In the 1960s, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins set the standard as a first generation of high-profile female folksinger/songwriters. A half-century later, we are enjoying their musical offspring, a rich roster of talented women, from veterans like Shawn Colvin, Iris DeMent and Gillian Welch, to recent standouts including Rhiannon Giddens, Aoife O’Donovan, Ruth Moody and Sarah Jarosz.
Three of the best — Patty Griffin, Sara Watkins and Anaïs Mitchell — will perform together next Thursday at the Uptown Theatre in Napa.
It’s been said that Patty Griffin is a singer/songwriter for grownups, an artist who navigates close to the bone in her spare expression of emotional realism. With 12 albums in her catalog, she is a Grammy winner and has been awarded both Album of the Year and Artist of the Year by the Americana Music Association. Her most recent studio effort is 2015’s “Servant of Love.”
Anaïs Mitchell is a widely acclaimed folk balladeer whose career was propelled by Ani DiFranco’s indie enterprise, Righteous Babe Records. A Vermonter from a literary family, Mitchell’s original work has been described as Irish-rooted, earthen and ethereal. Of her six albums, the most widely praised is “Hadestown,” released in 2010 as a concept record. It will be staged off-Broadway as a folk opera this May by New York Theater Workshop.
Most fans know Sara Watkins as a founding and continuing member of Nickel Creek, the progressive bluegrass trio that includes her brother Sean and the ubiquitous Chris Thile. A singer and multi-instrumentalist, her main”ax” is the fiddle. She is a six-time Grammy nominee with Nickel Creek, the group that won for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 2002. As a solo artist, she has released two albums. The most recent is 2012’s “Sun Midnight Sun” on Nonesuch Records.
On the phone from State College, Pennsylvania, last week, Watkins talked about the structure of the show with Griffin and Mitchell. “It’s a songwriters-in-the-round kind of program,” Watkins said, “a few songwriters on stage, you just take turns playing songs. We got together in November to work some of each other’s material up, and five weeks in we’ve developed quite a repertoire that we can draw on.
“There’s a bunch of instruments onstage. We take turns in different stations and accompany each other and get to sing on each other’s songs. We have not been using a set list, so we just play it by ear as far as what the next song is going to be. That has really added to the fun of the night for us.”
Watkins was effusive about the talents of Griffin and Mitchell. “Patty’s songwriting is very special,” she said. “She has this beautiful way of writing lyrics that makes it feel like they just fell out of her. There’s a natural spoken-word kind of quality to her phrases. It’s very, very hard to do, especially to do that and to have so many great songs.
“I’ve been a fan of Anaïs for a long time as well. She’s well known for ‘Hadestown.’ I became aware of her during her ‘Young Man in America’ album. Her lyrics are very, very special. I think she is one to watch, how her catalog develops. It’s already so beautiful, I can’t wait to have 10 more albums from her.”
Asked about the emergence of female talent in the world of folk music, Watkins was circumspect. “Maybe it’s been a little male heavy in the past and now it’s evening out a little bit,” she said. “There’s a lot of male and female folk music happening. There are a lot of great lyricists out there. It’s been fun to see a bunch of my friends develop into these beautiful craftspeople.”
Thursday, March 31, 8 p.m. $40-$70. Uptown Theatre, 1350 Third St., Napa. 707-259-0123. UptownTheatreNapa.com.
Zak Fennie Saturday at Melted
Napa solo artist Zak Fennie will be celebrating the release of his debut single, “It Gets Better,” with a live performance this Saturday evening, March 26. Local singer/songwriter Ari Eisenberg and touring pianist and singer Francesca Bavaro will open the show. 7:30 p.m. $10 (includes download of Fennie’s new single). Melted Napa Valley, 966 Pearl St, Napa.