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Filtering by Tag: essayvault

A conversation with Brandi Carlile

Ben Ashby

Christmas in August and a Music Crush Confirmed (or…)

Christmas Comes Early: A Magazine Writer and the Story She Will Be Telling For Years.

Liza Turner || August 2012


She had me at “Cormac McCarthy”… or maybe “Dolly Parton”...

Oh, who am I kidding? In the most awesome movie cliché moment of my life, Brandi Carlile had me at “Hello.”

In August, I took a long lunch break – one justified with adoring phrases illogically strewn together in nervous excitement: “I love this woman. She is going to call… ME. I hope I don’t say something utterly foolish. Do I refer to her as Ms. Carlile? Her voice [insert any platitude about angels singing and/or music to my ears].” – and decided to spend the few minutes prior to my phone interview just practicing breathing…and securing my cell phone, the one I misplace about four times each day, close by my side.

You see, Brandi Carlile and Tim and Phil Hanseroth’s 2012 homage to the Seattle dairy barn-converted-into-studio production site, Bear Creek, has been on repeat in my car for months. I have been a huge fan of this Washington singer-songwriter since 2007. That year her second album The Story was released, which includes some of my favorite songs:

“Turpentine,” “Have You Ever,” and the title track. Her voice, smooth and pure and yet rich and haunting at times, stirs me. Her storytelling, descriptive of emotions we all experience, but articulated in a rare combination of beauty, intelligence, and occasional playfulness, confirms her status among those songwriting icons whose influence is apparent in her work: Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash. Her fluid positioning somewhere at the intersection of outlaw country, folk, Americana, bluegrass, and rock allows for creativity in sound and style.

I first encountered her comfortable and inviting stage presence in January 2009, at the Brown Theater concert in Louisville. Brandi remembers this concert as well because the crowd stood, entirely engaged, for two hours. Brandi seems smart and funny and simply “real” even as she and the Hanseroth twins do something pretty amazing on a stage many feet away.

When the opportunity came to interview Brandi, I exchanged multiple emails with her incredibly helpful, entirely unpretentious, press team, which brought me to my kitchen table, awaiting a call from “my” Brandi Carlile.

And the call came. A month later, my best friend Melissa and I stood outside a post-show meet-and-greet room in the basement of Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom, giant peel-and-stick guest passes adorning the shirts we spent far too much time picking out, talking to one of my idols. August and September 2012 will go down as two of my favorite months of my adult life.

And thus, I share with you bits and pieces of those conversations. Although part of me wishes you could hear the warmth, genuineness, and really damn funny, but good-spirited, sarcasm in her irrefutably distinctive voice, I can’t lie; a bigger (and without a doubt, more childish) part of me likes keeping that all to myself.

Q. What is one song, from any genre/artist, you wish you had written?

A. “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen

Q. If you could perform a duet with or write a song with anyone, who would it be?

A. Dolly Parton (perform), Bernie Taupin (write).

Q. Favorite venue? Cities you’re particularly excited to visit this tour?

A. Favorite – Red Rocks; Excited to play – Beacon Theater in New York

Q. Describe a typical day when you’re on the road A. Wake up, down two cups of coffee, go for a walk with my fiancé [now wife] go explore the city we’re in, do a sound check, have dinner with the band, take a shot of whiskey, play the show, meet and greet afterward, movie on the bus with the band before bed.

Q. What are you currently reading and/or who are some of your favorite authors?

A. The Bible; Favorites – Cormac McCarthy (Outer Dark), Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild; Into Thin Air), Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis; Love Wins).

Q. How do you take your coffee?

A. Black – straight up trucker style.

Q. Favorite room in your house?

A. I’m kitchen-obsessed and particularly drawn to reds. All of my favorite kitchen tools and supplies are red.

Q. Favorite piece of art or furniture in your home?

A. Photo of Paul McCartney, taken by Linda McCartney, and given to my fiancé; piano from around 1900 that one of my best friends’ family members gave to me when I was 17. Two things that have traveled everywhere with me: a horse and a piano.

