SPACE Studios

Kindling Fund










Menu Close

Willi Carlisle with Justin Golden

Saturday, May 18 2024
doors at 7:00pm
$18 advance
$20 day of show
$2 off for SPACE members

Arkansas folksinger-poet Willi Carlisle returns after bringing a sold-out Peaks Island crowd to tears of joy last summer. Toting a new album, Critterland, see him now before he’s a household name. With rising country-blues artist Justin Golden.

For folksinger Willi Carlisle, singing is healing. And by singing together, he believes we can begin to reckon with the inevitability of human suffering and grow in love. On his latest album, Critterland, Carlisle invites audiences to join him: “If we allow ourselves to sing together, there’s a release of sadness, maybe even a communal one. And so for me personally, singing, like the literal act of thinking through suffering, is really freeing,” he says.

Rooted in the eclectic and collective world of his live shows, Carlisle’s third album, Critterland takes up where his sophomore album, Peculiar, Missouri left off, transforming Peculiar’s big tent into a Critterland menagerie and letting loose the weirdos he gathered together. The album is a wild romp through the backwaters of his mind and America, lingering in the odd corners of human nature to visit obscure oddballs, dark secrets, and complicated truths about the beauty and pain of life and love.

Produced by the GRAMMY Award-nominated Darrell Scott and to be released Jan. 26, 2024 by Signature Sounds, Critterland considers where we come from and where we are going. On the album, he takes on human suffering through stories about forbidden love, loss, generational trauma, addiction, and suicide, believing that by processing the traits and trauma we inherit, he can reach a deeper understanding of what it means to succeed and to exist.

“In many ways, the suffering that has gotten us here is going to control us. Our superstition and our prejudice is going to control us,” Carlisle says. “But in another way, we’re physiologically set up to be instantaneously expressive of all of those feelings. And what comes out in moments of collectivity, is not just singing, but what I’d hope is a national reckoning with these various different kinds of suffering.”

Throughout Critterland runs Carlisle’s unease with the tension between love and the reality of an often painful world. He’s adamant that everyone should find and feel love, including queer love, love with no reproductive purpose, and love of ourselves; “I think at the heart of the record is the conflict between those two things, between doomed love and the possibility that that love creates,” he says.

But for Carlisle, finding the possibilities that love creates is often tinged with profound sadness, and he describes Critterland as “more of a Sunday morning crier than a Saturday night banger.” On “The Arrangements,” he speaks as a son ruminating on the traits he’s inherited from an imperfect father as he prepares for the man’s funeral; in “Dry County Dust,” he revels in the simple trappings of country life he loves intimately, like home-made jam and backyard chickens, all while considering the shackles of expectation; in “The Great Depression,” a dust bowl ballad heavy with implications for our current era, Carlisle leans on the term’s double meaning; with “I Want No Children,” he unapologetically requests that his family name die with him; and in the album’s final track, “The Money Grows on Trees,” he crafts an outlaw tale into a seven-minute indictment of capitalism and greed.

Carlisle wants not only to process pain, but to seek meaning in it. In the middle of the album, in “Two Headed Lamb,” Carlisle riffs on a poem by Laura Gilpin, in which the doomed lamb [4] lives for a short, bittersweet moment in a world that reflects its abundance: “and I know scattered o’er the cursed world / there are frightening bones to find/ bones of people born too soon, lambs too strange to survive,” Carlisle sings, “and as he walked out that mornin,’ the old man didn’t look to see /out of season sweet persimmons in the old-growth tree.” By adding a farmer who’s failed to grasp the beauty of the moment, Carlisle raises the story’s stakes to meditate on who and what the world allows to thrive and how we perceive what falls outside of our expectations.

For Carlisle, the album’s also an opportunity to strike a tricky balance. Acutely aware that his song “Cheap Cocaine,” resulted in some of his early success, he’s careful now how he talks about drugs. Older and wiser, he wants to consider addiction and its destruction without completely eschewing drug use. “I want to be able to write about drugs in a way that isn’t glorifying, but has a social purpose. And I don’t feel like we’re doing that with Americana music much,” he says.

Treading lightly along that line, Carlisle penned the album’s penultimate track, “When the Pills Wear Off,” with Billy Keane. Thriving on a haunting, sweet refrain that braids illicit queer love and drug addiction into one story, Carlisle searches for the nuance in his character’s pain and shame: “I lost friends to heroin, plenty more to lovin’ them / Strung out on the highway like we couldn’t read the signs / Now that I am older and burn a little colder / I know how to read between the lines.”

In between the lines Carlisle finds life’s lessons, insisting that complication is important and cautioning listeners not to take his exploration and quest for understanding as a recommendation: “I don’t want to hit rock bottom. I’m not advocating to not have children. I’m not advocating to be a drug addict,” he says. “I’m saying that you got to shine a light on the worst impulses to see where they go to, so that you’re not afraid of them, and so that you can guide yourself into more love with greater certainty.”

And as always, living in a world whose politics seek to divide and control, Carlisle comes back to one essential question: “How do we save love from hate?” Sing along and find out.

