Herald Masthead

Bluegrass, country artist to perform at State Theatre

Al Kaufman Contributing Writer

The State Theatre will present an evening of bluegrass music Thursday night.

Iris DeMent will join Leo Kottke for a musical evening.

Dement said of all the things she has been called, she does not like to be called wholesome.

“People use ‘wholesome’ or ‘old-fashioned’ to describe me all the time and I don’t understand it,” she said. “I keep thinking they mean boring, but I guess they mean it in a good way and I try to take it that way.”

After listening to her voice warble and quiver over gospel-tinged country-folk songs about life in small town Kansas, it’s hard to think of her as anything else.

The cover of her latest album, The Way I Should, seems to portray a different looking DeMent. She said her anger manifests itself in songs such as “Wasteland of the Free,” a veritable laundry list of almost all our country’s societal problems.

“Not all the problems,” DeMent said. “I actually took a couple of verses out.”

Then there’s “Quality Time,” in which she discusses upwardly mobile parents who care more about their BMWs than their kids. DeMent said the songs are a natural progression for her.

“I’ve just started paying attention to these things more recently,” she said. “I’m always trying to write about things that affect me the most at that time.”

DeMent said she has always been a strong-willed person, unafraid to take on big issues. She said she left the church, which was the backbone of her family, when she was 16.

“I was always asking questions in Sunday school I shouldn’t have been asking, which in the church is a big problem,” she said. “But at the same time I really care about the people I disagree with. I’ve always cared about people’s feelings, but rare is the time when it keeps me from expressing my own feelings.”

DeMent began her music career when she was 25. She recorded Infamous Angel in ’92, and My Life a year later. Both albums met with critical praise but lackluster sales.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking when you work on something good and it falls through the cracks,” she said. “But what’s even more important to me is that the people who listen to my songs relate to them. We’ve all lost someone, or been in love, or been dumped on and felt like crap. The things I’m writing about are human experiences. We all have our own details, but the emotional experiences are similar.”

DeMent said there have been some special highlights in her career, including when country legend Merle Haggard co-wrote “This Kind of Happy” with her on The Way I Should.

“We were on a bus and he asked me if I had any songs he hadn’t heard,” she said. “I had this song half finished and he immediately wrote the chorus. I remember thinking, ‘Hey, I just wrote a song with Merle Haggard.’ I remember even asking him, ‘Hey, did we just write a song together?’ and he said ‘We sure did.’ I asked him, ‘Can I tell people we wrote a song together?’ and he said, ‘You sure can.'”