Mary McBride: Soulful, Gritty, Gorgeous – A Knockout Performance at Joe’s Pub!

Mary McBride’s performance – rockin’ out of this world!

Mary McBride at Joe’s Pub, NYC – April 12, 2001

Drawing upon her Louisiana roots, her love/hate/comic relationship with church, mad songwriting skills, a great sense of timing, a good head for song selection, and a strong, sweet/raw voice that soulfully carries it all aloft – Mary McBride takes the stage and makes it her own.

The Glowing Marcy McBride

Tuesday evening at Joe’s was a finely sculpted powerhouse celebration of rock-country-gospel. Mary’s band is tight and groovin’, and she knows how to create intimacy with her audiences through her tender gritty voice and by allowing us into her world via funny, interesting stories – both personal foibles and performance adventures.

Mary McBride is a professional bandleader with serious chops and a soaring voice. Last night creating a highly danceable well-constructed evening full of heart and fire – she has truly come into her own.

Full disclosure: I’ve had a friendship and professional relationship with Mary, or as I call her, “Ms. McB,” since she was 11 years old – which eventually developed into a short stint as her booking agent a few years ago.

I first met Mary when she volunteered at The Fine Line Actors Theatre, the company I co-founded in Washington DC.  She was, to say the least, precocious. She had very firm opinions on just about everything, hung around with people three times her age, and traveled throughout the world.  All this was impressive, and at times annoying.

She also had an easy laugh and a radiant smile.

And – that voice!

Mary’s voice never ceased to amaze. Even at 11, Mary McBride was a powerhouse!

Knowing that “our little neighborhood find” had a future far beyond stapling programs for our shows, the theatre’s artistic director Jane LeGrand and I decided to feature her on stage.  Mary suggested “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” from the Broadway musical “Annie.” Although it was incongruous, we had Mary sing the tune before the curtain went up on our production of Noel Cowards’ “Private Lives,” (starring Jane). Sans amplification, Mary took command, and her buoyant, powerful voice floated to the rafters. An 11 year old with chops like that? Of course she brought down the house!

Mary has come a long way since her debut at The Fine Line. She has performed over 500 live shows in the US and Europe, including tour dates with Blondie, the Indigo Girls, the B52s, Cyndi Lauper, Koko Taylor, Tony Joe White, Delbert McClinton, Joe Cocker, Maria Muldaur, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the late Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Mary performed “No One’s Gonna Love You like Me” on-screen and on the soundtrack of the Academy-award winning film Brokeback Mountain, along with tracks from Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Rufus Wainwright, Steve Earle and others. Mary was chosen by Elton John to sing at the 35th Anniversary Concert of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and her songs have also been featured on episodes of The L Word and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Her song (co-written with Dan Baird) “Would it Kill You?” was recorded by the Yayhoos for their 2006 release Put Your Hammer Down.” Mary is currently writing the score for a new musical, The Nitpicker,” directed by Tony award winner Scott Ellis.

A packed audience welcomed her back home to NYC. I ended up standing negotiating for the best sight lines and dancing space with three of Mary’s (very tall) friends from grammar school. When I mentioned Mary’s performance Back in the Day of  “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” one of the women told me that it was Mary’s favorite song. And that she remembered when Mary had surreptitiously taken over their schools’ PA system to sing it to the entire school over the loudspeakers. Mary got suspended as a result. But, her friend effused, “it was the best school day I ever had!”

Well, Tuesday night was one of the best “school nights” I’ve ever had! Since the last time I saw Mary perform at Joe’s, she’s got a new show – created and honed on the road via her “Home” tour. The tour stops at “places people call home,” including long-term health care centers, homeless shelters, homes in low-income communities, homes for people living with HIV/AIDS and homes for people living with mental and physical disabilities – very different venues from the upscale setting at Joes.