Q. What is the “Looking Out Foundation” all about? Other social issues of importance to you?

A. Growing up, I was a “fan’s fan.” I would follow people only when I loved everything about them. They had to be an activist who stood up for values I believed in. People like the Indigo Girls and Elton John set the bar high. I thought “if I ever get there, I want to give back some of the blessings I’ve been given by having this job.” The Looking Out Foundation serves to promote civil rights, environmental awareness and women’s empowerment.

Q. Describe the perfect Christmas morning. Do you consider yourself a good gift-giver?

A. God, kids, family: Waking up at my house, with my family all around, snow outside, coffee spiked with a little Bailey’s Irish whiskey, kids running everywhere. I’m an over-the-top, far-beyond-my-means gift giver. If I hear my dad say he wants a snowmobile, that’s all I can think about all year.

Q. What are some things few people know about you, but that you don’t mind sharing with us?

A. 1) I love to be humble and pious, but I drink champagne like soda pop. 2) I don’t know how to open a bottle of champagne. 3) I love to be laughed with, but hate to be laughed at. 4) I have eight animals – two chickens, a horse named Sovereign, two cats named Lanie and Blue, a Doberman pincher named Bailey and two goats named Tim and Phil.

Q. If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?

A. Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Jr., Freddie Mercury. I’d also be in a band with all three.

Q. I’ve read that when growing up, you felt ostracized by some of those in the church community. What is your relationship with the church like today?

A. The church has been a stumbling block to LGBTQ rights and there seems to be a tragic misunderstanding between those voices. I have a lingering “bad taste in my mouth,” but I personally see no contradiction between sexual orientation and religion.

Q. How do you decide the artistic direction of your videos, websites, publicity photos, CD covers?

A. We’re [Brandi and the Hanseroth twins] are heavily involved with the storyline/plot of the videos. Grammy-winner, Michelle Holme (Columbia Records) plays an important role in designing CD covers. I don’t worry about photos too much as long as they look unaltered and honest.

How do you get down from a goose

Ben Ashby


By: Greta Whitehead || Spring 2013

“Aren’t those geese beautiful?”

The geese belonged to my grandparents, Herman and Lola Render of the Walton Creek area near Centertown, Ky. Summer arrived and with it came more time at our grandparents’ home. It also meant molting season for the geese. Since geese typically molt (lose some of their feathers) during the summer, Mammie took advantage of Mother Nature’s help in harvesting feathers for new pillows. Their feathers sure made neat pillows.

My sister, Jo Carolyn Patton, and I, Greta Whitehead, lived in that neighborhood and were always at our grandparents’ home as much as possible. We had grown up around the geese but we were afraid of them. We knew that geese were sometimes used for security animals because they are so easily excited and alert you to impending danger by flapping their wings wildly and honking loudly to scare off suspected intruders. Still, we loved to find their big eggs. It was always special on Easter to have a big colored goose egg in our basket.

We were daring kids…especially me. I would make one of the geese mad just so it would chase us. The only time we were pinched by one was when we helped our grandmother hold the big geese while she plucked the feathers for her pillows.

She would turn one at a time upside down and hold it with her legs and start to work. Jo and I, as little girls, would try and hold their heads so they wouldn’t pinch her legs. We would get tired and let go a few times. Mammie would end up with black and blue legs but good, soft, fluffy pillows.

Herman Render and Lola Bennett Render, beloved Christian grandparents of our 13 brothers and sisters were near 80 when our family moved on in to Centertown. I have many good memories of Walton Creek people and the good life we had there. Though saddened by our move to town, many new adventures and memories awaited us there.

My dad, the local barber, felt it necessary to move to town so he could be close to his barber shop. Sometime in the 40’s, Dad bought an old Greyhound bus. He converted the old bus into a nice café that sat on Main St. It was quite beautiful, inside and out, with a fireplace, juke box, booth and stools at the counter. The “Blue Bus Café” became the hangout for teens, a safe place that was supervised by good honest folks who believed in their community and its future. Our parents, Raymond “Dick” Render and his loving wife, Lou, ran the café until they moved to Jeffersonville to work in the shipyards.

