On Wednesday, November 20, eight-time Grammy nominated singer-songwriter, Broadway composer, and queer ally Sara Bareilles played her second consecutive sold-out show at the Anthem in Washington, D.C. Authentic, adorable, political, and even a little bit gay, Bareilles put on a concert that left audience members on their feet and feeling a little less alone.
The night began when Bareilles came on stage in an oversized jean jacket and personally introduced the opening act, Emily King. A soulful R&B singer from New York City, King and her three-piece band dominated the stage with eighties-infused tunes that evoked a combination of Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, and Swedish singer Robyn. Dressed in a black glittery jacket and matching elbow length gloves, King danced across the stage with an electric energy that kept the crowd engaged. One of my favorite songs King performed was “Look At Me Now,” a defiant bop that was nominated for a Grammy earlier that morning.
Bareilles too, was nominated for a Grammy on Wednesday. At the beginning of her set, Bareilles said that between her and King, the audience was basically at a Grammys concert and joked, “Are there any voters here?” The playful banter continued throughout the night, but the weight of the world was not lost on Bareilles, who shared that she started writing her most recent album, Amidst the Chaos, after the 2016 election. Even after kidding about how much better the world is now, she said: “[After the election], I was inspired to sort of return to songwriting and speak for myself again, and I found out that I had a lot to say.”
After performing several songs from her new album and a jazzy rendition of her first hit “Love Song,” Bareilles continued with the theme of politics and sang “Armor.” Bareilles explained that she wrote the song after she came to D.C. for the Women’s March in 2017. She described the march as a “powerful experience” and said that it “really made me think about how lucky we are to be alive in a time where we’re getting to look at what it means to be a woman.” “Armor” was followed by a duet with King that paid tribute to President Obama. The lyrics lament: “If I can’t have you / Then I have to find a way to get through / Though I don’t want to / I have to do my best to recall / That I’m thankful that I held you at all.”
About mid-way through her set, Bareilles shifted her focus and addressed why it was that she hadn’t toured in more than five years; she had been working on the Broadway musical Waitress. The audience cheered wildly, and Bareilles mentioned that a few of the original cast members were in the audience. She then sang four songs from the musical, including an absolutely stunning rendition of the show’s centerpiece ballad, “She Used to Be Mine,” which was met with a standing ovation.
One of the best moments of the show for me was Bareilles’ duet on “Bad Idea,” which is also from Waitress. During the musical, the song is sung between the lead character, Jenna, and her male gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter, who she has fallen in love with. But during this tour, Bareilles has been performing the song alongside her female guitarist, Butterfly Boucher. While Bareilles is not gay, she has always been a vocal ally for the LGBTQ community and has a huge queer fanbase. As a gay woman, I was thrilled to see her give a nod to her lesbian fans, many of whom have begged Bareilles to cast a female Dr. Pomatter.
Bareilles continued to please her LGBTQ fans with a performance of “Brave,” which she wrote about a friend of hers who struggled to come out. While some may mark Bareilles’ release of “Brave” in 2013 as a launching point for her allyship, to me, there was always something about Bareilles that made her an icon for the queer community. Over the years, she has talked openly about her life, including her struggles with anxiety and depression. Longtime Sara Bareilles fan, Shannon Cipriano, who attended the show with her wife on Tuesday sees her popularity with the queer community as a function of her honesty. She explained, “I think Sara’s inclusivity and authenticity is what draws queer people to her fan base. She sees us, she hears us, she advocates for us, and she’s 100% genuine about it. It’s not just smoke and mirrors…it’s about who she is, and she’s unapologetic about it.”
Bareilles’ authentic vulnerability has always been an aspect of her concerts that I admired and was constant throughout the show. Before closing the night with an incredible version of “Gravity” replete with a beautiful string accompaniment and a performance of her newly Grammy-nominated song, “Saint Honesty,” Bareilles spoke candidly about her inspiration for “Orpheus,” one of the songs off her newest record. She explained that the song was “written for me as a prayer for myself to remember to turn back to a place of love [since] there’s so much fear and vulnerability and so much hate that is being spewed.” The lyrics really hit home and encapsulated Bareilles as a person and a performer. She sang: “Don’t stop trying to find me here amidst the chaos / Though I know it’s blinding, there’s a way out / Say out loud / We will not give up on love now.”