Mary told her rapt audience at Joe’s Pub about her “captive audience” of prison inmates – one of whom, “Animal,” approached her, requesting a tune in the evenings performance …  she fulfilled his wish, and last night, blew us away with her soaring gospel/rock version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” Those of you who regularly read this blog will know that I respond to music physically – this beautiful rendition inspired both heavenly visions and expansive prayerful movement.

Mary McBride

Most of Ms. McB’s new tunes are delightfully raucous originals, with lyrics about lost love that make you laugh and cry simultaneously, or those that just make you shake your head at your own dumb mistakes – or tunes like “Would it Kill You?,” that helped me vent my annoyance and anger sharing living space with other human beings ever again — via some intense bootie-shakin’.

But it was The Beatles “Let it Be” that stunned.

It seems that I never really “got” the song until Mary sang it last night with such gentle simple clarity. I envisioned the meditative lyrics shown in blazing yellow light  – we, and I pray, G-d, heard her beautiful prayer too.

Another cover, Hank Williams’, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” one of my personal favorites, shook me to my core.  Mary’s plaintive lilting call echoed the feelings in my heart, her exquisite voice gliding like a “falling star” illuminating Hanks’ poetry.

My only frustration with the show was that Mary didn’t invite the audience up on its feet to dance. Although Joe’s is ostensibly a “sit down” venue – there’s always enough room to wiggle. The way I figured it, only the dead wouldn’t be “itchin’” to dance; all they needed was a little coaxing to get up – and get down.

I, however, needed no invitation – and I danced my chubby little butt off in whatever places I could carve out amid the throng – to just about every tune – from the first note on the guitar – only stopping for a few minutes due to complete exhaustion to catch my breath and down some water – to have fuel for the last notes of Mary’s wildly received encore, “Cross the Crosser.”

Although I wouldn’t list rock or country as my favorite music genres to dance to, Mary sings with so much soul – and with the backing of her sensitive and tight band, Tommy Borscheid and Paul Carbonara – guitar, Kenny Soule – drums, and – bass, they pull it all together so professionally and with so much raw, gritty energy, their music propelled my body into motion throughout the entire performance.

And, some fabulous celebrities were in the audience at Joe’s Pub to catch this rising star, including Liza Minnelli and Nathan Lane. To see images of Liza and Nathan and others who attended the performance and after-party, go to 

My two friends who showed up late to the packed house at Joe’s were, disappointedly, turned away at the door.  Don’t let this happen to you! Take my sage advice: be on time; and RUN – don’t walk – to Mary McBride’s next show!

New Yorkers: Mary McBride will perform on Monday, May 9, 2011 at The Highline Ballroom.

Concert starts @ 8PM; Doors open @ 6PM 

About artistsoulspeaks

Zelda (aka Judith Z. Miller) Bio Zelda (aka Judith Z. Miller) is a multifaceted artist who lives in an erotic, musical, spiritual universe. As a feminist Jew who studies shamanism, she is inspired by the beauty of nature and the guiding force of her intuition as she explores the themes of connection to the Earth, spirituality, sexuality and gender. She sculpts, draws, writes, performs, photographs, and is an ecstatic dancer/percussionist/healer. Currently, under an Individual Artist Commission awarded by Arts Mid-Hudson, Zelda is developing Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be), a multi-media one-person show that chronicles the joys and challenges of navigating non-binary Queerness from a childhood in the 1950s to adulthood. This project is made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by Arts Mid-Hudson. She is also producing ZELDA’S Happenings, a series of black-light, body-painting, percussion dance parties that will produce original wearable art for a new UpState Artists Clothing Collection representing artists of the region. Zelda co-founded The Fine Line Actors Theatre in Washington DC and performed at such venues as Source, GALA Hispanic Theatre and the Kennedy Center in DC, in NYC at WOW Café Theatre and Dixon Place, at the Lace Mill and with the TMI Project in Kingston. She published in Inside Arts magazine, The Washington Post, and American Theatre magazine. Zelda currently resides at the Lace Mill artist residence in Kingston NY with her Great Dane “Z”.
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