In a year that has included three Grammys, a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden, a new musical venture called The Highwomen and coproducing an album for country giant Tanya Tucker, Brandi Carlile was finally felled. By a kindergartner.
Her daughter, Evangeline, gave her laryngitis. She was on voice rest; couldn’t sing a note.
Still, Carlile took the stage at MoPOP Tuesday night to accept the museum’s 2019 Founder’s Award, established by the late Paul Allen to honor his musical heroes and support the museum’s educational programs.
“My voice is in shambles,” Carlile began. “I still wanted to speak, though, because this is such an honor for me. And just to bring this back to reality, I might be the only recipient of this award to have busked and asked for money outside the building.”
The crowd, which included Tucker, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, the Indigo Girls and Dave Matthews, laughed — and then cheered.
“I am a Seattle girl, through and through,” Carlile continued. “I learned everything I needed to know about life and music in this city. And this means everything to me.”
Carlile also acknowledged that, at 38, she felt a little young to be receiving such an honor. Indeed, previous recipients of the Founders Award include Ann & Nancy Wilson, Robbie Robertson, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Page, Joe Walsh, The Doors, and John Fogerty.
“I feel a little unworthy of it,” Carlile said. “I just want to be honest with you about that. A lot of people that are singing tonight are the people whose tour buses I waited outside of like a creep. Those people are my heroes, and they have given me a leg up, over and over and over again in the arts and in this business. Now I owe you all just one more favor.”
The musicians in the room seemed to wave her off, taking the stage to play her songs in her stead — and honor her skill as a songwriter.
The performances started with Carlile’s bandmates — her “brothers and comrades” — twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth, who took the stage to perform the title track of the band’s newest album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” and “The Eye.” Carlile watched from a front table, a smile on her face, an arm around her wife, Catherine’s, shoulder.
“We love that this is the Founder’s Award,” Tim Hanseroth told the crowd. “Because we’re so glad we found her.”
Amy Ray, who with childhood friend Emily Saliers formed The Indigo Girls, remembered meeting Carlile 14 years ago in a Decatur, Georgia bar called Eddie’s Attic.
“She sang a couple of songs and we were blown away,” Ray said. “Ever since we heard her sing, we knew she was magic.”
Carlile would go on to open for The Indigo Girls on tour, and she would often join them during their sets.
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam was joined by Molly Sides and Whitney Petty of Thunderpussy to perform “Whatever You Do,” after which McCready turned to his friend — and fellow Maple Valley landowner — to pay tribute.
“I’ve never known anyone who knows what she needs to do and does it with such love and integrity,” McCready said. “There’s no other artist that makes me cry continually. It’s you.”
Carlile’s activism was front and center when country legend Tucker — who, like Carlile, has been performing since she was a child — took the stage.
“She’s in touch with a lot of the issues I don’t know about,” Tucker said. “I play in Tucson, you know? But when I grow up, Brandi, I want to be just like you.”
After performing Carlile’s “That Wasn’t Me,” Tucker thanked Carlile and the Hanseroths for helping her with her comeback album, “While I’m Livin’,” for which she has been nominated for four 2020 Grammy awards, including Best Country Album and Best Country Song of the Year for “Bring My Flowers Now.” The song was written by Carlile, the Hanseroths and Tucker.
“I don’t know,” Tucker said. “Without the twins and Brandi, this song would have never happened. I had the bread but no meat. They put the meat in the middle.”
She removed her hat and performed the song to a rapt crowd, while Carlile watched, mouthing the words along with her.
The final performance was left to Dave Matthews (“Whoever organized the order, I want to find you and talk to you”), who remembered when a neighbor came back from a Carlile show and told him to listen to her songs.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is good music,’ ” Matthews said. “I had the same amount of excitement and intense jealousy.”
He performed “What Can I Say” and then recalled hearing her play on a side stage at The Gorge.
“I went up there on a golf cart,” Matthew remembered, then turned to Carlile: “I gotta tell you, from then until now, you have not ceased to amaze me. I look up to you so much as a songwriter. You are mind-blowing.”