Mothers and fathers
Ancestors of this earth
Bring us strength and wisdom
Teach your children what they’re worth
Armed with truth and mercy
They won’t fall to anyone
They’re standing on our shoulders
Reaching for the sun
When they bury our dreams
We push em up through concrete
We growin’ where they can’t see
These roots run deep
‘Cause we are seeds
And when we rise up
No wall can block us
No hate can stop love
No one can stop us
We are seeds
– Rissi Palmer, “Seeds”
Identity is a tricky thing. We take on labels, voluntarily and not, and we try to shape the way we’re perceived by those around us. This shorthand is woefully inadequate, and it can either give others a place to start or a place to end.
Rissi Palmer has worked through, past, and into a lot of identities in her career. As a successful woman of color in the homogenous world of commercial country music, she was compartmentalized at every turn – by the music industry, by the media, and even by fans. It took tremendous strength and courage for her to reject the ways outside forces tried to define and limit her, as her journey led her away from being a signed Nashville artist and toward a new path as an independent singer-songwriter, as well as a wife and mother.
And let’s pause there for a minute. Last night I realized with dismay that after two years and a dozen shows, I hadn’t hosted another mother at Folk All Y’all. It’s not like I’m turning them down, either – they’re just a very, very small fragment of the touring population. Because it’s very, very hard to maintain an artistic career, especially one that requires constant traveling, while raising a child. The mental and emotional energy required to create, not to mention the physical stamina of ten-hour drives and questionable sleeping opportunities, is all but sapped by the normal duties of parenting – and let’s just admit it, mothering in particular. Being a mother is not Rissi Palmer’s entire identity, but it is an undeniable piece of what makes her art what it is.
So it was especially sweet to welcome Rissi and her whole family into my home, then see our children run off together while we tended to the business of bringing a little more beauty into the world. We had a full house of guests from near (6 houses down) and far (Saudi Arabia), life-long Memphians and brand-new residents, all a little damp from the showtime rainstorm but nonetheless upbeat. The show kicked off with Rissi’s daughter Grace singing the intro to “Sweet, Sweet Lovin’,” and then rolled through the full spectrum of topics and influences that flavor Rissi’s songs and her personal style of Southern Soul. With accompanist Richard Gallaher by her side (for their first show ever, which no one would have possibly suspected), Rissi ran the gamut of grown womanhood – one minute we might hear a love ballad to her husband, and then a lullaby to her daughter, and next a warning to an ex sliding into her DMs, followed by a powerful protest song (see below).
And in the midst of all that, Rissi shared her memories and tribute to Prince. I’d been so busy with show set-up that I completely forgot my intention to interrogate Rissi before her performance about her experiences sharing the same air as my departed hometown hero, so it was a lovely surprise when she invoked his memory and then did a bang-up cover of “Cream.” (Which I recorded but won’t post, because lawyers.) I have to tell you, I haven’t even been able to watch the celebrity Prince tributes or attend the shows and parties in his honor because the wound is still raw, but to have a friend of Prince’s sit in the heart of my home and bring his light into it was a truly healing thing. I really can’t thank Rissi enough for that.
After two hours of dazzling the room, Rissi signed off with a sexy take on “Sledgehammer” and then got the first standing ovation in Folk All Y’all history. Which was only fitting, because the grace and heart of this woman lifted us all up.
Thank you, Rissi, for spending your very precious time and limitless talent with us. That was one mother of a show.
If you attended this or any other Folk All Y’all show, please sign the guest book.