Erin McKeown Bares All at Caffè Lena

Erin McKeown had confidence that seemed unshakable on the stage at Caffè Lena Thursday night, June 20. Erin began her set speaking about how she has to do a lot of self-work and self-building to get where she is. She spoke of how she had been outed at a young age, and her parents weren’t accepting of her lifestyle. It was a relief to hear that someone who was so strong could have moments of self-doubt.

“Sometimes,” she explained, “It is hard to look in the mirror and like what you see. Mirrors can break you back.” This led into her first song of the evening, “Mirrors Break Back,” off her album of the same name released in 2017. She changed her performance by treating the song as a poem, a spoken word piece. When she was finished, she was met with loud applause from the audience.

Erin performing a spoken word version of “Mirrors Break Back” at Caffè Lena on June 20.

The room was filled with joy, a crowd who could appreciate who Erin was and understand her background. Caffè Lena had given the LGBTQ community a safe space to listen to an out and proud lesbian performer and activist. Erin spoke openly about her life. She talked about the struggles she has had, and how she has overcome it.

Witty and charming, Erin stated that she felt like she should play songs for the Pride event that were gay, but then commented that all of her songs were. She did include an “especially gay set” for the crowd. These included songs like “Sugar in a Pie” and “Jenny.”

She also chose a song, “28,” which was about a particular time in her life – when she was 28. Erin relates it to the orbit of Saturn, which takes 28 years, and when it rolls around there is a time of upheaval and huge changes take place. “It’s not especially gay, but I am,” she said with a playful shrug as she began.

Erin switched to the piano to continue her set with the song “The Lions” which contains the lyrics, “There’s a risk, there’s a twist, to anything worth doing.” This seems to be a philosophy that Erin has carried with her through life. She has successfully produced the musical Miss You Like Hell which has won five Drama Desk awards and was named the “Best Musical of 2018” by Wall Street Journal. At the age of 40, Erin published a song book, Some of My Better Songs (But Not All of Them). She is currently working on another musical and perhaps a singer/songwriter record. Erin is someone who is constantly busy, and she seems to thrive when she has many creative endeavors going on at once. 

Erin does nothing by halves. In geographic areas where there has been tension about gay rights, Erin has chosen to not avoid them as some artists have, but has made it a point to play there. She wanted to see how things were on the ground level and encourage the people fighting the good fight. For them, she wrote the song “Queer Gospel” to encourage them to persist despite the difficulties they faced.

The audience gave Erin a standing ovation, and when she returned for her encore she chose to play a song that required audience participation. Together Erin and the audience sang “Where Did I Go” with the audience filling in the chorus and Erin singing the solo verses. The Caffè was filled with voices brought together to rejoice in who they were, in whom they had bravely chosen to be despite adversities. Hands clapped in unison. On a night when it was important to come together, Erin ended with the right song.

Caffe Lena will continue the pride series next month with a performance by Jonatha Brooke on  July 17th at 7 p.m. For tickets go here.

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