Valerie June at the Academy of Music-February 6th, 2018

Valerie June at the Academy of Music on February 6th, 2018
Valerie June at the Academy of Music on February 6th, 2018

Valerie June with Sunny War

Academy of Music Theatre, Northampton, MA

February 6, 2018

Story and photos by Kelly D

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As a devoted listener of 93.9 the River in recent years, I have been introduced to a bunch of great tunes I might not have otherwise heard. “Shakedown” and “Astral Plane,” from Valerie June’s beautiful record The Order of Time, came to me in early 2017 via the radio and one of my dear friends. I couldn’t get over her voice- like a dagger made out of honey, a soulful twang that transcends age.

Sunny War and her possessed guitar

Valerie June and her opening act, a truly delightful character named Sunny War, brought their collective talents, humor, and lessons to a packed house at the Academy of Music. I had never heard of Sunny War but her self-effacing spirit and pickin’ fingers will keep me listening. She was experiencing a malfunctioning guitar for much of her set, remarking that it might be possessed, but powered through anyway. Her music seems to be like a cousin of Valerie June’s- roots with a shot of punk and soul. She announced to the audience that she decided to play a song that night that she hadn’t played in years, because “why bother practicing?” she asked wryly. War also mentioned also that she was a huge fan of Valerie June and was trying to keep her cool around her as to not freak the headliner out. Perfectly precious! “If I seem nervous, it’s not me- it’s the nerves”: another classic Sunny War one-liner. She finished her set with a moving rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and without ado departed the stage. What a sweetheart.

After a half-hour intermission, the star of the show came out onstage following her bandmates. Wearing her trademark Gorgon-esque pile of dreadlocks, a blazer, and blindingly glittery pants (and matching eyeliner), Valerie June voraciously complimented Sunny War, picked up her guitar, and introduced us to “Tennessee Time.”

For the rest of the concert I was basically a human version of the heart-eyes emoji. There is really something magical about Valerie June and her brand of music. It’s soul and gospel, but there’s rock and folk and country in there too. It’s hard to pin down, so don’t even try. Just let it wash over you. She shifted between playing guitar, banjo, and ukelele and shifted her hair around just as much. She played with her long, ropy locks, gathering them up and letting them cascade down her back, as she told us of the stories behind her songs, her upbringing in the South, and her own unique take on existence. “When everything goes perfectly,” she said quietly into the microphone, “you don’t question why. You just go between the moments.”

At times, while pouring her soul into her singing, Valerie June finger danced: she closed her eyes and let her hands climb an invisible ladder or wall, or gathered herself into her arms, or airplaned at the crowd with her arms akimbo. Her movements to the music reminded me of synesthesia- wherein the wires of the sensory parts of your brain get crossed and you hear images or taste colors- she was feeling the music physically move her.

The music within her

Valerie June and her band finished their set with “With You” and “Workin’ Woman Blues.” They then left the stage but came back within minutes to play a three-song encore. Before introducing the unassuming yet anthemic “Astral Plane,” the lady of the night gave us a powerful speech about the innate beauty we all possess: “We all have a light in us that we need to shine. And if we forget, we need to go into our closet and pull out the shiniest, sparkliest item and put it on.”

I got at once why she was wearing those pants. And considering I was wearing a sparkly gold tunic as my concert outfit- completely by happenstance- my dedication to looking flashy for the hell of it was 100% justified. Then she sang.

The night finished with her song “I Got Soul,” band introductions, and Valerie June simply sitting down in the middle of the stage while the men around her wailed on their respective instruments. Then, as quietly as she came to the stage, she said, “Thanks for the show. We’re gonna. . . go now.”

No, Valerie June, thank YOU for the show. And thank you for showing us your light.

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Check out the Live Music News and Facebook page for updates and announcements.