore, California. A concert set for July would feature Joan Osborne and Pat Benatar would perform at a show in September.

The Joan Osborne concert took place on Thursday night, July 12. Shirley and I left Livingston early in the afternoon. I was driving my sports car, a little two-seater with the top down and Shirley sitting at my side. With the volume of the stereo set for maximum devastation, we cruised through the verdant orchards and past the dairy farms that populate the fertile valley floor, listening to my two favorite Joan Osborne albums, 'Relish’ and ‘Righteous Love’, as the bucolic scenery flashed by us in the summer sun. Reaching the western flank of the valley, we began the climb up and over the Altamont Pass, driving past the infamous Altamont Raceway where the Rolling Stones gave a fateful concert in 1969. Cresting the pass, we made our descent into the valley that surrounded the town of Livermore.

Driving through the hills south of town, we found the vineyard and parked the car. Having a few hours to spend before the concert, we sauntered into a small bar and grill situated on the grounds, and sat at a table in the bar. We talked over appetizers and drinks as the afternoon shadows grew long, and then slowly made our way across the sprawling property towards the stage.

Our chairs were located in the rear of the concert area, still close and intimate when compared to stadium or arena seating. Up in front, the expensive seats were set around tables where a wait-staff served dinner and drinks. Eventually, the time for music arrived, and Joan strode onto the stage with her band and immediately took control with a rousing rendition of ‘Running out of Time’. She wore a green denim jacket over a T-shirt and deep maroon-colored denim pants. Joan looked formidable, and I remember thinking here was one woman you would not want to make angry. And oh, that voice, that powerful and throaty instrument, pure sex and emotion molded onto a feminine framework, at once both gravel and velvet, coursing through the fabric of my being.

Security guards kept people from approaching the stage and upsetting those well-dressed patrons in the expensive seats-and-dinner area. Eventually, dinner was done and the security team relented; I grabbed Shirley’s arm and we followed the throng that headed for the stage. Joan looked down at the crush that now stood before her, smiled, and said into the mike, “the dam is broke.” Later, she ended the concert by singing the sensual ballad, ‘Make You Feel My Love’. I watched from the front of the stage with Shirley leaning back against me, my arms around her waist and her body pressed back against mine. Joan Osborne stood on the edge of the platform and sang, slowly and with great power and emotion, while the crowd stood and swayed as one and passion became manifest in the world.

Something ineffable entered my soul that night, an essence that fell drop by drop upon my heart. It was the final distillation of a moment in time, captured and refined by the simple act of standing a few feet away from Joan Osborne as she poured out her soul and her art in that dark vineyard on a perfect summer night in California.

That was the only time I saw Joan Osborne live in concert. Now married, Shirley and I are still together. A knee injury has made the effort required to attend a concert a different order of magnitude, so I am grateful for the memories I carry of that special night in 2001.

Yet, in listening to the recent radio interview with Joan Osborne, I felt another powerful connection with the past, to that concert and the year. After buying the tickets in 2001, Shirley and I never did attend the Pat Benatar concert at the Wente Vineyards, as that concert occurred on Tuesday night, September 11. We were too depressed and overwhelmed by the terrible events surrounding the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center to contemplate making the trip over the Altamont and down into Livermore.

Today, more than a decade since their purchase, those concert tickets still sit in the back of a drawer at my house in Modesto.

Pat Benatar Tickets - Wente Vineyards