Lesbian folksinger Catie Curtis cruises her “Stretch Limousine on Fire” into Atlanta in May to treat fans to two nights of her signature acoustic guitar and introspective, often inspiring lyrics.
“Stretch Limousine,” the rollicking title song from Curtis’ 11th studio album, released in August, uses dark humor to echo the theme that money doesn’t buy happiness, and to relish a little in the fact that “Trouble comes to everyone no matter how much you can buy.”
The new album features a style that is a bit more raw than previous efforts, but will still be familiar to longtime fans. Curtis will perform songs from the new CD and earlier albums May 8 at Eddie’s Attic, the iconic Decatur acoustic venue, then follow with a show the next night at Duluth’s Red Clay Theatre, the new venue managed by Eddie’s founder Eddie Owen.
“Eddie’s Attic is the most venerated place,” Curtis says in an interview from her New England home. “When you stand on that stage, you feel the energy of all the people who stood there before. And Eddie is involved in Red Clay Theatre, so I know it will be good.”
Mom to two daughters, ages 7 and 9, with her partner, Curtis says she now tries to go home a lot between shows, so her upcoming week of Southeast dates “is the big event of May.”
“Basically it is increasingly difficult to be away from the kids because I am recognizing that the window of time when they actually want to be with me is diminishing, and I don’t want to miss it,” she says.
That wistfulness infuses “Let It Last,” another stand-out track from the new CD. Curtis says fans who turn out for her Georgia shows can also expect older favorites including “Radical,” a somewhat anti-anthem about being gay (“I’m not being radical when I kiss you / I don’t love you to make a point”); the sweetly sentimental “Dad’s Yard,” and the achingly beautiful love song “Magnolia Street.”
One song she won’t perform? “Silhouette,” from the 1999 album “Truth From Lies.”
“I don’t play it because one time someone told me they thought it was ‘Celibate,’ and when you put the word in place of ‘Silhouette,’ it’s so embarrassing I can’t even sing it anymore,” she laughs.
She’ll share the stage at the upcoming shows with Jenna Lindbo, who will play with Curtis and perform a few of her own songs, as well as opening act Carsie Blanton.
And while she won’t be there to perform with Curtis, Atlanta fans will also hear indirectly from a long-lost favorite of the Atlanta music scene — Kristen Hall.
The former Atlanta resident, who is also gay, became a household name in the local acoustic scene and also found success writing songs for national artists. She then formed country band Sugarland with fellow Atlanta musician Kristian Bush, with another local music veteran, Jennifer Nettles, chosen as lead singer.
The three put out the band’s breakthrough album and toured together, but Hall left Sugarland in 2006 and later sued, arguing that she was owed a share of profits. The case ended in a sealed settlement, and while Sugarland’s success has only grown, Hall has kept a low profile since then.
Hall is now living in New England, and Curtis says the two are collaborating on songwriting.
“I’ll be playing two songs that we wrote together,” Curtis says.
‘Voices United’ and a uniting voice
Curtis is also busy planning Voices United, a series of house concerts in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia set for Sept. 28-30. The shows, which will feature different performers around the country, benefit Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a cause close to Curtis’ heart.
“It’s really important to me because I feel like the religious right is trying to assert itself as very mainstream, as though it is the religion of the state, and there is no religion of the state,” Curtis says, listing issues such as marriage equality, reproductive rights and teaching creationism in schools. Her career as a touring musician makes her “uniquely prepared” to plan the shows, Curtis says.
“All I have done the last 28 years is travel the country and meet people who would play and host house concerts — people who love to play, and people who love music. Trying to match them up has been really fun.
“I’ve always wanted to be a matchmaker,” she jokes. “My partner says, you are like a political Yenta now.”
Curtis also enjoys using her voice to unite real couples who are already matched. In addition to performing at weddings, she now also officiates them.
“It is really powerful to be able to marry same-sex couples in places where it is legal, and I do them also where it not legal, as the spiritual piece is equally important,” she says.
She decided to become an officiant after attending a couple of weddings “where the person asked to perform the ceremony felt like someone’s friend who had never gotten in front of people before.”
Curtis usually also sings at the weddings, and while she confesses that it sometimes feels “hokey” to strap on the guitar along with her robe, officiating weddings is actually “very similar to what I do as a performer.”
“I welcome people and invite them into this experience that is kind of personal, and in some cases I have a history with the couple, where they have listened to my music for years or went to one of my shows on their first date,” she says.
Unlike some singers who came out after building a fan base, Curtis says she never tried to hide her identity. Though for many casual fans, “lesbian” and “folksinger” seem almost synonymous these days, in the 1980s Curtis felt there was a “huge divide” between “women’s music” — “which was lesbian music, basically,” she says — and the more mainstream folk scene populated by singers like Patty Larkin and Cheryl Wheeler (both are openly gay now).
“There’s not that kind of divide anymore,” says Curtis, who never gave in to the schism in her own life.
“The stories I want to tell are all tied up in who I am as a person,” she explains, “so I can’t really separate that and never could see a way to separate it.”
Top photo: Lesbian folksinger Catie Curtis plays two shows in Atlanta next week. (by Joseph Anthony Baker)