Times were hard and work was scarce so many families of our hometown had to move where they could find steady work. The Blue Bus closed but the stories of good times there live to this day. Other small cafés have come and gone in Centertown.

Each one had its regular customers who would enjoy a good cup of coffee and the stories shared around the table. More often than not, someone would bring up the Blue Bus Café and fond memories began to flow.

Although we missed our days at our grandparents’ farm, the Blue Bus Café occupied our time and life moved forward.

Lessons and values learned on that farm and in the Blue Bus Café never left us. Whenever I see geese I recall the fun we had helping Mammie make pillows. In reflection I can see that we were learning work and care for the family, but we just thought we were having fun. As I drive down Main St. in Centertown, my mind’s eye still sees that old Greyhound Bus that transformed to a wonderful hangout known affectionately as The Blue Bus Café…a safe place for youngsters to spend supervised time together knowing that Daddy and Momma kept a keen eye on each and every one of us.


FOLK Valentine's Day

Ben Ashby

Valentine’s seems to be that one little holiday that everyone either loves or well...doesn’t. While I do enjoy Valentine’s day, I’ll admit it can be a bit silly and sometimes it causes people to go over board buying boxes of expensive chocolates, big bouquets of red roses, giant teddy bears and maybe even diamonds, all to show someone you love them. Me? Well, that’s not my thing. Do we really need all those costly, fancy things to tell someone how much they mean to us? And while we’re on the subject, why can’t we make that same effort everyday to show the love we have for each other- minus all the stuff of course? Someone once told me they were committed to living Valentine’s day year-round. Not only because they like the colors pink and red so much (go figure), but because they want to feel that same amount of love everyday and always tell their friends and family how important they are to them. Imagine how wonderful it would be to live in a world like that, where everyone can put our differences aside and constantly show each other love and kindness. 

This brings me to the second (and totally less serious) reason why I enjoy Valentine’s day so much, the sweets! I could never bake enough red velvet and chocolate-y desserts. My sweet tooth really kicks in this time of year but in all honesty, to me, food is love. Maybe a lot of that has to do with being Italian and Greek and it’s instilled in us at an early age, but also there is something so fulfilling to me about spending time in the kitchen baking for my loved ones and being able to give them something I made with my own hands. From my kitchen to yours, I am sharing my 4 favorite Valentine’s day recipes that bring pure joy to my heart to be able to share with my dear family and friends on February 14th. What do you bake for the ones you love?


For little kids and pink lovers alike, this pink velvet cake with white chocolate ganache is the perfect Valentine’s day treat. Let’s be honest, does it get anymore fun than pink cake? If you’re making your cake in a heart shaped pan you may have leftover batter depending on the size, so feel free to use it to make a few cupcakes as well.

Pink Velvet Cake

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/8 teaspoon pink paste food coloring

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

White Chocolate Ganache

2 cups white baking chips

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 Tablespoon butter

In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar and food coloring until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition.

Fill greased, medium sized heart shaped pan or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. For cake, bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes (this is for a medium sized heart shaped cake pan, adjust baking time based on size, bake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean). For cupcakes, bake at 350 degrees F for 23-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

Meanwhile, place the white chips in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream just to a boil. Pour over chips; whisk until smooth. Stir in butter. Transfer to a large bowl. Chill for 30 minutes, stirring once.

Beat on high speed for 2-3 minutes or until soft peaks form and frosting is light and fluffy. Frost cake/cupcakes. Store in refrigerator.

Being that red velvet is one of my all time favorite desserts, these sinfully delicious chocolate-filled red velvet cupcakes topped with cream cheese frosting can always be found somewhere in the kitchen this time of year. Grab one and prepare to indulge!

