Carsie Blanton: “it feels like a collective experience, and that’s what I’ve always been drawn to”

by James Hendicott
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American folk/ protest singer Carsie Blanton is touring Ireland, and having the time of her life.

A glance at her Instagram feed shows the long-established folk singer, who has heavy left-leaning political views, flitting from pro-Palestine protests to lively backstage shenanigans. Every picture or video has one thing in common: she looks ecstatically happy. It all comes back to a decision made in the midst of the pandemic.

“When everything stopped during Covid, I had a talk with my band. We’d been touring together at that time for ten years as a band, and 15 as a duo, and we agreed to make things all about quality of life,” she says. “We decided not to do every gig we get offered, as we had. We decided we wanted to tour Ireland, so I made a point of finding an Irish booking agent.”

“Declan O’Rourke handed me this beautiful tour on a platter,” she laughs, talking of her current month-long visit. “He’s mostly doing Fridays and Saturdays so I’ve just filled in some of the other days with my own shows.”

“The next album, called ‘After The Revolution’, will be out in March 2024, but I’ll have six singles before that, a kind of slow drip method,” she says. “It’s an album about hope, the future, friendship and solidarity. I’m trying to imagine a future that’s a little bit better. We can get bogged down in grief and anxiety about the world, so I’m trying to help people see a way forward.”

“I think for me, the idea that hope is something you have to develop, like a muscle, is important. It’s not external, or handed to you, it’s something you practise. We have to get better at it, or the future is a self fulfilling prophecy. I’m part of the left movement in the US, and I think sometimes it feels like we’re slogging away into an endless darkness.”

“I used to feel like I had two separate projects, music and activism. More and more I feel like they’re the same project, about the same thing, cultivating community and solidarity, and helping people to see what is possible. The only conflict, really, is how much time I spend on logistics, getting from one gig to another, which limits my time organising.”

For a long time, part of Blanton’s plan, aligned with her views, was ‘pay what you want’ at the door of her shows. “It’s got more complicated as the shows have become bigger,” she says. “I’m still committed to the idea of providing to people according to their ability to pay. For a decade I asked people to put in the money they could afford and I’d play and we’d call it even. The whole show has a theme of taking care of each other and looking after each other, which I see reflected in the audience and even in the sales aspect of it.”

“I feel very blessed, like I have a community around me. I’m a person with a lot of anxiety. I feel like there’s two types of musicians, anxious ones and depressed ones. The anxious ones prefer to be busy, so that’s had an impact on my career trajectory. I go insane if I don’t do something for a couple of weeks, which is a blessing and a curse, I guess!”

“I’ve been touring since I was 16 and the only break I had was during the lockdown, and my mental health deteriorated quite quickly. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so a job as a performer is a good fit. I feel better when I get to perform. I like to bring laughter, tears and rapt attention. There’s probably some ego attached to it, too, but it feels like a collective experience, and that’s what I’ve always been drawn to.”

Carsie Blanton plays Whelan’s, Dublin, on November 21 with tickets priced at €18.50.

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