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Lucinda Williams to headline EarleFest at SOMO Village

EARLEFEST

Who: Lucinda Williams with The Mavericks, The Paladins and others

What: A benefit for the Earle Baum Center

When: 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 17

Where: SOMO Village Event Center, 1100 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park

Tickets: $55

Information: 707-664-6314, somoconcerts.com

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VIDEO

- “Ghosts of Highway 20”

- “If My Love Could Kill”

- “Joy”

Known for attracting top-notch talent, Saturday’s EarleFest will be headlined by Lucinda Williams, who is adored by fans and critics alike.

For the first time, the festival that raises money for Santa Rosa’s Earle Baum Center will be held at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park. The center serves people with sight loss.

Williams is the daughter of the poet Miller Williams, who died last year on New Year’s Day, and is known for her incisive songwriting. Her music is hard to categorize - some call it Americana or alt-country - and her songs have been widely covered. Mary Chapin Carpenter made “Passionate Kisses” a mega-hit, but Williams won her first Grammy in 1994 for writing it.

Williams’ breakthrough came in 1998 with “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” Her latest collection, this year’s “The Ghosts of Highway 20,” stands among her best work.

The seven-minute title track is a panoramic view of the roadway’s “run-down motels, faded billboards, used cars for sale (and) rusty junkyards” and the memories these sights conjure. The highway - which runs through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia - has been “a map of my life in a lot of ways,” Williams says.

A literary sensibility informs such songs as “If My Love Could Kill” about Alzheimer’s, which consumed her father’s “beautiful mind.”

“Slayer of wonder, slayer of words, murderer of poets, murderer of songs,” she sings about the disease, “Who robbed me of your memory, robbed me of your time.”

Though her lyrics are powerful, Williams’ voice - unvarnished, yearning and heartrending - joins with the accomplished musicians who play on the album, including guitarist Bill Frisell, to give “Ghosts” a haunting, ethereal tone.

Williams spoke by phone in late August while on tour near Kansas City. Discussing memories conjured by Highway 20, the Louisiana-born musician said, “I need to visit my mother’s grave in Monroe, (Louisiana),” which is located along the roadway.

“Long story short,” she said, her mother “ended up being buried in her family’s plot in Monroe, which was not where she wanted to be. … I was so upset I didn’t even go to the funeral, so of course I’ve been dealing with that guilt ever since.”

As in many of her songs, Williams’ confession is heartfelt, genuine and so deep it’s startling. Her honesty is among the reasons she’s beloved by her legions of fans.

In the interview, Williams, 63, shared her thoughts on topics ranging from the ghosts that inhabit the South to fans and critics who wanted more of the same after “Car Wheels.” Here are the highlights.

On confessional songs: It’s self-expression, which is what art is meant to be. I do it for myself first to deal with the pain.

It’s very cathartic and therapeutic, so it starts there and then comes out in the song and goes out to other people. I just never felt self-conscious about doing that, maybe because I grew up around poets and writers.

On her father’s influence: My dad’s writing really influenced me. I’m realizing that more and more the older I get, now that he’s gone. I’ve turned two of his poems into songs, which was very challenging.

Now I’m excited because I feel like, wow, this is a whole new thing here. But making a poem into a song really does show you the difference between poems and songs.

On expectations: I had just come out of the success of “Car Wheels” and (the next album) “Essence” ended up being a whole different thing. I gave myself permission to come up with songs like “Are You Down.” At first I thought, I can’t put this out. It doesn’t have all of that lyrical intensity that people are used to, like “Lake Charles” and “Drunken Angel.”

The only way to deal with (expectations) is just do what you’re good at and do it well. You can still be yourself. I saw the reviews and some of the fans’ responses; it was sort of a bumpy road to go through and get past.

At some point my fans just went, “OK, I get it, this is who she is. She’s going to do this and she’s going to do that, but it’s still her.” I’ve grown to the point where this is a good place to be. I am who I am. Oh God, I just quoted Popeye!

On “The Ghosts of Highway 20”: What I’ve realized is that this song is like the song “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” part two.

I’m kind of looking at the same thing, but in “Car Wheels” I’m the child in the back seat and my parents are in the front seat driving. I hear the low rumble of their conversation, and I’m describing all these things.

In “Ghosts of Highway 20,” I’m older. Now I’m an adult, and I’m driving, thinking of the losses.

On change and loss: The ghosts are just part of my childhood, kind of like the spirits of my memory. You could say it literally, like my mother is buried in Monroe, and she’s gone now. But also just losing your childhood, that kind of loss, too.

You could also point to the Delta blues artists I grew up listening to and loved and who inspired me and influenced my music so much, who are from that area and buried around there. And the loss and change in the South.

On covering Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Factory”: I worked that song up during the Occupy Wall Street movement. My husband, Tom Overby, came up with the idea of putting together a group of songs as a tribute to the workers and the working class.

“Factory” is not one of Bruce’s more well-known songs, but I just loved it. I loved the simplicity of it, what it said, the lines in it and the melody. There’s that line, “Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes.”

And Tom said, “I’ve seen those men. My dad was one of those guys, and he got out.” He worked at Hormel Foods’ factory in Austin, Minnesota.

On authenticity: My dad used to always say, “Never censor yourself.” I’ve always been somewhat of a rebel; it’s kind of in my blood. I like to push people’s buttons a little bit. I want people to be moved.

Michael Shapiro is the author of “A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration.” He writes about travel and entertainment for national magazines and The Press Democrat.

EARLEFEST

Who: Lucinda Williams with The Mavericks, The Paladins and others

What: A benefit for the Earle Baum Center

When: 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 17

Where: SOMO Village Event Center, 1100 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park

Tickets: $55

Information: 707-664-6314, somoconcerts.com

___

VIDEO

- “Ghosts of Highway 20”

- “If My Love Could Kill”

- “Joy”

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