Tift Merritt

Fri. Aug. 22

The Windjammer

Charleston’s bar crowd can be a real sucker punch to the sensitive, singer-songwriter ego.

In most Lowcountry saloons, by the time a headliner gets onstage, they’re joining a marathon where everyone else already galloped ahead to the finish line, doubled back, and began running again, drinks still in hand. Arriving as a latecomer to the field, the artist trying to connect with an audience faces a brutal three-legged race just to catch up.

Tift Merritt and her band came onstage after 11 p.m., and the party crowd was fully deployed: “girl’s night out” booze-ups, one bachelor party, and assorted outdoor-voiced revelers. She started strong with a pair of rockers back-to-back.

Someone called out a request (was it “Freebird?”). We couldn’t hear the request, but Merritt did, and replied with a rueful smile, “You’re at the wrong concert.” Just as she plunged into the next number, another hard rocker, she left us thinking, “concert?”

Merritt said her mom had mentioned she might find “some cousins down here.” Merritt asked those cousins to gather in and imagine themselves in a living room — i.e. crank it down a few notches for the quiet ballad she was going to play for them.

She and her band did a beautiful job on “Supposed To Make You Happy,” from her album Bramble Rose. The tight, lilting harmonies were barely audible above the vocal minority’s indifference.

Merritt ripped into the next three songs without any banter, singing loud, tight-lipped, and unsmiling. We felt for her.

She attempted once more to win over the crowd. While her drummer replaced a snare drum head, she strode off the stage, guitar in hand, clambered up on the bar in her three inch heels and offered up a soulful tune a capella. The stunt did manage to get her breathing space: just Merritt’s voice and the air conditioner whirring at the edges of her song. But it didn’t stick. It was painful to see a talent so badly misjudge the crowd. Damn shame, too. —Jon Santiago