Blues isn’t just twelve bars and a hard luck story. On his debut record, Hard Times and a Woman, guitarist and songwriter Justin Golden showcases the full breadth of the genre and its downstream influences, everything from country blues to Americana, soul, indie roots and beyond. Golden was raised on the Virginia coast and is steeped in the distinctive, fingerpicked Piedmont blues of the central part of the state. He’s studied country blues and can name any number of influences from Blind Boy Fuller to Taj Mahal, but his key inspirations have always come from the indie guitar realm, specifically friends like Phil Cook and J Roddy Walston, with a little Hiss Golden Messenger, Daniel Norgren, and Bon Iver mixed in and maybe a hint of James Taylor. Recording his new album in the midst of the vibrant Richmond, VA, scene, producer Chip Hale helped craft lush arrangements with Richmond artists around Golden’s classic Americana songwriting sensibilities. Fuzzed out guitar, keys, and harmonica meld with his deft fingerpicking and slow burning grooves. Across 12 tracks, Golden lays out a caution: be wary when things start going too well. The lyrics of Hard Times and a Woman reference winning (and then losing) it all, heartbreak, and the harsh realities of being Black in America. On his sparkling debut, Justin Golden arrives fully formed as a guitarist and a songwriter. It’s not just that he can move so fluidly between musical genres, it’s that he understands that the blues underpins nearly every American genre, and he hears the blues wherever he goes.

Justin Golden (Photo by Joey Wharton)

It’s not many artists who learn to play the blues in a dream, but for Golden, the music had been percolating in his subconscious for years before he started playing. Sleeping late at Bonnaroo some years back, he woke up from a dream with a blues fingerpicking pattern in his head, a seminal moment that sparked a lifelong commitment to the music. “Blues was always what I wanted to play,” he says. “It was an idea before I knew how practical it was or what it meant.” Later he played this dreamt fingerpicking pattern to blues elder Phil Wiggins who told him that he’d been unconsciously playing Piedmont blues, the tradition from his home region of Virginia. This musical kismet showed him that he was on the right path with the music, and the encouragement of Wiggins and other elders pushed him to learn more. His passion as a torch bearer and relationship with Wiggins connected him with the Virginia Folklife Program at Virginia Humanities who helped him release the new album. Now he’s passing that inspiration on, teaching youth to play as well. Trained as an archaeologist, Golden learned to take a long view of history. He studied historic cemetery sites throughout the region and noted that old burial grounds could be lost within a generation. One generation clearing land would remember the site of an old cemetery and leave up the trees to mark it, but the next generation would forget and clear the land, losing the historic memory of that graveyard. “It’s the same thing in the music,” he says, “if there’s no link to an elder, the music can be lost.”

A central theme of Hard Times and a Woman is that unfortunate events always seem to happen right when we’re at the top of our game. It’s something the world is experiencing now, moving into a third year of a pandemic, and for Golden it was tied to COVID as well. Right before the pandemic struck, he had suffered a heartbreak, lost his job, and was then forced to cancel his touring. An optimist at heart, it all ended up being the perfect excuse for him to rethink the album, rework the songs, and to take the time to bring his local community together to help him make the music. Working with producer Hale, the two brought together a dream team of artists from Richmond’s rich musical scene including guitarists Nate and Eli Hubbard, drummer Drew Barnocky, backing vocalist Tyler Meacham, and organist Tommy Booker. Fellow blues phenom Andrew Alli brought his harmonica, and Golden asked Seattle fiddler Ben Hunter to join remotely, eager to support other Black blues musicians with deep ties to the tradition. Adrian Olsen (Lucy Dacus, Natalie Prass) at Montrose Recording in Richmond mixed the album. Golden wanted to put together a full band for the album, making use of Hale’s ear for arrangements and background in indie rock. Still, the blues lay at the heart of the ensemble’s ethos. “It’s so popular these days to think you’re BB King,” Golden explains, “and it’s cool if you can play like that, but sometimes it’s what you’re not playing that’s interesting.”

The songs on Hard Times and a Woman run the gamut of blues topics like heartbreak (“Call Me When the Bed Gets Cold”), romantic love (“Lightning When She Smiles”), global pandemics (“Why the Sun Goes Down”), the gospel (“Oh Lord, Oh Lord” which interestingly features Golden on banjo), and even possible deals with the devil (“Ain’t Just Luck”). One of the most powerful tracks on the album, “The Gator,” tackles the difficult topic of racism in America head-on. Golden wrote it at a writer’s retreat in Florida, thinking of the gators lying in wait under the Florida water for a chance to pull him under. It’s a metaphor for the fear many Black Americans feel in public in a post-Trump era and well before that. “‘The Gator’ is about that feeling that something’s always out to get you,” Golden says, “or that you’re never safe because you never know what’s in someone’s heart. You never know if you’re gonna run into someone who’s having a bad day and end up a target.” Over a rolling, trance-like rhythm, Golden sings “When I see blue lights, sometimes I wanna run,” an unflinchingly honest look at the reality of being Black in America. True to form, he ultimately looks for a positive solution. “So where do I look when hard times’ bringing me down / I turn to my brother with both of my arms stretched out.”

Though Golden’s influences range far and wide, the blues will never be far from his heart. That’s because he doesn’t see the tradition as limiting, but rather a musical form open to any emotion. “​The blues is not a box,” he says. “They try to make it seem like it’s just twelve bars or it’s gotta be sad or it’s gotta be this or that, but if you listen to so much old pre-war blues, there are so many feelings involved. There’s happy blues, sad blues, just got paid and spent all my money blues, gonna go see my girl late at night blues, there’s blues for anything. It doesn’t have to be a specific form or feeling, it can be whatever you want it to be, but you know it when you hear it.”

💐 Feastland 2024 is fast approaching! Join us August 10th as we return to beautiful Broadturn Farm for a wild evening of food, site-specific art, drinks, music and county fair vibes — with dinner from Goodfire Brewing Co. included! 🍲