Show: 8p | Doors: 7p
Tickets: $20 advance / $25 door
A New England native, Francis first came to fame in the late 1990s as a founding member of alternative roots powerhouse Dispatch, whose remarkable rise from Middlebury College to Madison Square Garden helped rewrite the rulebooks for modern indie bands. Though few knew it at the time, Francis was fighting an increasingly difficult battle with depression throughout his years of relentless touring and recording, and after taking multiple leaves of absence, he eventually made the decision to step away from the band entirely in order to focus more fully on his health and wellbeing.
“There’s a lot of healing and a lot of forgiveness in these songs,” says Pete Francis. “It can be scary to face your fears and ask the tough questions, but sometimes you have to step into the darkness in order to find your light.”
That juxtaposition of darkness and light lies at the heart of, PTRN SKY!, Francis’ captivating new album and first full-length release since his 2019 departure from Dispatch. Recorded at home in Connecticut, the collection finds the acclaimed songwriter and multi-instrumentalist reckoning with the depression and anxiety that have dogged him for most of his adult life, transforming doubt and pain into growth and transcendence with remarkable grace and empathy. The writing is intensely raw and vulnerable here, even as the lyrics explore a world of improvised abstraction, and the arrangements are cathartic to match, wrapping deeply personal reflections inside layers of lush, dreamy synthesizers. The result is an unflinching glimpse into the subconscious of an artist learning to make peace with the struggle that threatened to rob him of everything he held dear, an aching yet ultimately triumphant testament to the power of love and art to make us feel whole again, even at our most broken
“Sharing is in and of itself an act of healing,” explains Francis. “There’s still a lot of stigma and shame when it comes to talking openly about mental illness, but I think when we share our emotions and our experiences in real and constructive ways, we invite others to do the same, to feel less fearful and isolated, and there’s something really liberating about that.”
That ongoing work informs every track on PTRN SKY!, which opens with the piercing “Can’t Get On With It.” Hinting at everything from Beck to Butthole Surfers, the track balances hope and despair in equal measure, grappling with the guilt and frustration that comes with feeling stuck. Like much of the record, the song is sung to the face staring back in the mirror, asking more questions than it answers in a search for clarity that seems to hang perpetually just out of reach. The airy “Scared Without Your Love,” for instance, wonders if it’s possible to make it through this life on our own, while the trippy “All Your Tears” contemplates if we can ever truly know someone else’s pain, and the hypnotic title track ponders whether abstraction can ultimately lead to revelation.
“I kept coming back to the abstract artist Cy Twombly when I was making this album,” Francis explains. “He made these beautifully emotive pieces that were dreamlike and whimsical but still generated a very strong and grounded emotional response, and that really felt like the essence of what I was trying to do with these songs.”
In the case of PTRN SKY!, the emotional response Francis found himself returning to time and again was love. The tender “Fall Into Your Heart” surrenders to its overwhelming power; the breezy “Eyes Of The Jungle” (a duet between Francis and his wife, Katie, who also contributed the album’s bold and psychedelic cover art) meditates on its primacy; and the stripped down “Mind Over Mind” soaks in its healing waters. It’s perhaps the poignant “Brighter Days,” though, that hits closest to home, with Francis finally finding love in that face staring back in the mirror. “I lead myself to brighter days,” he sings over ethereal synthesizers, his voice both gentle and resolute. “I won’t give up / No I won’t give up.”
“That’s ultimately what this whole album is all about,” Francis reflects. “You can’t fight the darkness. You can only share your light.”
Jesse Terry's seventh album, When We Wander, is the first he wrote since becoming a parent. So it's no surprise the family theme courses through many of its 12 songs. His music career has been a family project ever since he became a full-time touring artist a decade ago.
That was right around the time when Jesse met his wife Jess working on a cruise ship in the South Pacific. "As soon as we got back to the states, I proposed to her at Nashville's Bluebird Cafe in July 2010 and we packed up the car for the first tour right after that. We've been touring together full-time ever since." Now with two-year-old Lily added to the clan, family is more important than ever to him, including the parental urge to love and protect. "If I were the moon, I’d light all of your back roads," he sings in "If I Were The Moon": "You wouldn’t need no headlights / I’d always be full."
The life of a touring family inspired the album's title track. "When we wander, when we wander / Don’t it feel like we’re finally found." But in the face of the pandemic, he has found that "wandering is not just a literal thing. We've followed our hearts with so many decisions in 2020-2021, and have found that there are many ways to wander and be free and brave."
One of those ways has been going virtual. He says that his livestream concerts have "become the highlight of my week and the thing that sustains us emotionally and financially. And an amazing community has sprung up from these concerts."
The stage had been Jesse's home for a decade. He plays around 150 shows a year, from Bonnaroo to the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the 30A Songwriters Festival to AmericanaFest. When the pandemic canceled concerts and delayed the album's release, he pivoted to performing online and found a strong new connection to his fans, who had helped fund his albums all along. "My musical tribe has always been there for me," he says with gratitude.
Though recorded in 2019, the songs off the new album click with fans online too. He and his band recorded When We Wander live in the studio, a first for his career. "I wanted to try that Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Neil Young approach to live recording, prioritizing emotion and raw performances over perfection. I loved that experience." Recorded live, the album resonates especially with the intimacy and community spirit of the online shows.
He also wrote all the music and lyrics this time, instead of working with collaborators, and took a very personal approach, including a look back. "In Spite of You" recalls his stay in a residential facility for behavior modification that traumatized him as a young teenager: "The sermons that you sold me all were fakes." Yet he emerged to earn a degree from Berklee College of Music, net a five-year staff writer gig on Nashville's Music Row penning material for major TV networks, and win prestigious songwriting awards. And then to become the singer-songwriter his countless fan know today, who (in the words of Music News Nashville) "bring[s] to mind iconic artist/poets like Paul Simon and Jackson Browne... [with] a performance that touches the heart like only a whisper can."