Christopher Paul Stelling with AC Sapphire
The Lounge at World Cafe Live
On sale Friday September 17th @ 10AM
$13 ADV // $ 15 DOS + FEES
All shows at The Lounge are General Admission and seating is not guaranteed.
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Christopher Paul Stelling
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Even before 2020 slid historically off the rails, Christopher Paul Stelling confronted an essential exercise in acceptance and gratitude. In December 2019, Stelling started another cross-country sprint from California to Florida, where the songwriter who has long called western North Carolina home was raised. Aside from recording his fifth album, Best of Luck, he had toured much of that year, making relentless laps around North America. He wanted to make it home not only for Christmas but also to see Emma, his 92-year-old grandmother. He didn’t; she passed just days before he arrived. Recorded alone in her modest white ranch house in Daytona Beach, Forgiving It All—Stelling’s wisest, most intimate, and most settled record yet, and his first self-released LP in eight years—feels like a final tribute to her and to everything he and we have lost or gained.
Last year seemed to brim with transformational potential for Stelling. For the better part of a decade, he had been a feverish and itinerant troubadour, spilling guts and blood and sweat in soul-scraping solo sets. He’d lived up the lifestyle, too, hydrating for the stage with booze. But at the end of 2017, he’d gone sober after recognizing that chunks of his life had disappeared. Recorded a year later, Best of Luck—his third album for Anti- and the first he’d cut with a producer, Ben Harper—seemed poised to push him to new audiences, its mix of wistful acoustic ballads and stomp-around-the-room rock somehow both polished and primal. The shows were piling up, so much so that Stelling planned to have barely one day off in all of 2020.
And then, of course, all that was scrapped. The news closed in around him as he toured north along the West Coast. He turned east and got as far as Colorado, then had a panic attack in a Kansas truck stop, wrestling with existential and professional despair as the world wobbled on its axis. Stelling came home and, like many of us, worked to shape a new routine in a world that was instantly alien. So for the first time in years, he spent days on end with his partner, Julia, and their bounding young dog, Ida. He hiked, read, and watched endless television to placate overwhelming anxiety as best he could. Having fulfilled his label contract (and convinced he didn’t want a new one, anyway), Stelling launched a crowdfunding campaign, asking if fans felt compelled to invest in his songs. They said yes—he sold more records in those first 48 hours than he’d ever sold in advance before.
Stelling began at last to unpack a decade into which he had packed so much. What had music taught him that life had not, and vice versa? What did he have to sing about all that he had seen? The spellbinding 10 tracks of Forgiving It All represent the profound distillates of that reflection. Committed to tape in Emma’s home a year after Stelling cut his intended never-ending tour short, these songs are the lessons of a once-wild kid looking at (not quite) 40, expressing acceptance for the struggles and joys of life and singing out his gratitude for still being here. Opener “Die To Know” is a tender ode to innocence, a remembrance of simple joy and sincerity before experience and age dulled our enthusiasms. “Wildfire,” which moves with the ineffable grace of ripples on some idyllic pond, stares down accreted adult fears and begs for the mercy of rebirth.
“WWYLLYD” presents an exercise in radical empathy, apt for our universally troubled times. “Remember, everyone is suffering/not just you,” Stelling pleas over strummed chords that rush like blood. The title is an acronym for “When What You Love Lets You Down.” We’re all starving artists, it suggests, but that’s what keeps us going, interested, and, if we’re lucky, alive.
To some extent, these songs are about letting yourself off the hook, about accepting your imperfections even as you deal with them. But title track “Forgiving It All,” as mesmerizing and motivational as a religious mantra, admits that we don’t bear responsibility for all of our baggage, that others have played a part. If we’re going to reckon with ourselves, Stelling says, we have to encourage others to do the same, to share in this catharsis. “Let the doubtful confide in you,” he sings near the start, opening what may feel like the most candid therapy session you’ve ever encountered. Stelling—truth be told, a marquee fingerpicker who’s never been content to make purely wordless music—pauses for the gorgeous instrumental “For Your Drive,” then ends with a hymn of his own, “They’ll All Proclaim.” It is a gracious, gorgeous aubade for what comes after—tomorrow, post-pandemic, whenever.
We will wrestle for our lifetimes with what happened in 2020 and what may follow. Forgiving It All is an instinctual and honest response to trying to make the best of it: sorting through the past and using the present to prepare for an unwritten future. These songs remind us we’re lucky to be here, no matter what or who it is we have to forgive.
The Mojave is a desolate dreamscape, a vista of mind-bending scenery that seems to transform with every sand-swept step. There’s something exquisitely wild about it, tinged with a hint of danger. On the surface it can appear sparse—even foreboding—but a deeper examination proves it teaming with all the tragedy and transcendence of life.
The same can be said for the music of longtime desert denizen AC Sapphire. It has the same surreal qualities, the same sense of constant metamorphosis, the same expansiveness and emotional evocation, the same sense of wonder and revelation, and the same wild and perilous spirit. Her cosmic sound blends disparate elements into an ethereal folk rock while her strong voice shakes listeners awake as she spins her passionate, dust-blasted tales. All these qualities can be heard on her upcoming EP, Omni Present and upcoming album Desert Car.
Sapphire’s life began in Eastern Pennsylvania where her household overflowed with eight home-schooled children. When she was 14, she was given a singing part in a Shakespeare production. “I had no idea I was even able to sing and then I found my purpose,” she explains. “My father, an antique dealer, had this really beat up guitar with one string. I would just play that one string and pretend I was shredding. Eventually, my dad helped me ad the other five. I started writing songs right away. By the time I was 17 I was gigging.”
Sapphire soon teamed up with two of her siblings to form Sisters3, finding regional success. Then her younger sister quit the group. For AC, it was devastating. She needed a change and knew just where to find it. For years, she had been selling pizza at music festivals around the country. “I worked for a company of outsiders, artists, and travelers,” she explains. “Every year after working at Coachella I would spend two weeks in Joshua Tree. I was entranced by the desert. I wanted to live there.” She followed that Siren’s song west to her new home. “I really feel like I came into my own there,” she says. “It was a sense that I was doing what I wanted with my life. The desert changed me. There’s mental clarity because you can see everything. There’s room. There’s space.”
This freedom and awe influenced songs like Omni Present’s “Desert Stars,” about the death of a friend and mourning the inability to share the marvels of the sandy wilds, and “Rock and Roll Van,” a more lighthearted fantasy about escaping the 110-degree heat via musical road trip. A different California landscape inspired Desert Car’s “Stick and Poke Tattoo,” a story of one of Sapphire’s real body decorations set against the backdrop of a brief affair with an Irish blacksmith and the crashing waves of the Big Sur coastline. “The Thrift Store Song” features Particle Kid and details what Sapphire describes as the best feeling in the world, “going to the thrift store and finding something that fits you perfectly.”
Despite her affinity for the arid expanse, Sapphire eventually decided to move on. These days she can be found in Portland, Oregon where she has put together a new band while also singing harmony and recording with Kyle Craft. She is preparing for a national tour in support of Omni Present.
Sapphire feels strongly about championing women in the music industry. She has volunteered as a vocal coach for the Portland Rock & Roll Camp for Girls and plans to raise money for the organization throughout her tour.