March 28, 2020

In Review: Piece of Her Heart Only Part of the Story

• By John F. Chisholm •

My wife and I went to see A Piece of her Heart at the Penobscot Theater this past Thursday night. The show wasn’t so much a tribute to Janis Joplin (as it was billed) as it was a history lesson in The Blues. As such the show was educational, moving and inspiring.

Much of the credit for that goes to Karen Irwin, the lead singer. Perhaps Augusta heard the concert as well. Karen’s voice is that powerful. Okay, maybe the State House was a bit beyond her range from Bangor ― but sitting in the second row, it didn’t feel like it could be by much.

Sometimes Karen’s monologue between numbers sounded stilted, her mannerisms, too forced. Her singing certainly beats her acting. But who am I to talk? I can neither sing nor act. In fact, even my stereo has mono. Far more importantly, Karen gave moving credit to the major female vocalists who contributed to The Blues, singing complete numbers or excerpting their music throughout the show.

Understandably, given her gender, she didn’t cover the male vocalists who also contributed. Unfortunately, she totally neglected them. Perhaps I’m being unfair. After all, it can be argued that that bias was the show. Besides which The Blues is too big a subject for any single performance. Still, the overall presentation wound up feeling lopsided. For example, Kris Kristofferson, who wrote Me and Bobby McGee, her opening number and one of Janis Joplin’s biggest hits, never received the credit for his work.

You bet, the female artists all received their kudos, writers and vocalists alike.

But all that sidesteps the main point. Karen’s voice never let her ― or her audience ― down. I found myself moved to tears by it on several occasions.

Certainly her band deserves credit, too. Both her guitarists, Jeremy Shirland and Gaylen Smith were fabulous. Their performances made a huge difference to the overall result.

The warm-up band was local. Rock Revelation. They’re good. They need help on the mixing board. Their lead guitarist, Chris Gagnon all too often couldn’t even be heard. But the band’s lead vocalist, Heather Astbury-Libby did Newport proud, singing the final number on center stage with Karen.

Overall, it was a great show. My understanding is that the production is on tour. I urge you to see ― but more importantly ― to hear it if the opportunity arises. As always, we learn more by listening than talking.

Just don’t expect the whole story.