Michelle Shocked

Michelle Shocked
Cactus Café
Austin, Texas

Michelle Shocked is an East Texas native, as evidenced by the extremely high turnout, which left a line of Texans stretching far beyond the café doors before the show. Shocked indeed seemed at home with the crowd, and after a quick thanksgiving and a proclamation of how good it felt to be back at the Cactus, she began the night with a warning; her performances are sprinkled with interjections, and each tune has a story that should be delivered with it. She hoped her talking wouldn’t be too much for the audience. In fact it creates a connectedness to the music that was palpable throughout the evening.

Shocked first gave the stage over to her father’s bluegrass band Dollars, Taxes, of which her brother is also a part. They started the evening off with a Texas waltz and a few classic fiddle tunes. Her father, “Dollar Bill” Johnston, lead the group on mandolin and vocals, noting halfway through the set that both he and his daughter create much of their music by inventing lyrics for classic songs that have been played in the south for years, some of them, such as Shocked’s “Blackberry Blossom” and “Shaking Hands (Soldier’s Joy),” which the band would play mid-show.

Back on the stage after Dollars, Taxes, Shocked began with her classic, “When I Grow Up.” From the get-go, she revealed her dynamic stage presence. Armed with screams, howls, and chesty high notes, Shocked engaged her listeners and successfully entreated them to join her, the women with screams, and the men with bluesy grunts. The audience continued singing along right through to the intermission, with the likes of “Memories of East Texas,” and “Graffiti Limbo.” Before the break, however, Dollars, Taxes joined Shocked on stage to return to their collective bluegrass roots, backing her on several tunes including her hit “Prodigal Daughter,” during which she asked the packed house to dance, in their chairs if need be.

After a brief interlude which Shocked called “American Idle,” which included speakers from the Worker’s Defense Project and a tune from Louisiana artist Johanna Divine, Shocked came back for more. The show took a more personal turn, if that’s possible after the vignettes about prom, growing up, and personal experiences regarding social justice (or a lack thereof). Rather, Shocked wound up a packed evening with an analysis of her craft by way of a few good metaphors and a call to her “sweetheart,” artist David Willardson, to whom she sang a jazzy a capella song belonging to their joint project on indelible women, and a bout of dancing among the audience. As Shocked left the stage, the energy was palpable, and as intimate as the evening itself was.

by Marie Meyers