Beth Hart: A Hart-felt Homecoming
- Article by: Jamie McCormick, Photos by: Jamie McCormick
- Posted: 04/29/2011
Cult rock heroine Beth Hart is back in the U.S. after several years of only touring in Europe, and she rocked the roof off 3rd & Lindsley April 29. In a venue well accustomed to transcendent music and smashing performances, Hart rose above the rest, justifying the sold-out crowd that crammed around the venue long before the doors even opened.
With soul-infused, soaring vocals, Hart’s acoustic set showcased her keen abilities on keys and highlighted her candid songwriting. She belted out rock anthems and whispered ballads, even tossing in a playful jab at her husband.
When she turned the mic toward the crowd, they effortlessly and flawlessly filled in the lyrics. And when she told the poignant story behind “Weight of the World,” a song she wrote for her parents, the silence was striking. With the support of Jon Nichols on guitar and a guest appearance by co-writer James House, the artfully crafted exhibition was a fitting and appropriate homecoming for this artist who has had to overcome so much to get here.
Hart has not always been the controlled artist who graced the Nashville stage that night. For many years, she struggled with addiction, using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate what turned out to be bipolar disorder.
Talking to me before her show, she spoke to her past and what it has taken for her to pull her life out of the pit and reclaim it from drug and alcohol use.
“God knows I loved it, but it was killing me,” she told me, almost nostalgically. So, as her song ‘My California’ proclaims, she “[laid] her monsters down,” abandoning the addictions and carving out a new future for herself.
“Instead of being everybody else’s fault, I finally realized it wasn’t anybody’s fault,” she said. “It was a real thing that was skewing my way of being able to see the world the way it really was. I was looking at it through bipolar eyes, and those eyes are terrified and angry and just out of control.”
Finally in the driver’s seat now, Hart is steering herself into complete sobriety and balancing natural remedies with other medicines. Three years in, she’s still writing a new road map with her music.
As Hart matured from her early rock-and-reeling self, her sound mellowed as well, enhancing the subtleties and insights of her music. Her new writing is often searching and hauntingly beautiful. But don’t be fooled by the subdued tones. Hart hasn’t gone soft; she’s still a rocker.
“It’s so much easier, I find, to write ballads,” she admitted. “So I’m gonna challenge myself this week to not allow myself to write any fucking ballads.”
Whatever the tempo, however, Hart has built her home in music and has willingly paid her rent throughout the years. During a rough youth in which she witnessed her family rip apart at the seams, music was her only solace. “When I played music, I felt like I had that family,” she said, “and I wasn’t going to let that go, no matter what.”
With tyrannical addictions running her life, Hart lost a chance at a major record deal and subsequently wasn’t able to tour much within the U.S. But in May of 2004, she found her heart in Holland.
Paradiso, a significant Dutch venue, offered her a gig in its 500-seat upper room, then moved the show downstairs when tickets sold out in two days. The standing room only arena of hopping Hollanders knew every song, and Hart realized she would survive after all.
“It’s okay. We’re gonna rise, we’re gonna fall, we’re gonna get lost, we’re gonna figure it out, and then it’s gonna happen all over again,” she concluded. Beth Hart has the soul of an icon, and she’s more than just a cult craze. Forget the whole, “You either love or hate her” thing. With Hart, it’s either you love her, or you just haven’t heard her yet.
To see more photos by Jamie McCormick, visit seriesofstills.com