Chocolate-Filled Red Velvet Cupcakes

1 cup milk chocolate pieces

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon butter

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons red food coloring

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

For filling, in small saucepan combine chocolate pieces, cream and 1 Tablespoon butter. Stir over low heat until chocolate is melted. Transfer to small bowl; cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and freeze about one hour, until fudge-like consistency. Divide into 12 portions and working quickly with hands, roll each portion into a ball. Place in freezer. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with 12 paper bake cups. In a small bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl beat the 1/4 cup softened butter with mixer on medium to high for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar; beat on medium until combined. Beat on medium 2 minutes more, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, food coloring and vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk, beating on low until combined. In a small bowl combine baking soda and vinegar; stir into batter. Divide half of the batter among the cups. Place a ball of filling on batter in center of each cup and spoon remaining batter into cups. Bake 15-18 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Remove and cool 10 minutes. Serve warm or cool completely and top with cream cheese frosting. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and room temperature.

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese in a medium mixing bowl. Using a rubber spatula, soften cream cheese. Gradually add butter and continue beating until smooth and well blended. Sift in confectioner’s sugar and continue beating until smooth. Add vanilla and stir to combine. Yields about 2 cups.

I’ve been so blessed to grow up with such a wonderful, talented and supportive family. My father went to the Culinary Institute of America and over the years I’ve enjoyed learning as much as I can from his knowledge of food to help me in my own career. This recipe for chocolate mousse was one he learned from a charcuterie chef when he was in school (strange, right?!). He then taught me how to make this incredibly decadent and in my opinion, best chocolate mousse ever. I’ve watched my father make this recipe by hand numerous times. Imagine the arm strength required to whip that cream and those egg whites by hand...amazing. I had to cheat and use a mixer but still, this one is for you Dad, I love you!  

Chocolate Mousse

9 ounces unsweetened chocolate

9 ounces sugar

9 egg yolks

9 egg whites

1/2 cup water

1 quart heavy cream

Melt chocolate in a double boiler and keep hot in the corner of the stove. Separate eggs and yolks and put each in its own bowl. Whip the heavy cream until it’s stiff (peaks and stays) and chill in a stainless steel bowl. Mix the water and sugar in a small sauce pan and cook to the thread. Start whipping the egg whites until stiff. While they’re whipping, when the sugar mixture is complete pour it over the egg yolks and whip immediately until it starts to foam bubbles. Pour the hot, melted chocolate over the yolk and sugar mixture and with a spatula, gently fold them together until well mixed. Do not whip. With a spatula, fold the stiff egg whites into this mixture. Do not whip. Gently fold in the whipped cream with a spatula, until the color is uniform. Again, be careful not to whip. Put in cups and refrigerate before serving.

Top your chocolate mousse with some beautiful, frosted fruit for a pretty, wintery garnish that you can eat!

Frosted Fruit

2 teaspoons dried egg whites

1-2 packages of your desired fruit (I used raspberries and strawberries)

2 Tablespoons warm water

Superfine sugar

In a medium sized bowl, whisk the dried egg whites and warm water with a balloon whisk until foamy. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the washed and dried fruit on it. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg whites over the fruit, covering them evenly and completely. Sprinkle the superfine sugar over the berries and cover completely. Let the fruit dry for at least a couple hours until the sugar has hardened and becomes crisp.

Breakfast in bed. Ok, it’s kind of a cliche Valentine’s day tradition, but come on, who doesn’t love breakfast in bed! This simple pancake recipe is the perfect ‘breakfast in bed food’. Mixing cinnamon and chocolate chips into your batter spices them up and adds a touch of romance while making it easier then ever to surprise your loved ones with something homemade on Valentine’s day.

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Pancakes

2 cups pancake mix

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Stir pancake mix and cinnamon in large bowl until well blended. Stir in eggs, milk, oil and vanilla just until blended. Add in chocolate chips. Pour 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto preheated lightly greased griddle or skillet. Cook 1 to 2 minutes per side or until golden brown, turning when pancakes begin to bubble. Serve pancakes with syrup or fresh fruit if desired.