[Interview] Patty Griffin

Making music for many different reasons

Patty Griffin has one of the great voices in contemporary music. It can whisper and soar, it can climb and shout.

And it can inform.

In this election year, the popular singer-songwriter wants Americans – and women in particular – to speak at the polls. To that end, she is traveling with Sara Watkins and Anais Mitchell in the Use Your Voice tour. Griffin approached the League of Women Voters, the non-partisan organization that “encourages the active participation of citizens,” about a partnership in 2015 before the presidential campaign turned into the most bizarre in history.

“I read an article about women and voting in this country … and how single women are the majority of that group,” Griffin says. “And they are not coming out in numbers that they could be.

“I look at the troubles in our times and I wonder if women were using their voices more consistently and in larger numbers what changes might occur. I personally believe that nothing but positive changes would occur from that.”

Lest anyone think the night will be a lecture instead of a concert, remember that Griffin is a singer not a speaker, a songwriter not a speechwriter. At the same time, her mission is to observe the human condition. That means that her view can be mad, sad or glad depending upon what she sees.

“Songwriters are in a position to speak out about things. I don’t always set out to do that, but I’m glad when it works out that way,” says Griffin, who has written hit songs with personal, spiritual and political themes. The tunes are consistent in their quality, but she continues to dig deeper to explore universal experience.

She shares this particular experience with Watkins – of Nickel Creek fame – and Mitchell. Griffin realizes it’s unlikely the trio will transform the world 400 people at a time, but she believes this is how change begins.

“It would be great to kick off something on a larger scale,” she says. “That would be my dream, for a Lady Gaga to do a Use Your Voice tour, somebody who had a large effect especially on a younger audience.

“For now, the hope is to put a ripple in the water, do some consciousness-raising about participating in community things. I think that’s where it has a real impact.”

Griffin has an ally in Sue Hesselgesser, the executive director of the league’s Dayton branch. “We’ll have a table where we can register people to vote, update their registration and answer any questions.

But that accounts for only 50 percent of her excitement about the event.

“People think that we’re all little white-haired ladies, but we’re not,” Hesselgesser laughs. “We look forward to rockin’ out a bit. We’re just like everyone else.”

Everyone else might not be able to sing like Griffin, but when enough people raise their voices, each one can make a difference.

Patty Griffin and Scott Miller play 20th Century Theatre Sept. 25, 2019

Watch Patty Griffin sing “Truth #2”


Originally published in 2016

Each week, Bob Hust and Bill Thompson feature the best songs – old and new – from artists they have loved for many years and others they have just discovered. The best songs transport people to a time and place. That’s the foundation of BS&B.

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