Benefit concert in Escondido brings cheer, Grammy Award nominees

Six-time Grammy Award nominee Brandy Clark's goal is the same whether she's performing in a sprawling arena like 14,000-capacity Valley View Casino Center, where she opened for Alan Jackson in 2013, or in an intimate venue like the 1,500-seat California Center for the Performing Arts  Escondido (CCAE).

"My job, every night, is to win as many people over as I can," Clark said, speaking by phone from her home in Nashville. On Tuesday, she earned two Grammy nominations for Best Country Solo Performance (for "Love Can Go to Hell") and Best County Album (for "Big Day in a Small Town").

Clark performs here Friday and Saturday at CCAE, where she is co-headlining the 27th annual Carols by Candlelight fundraising concert with BJ Thomas and Colin Raye. On Sunday she'll join Jackson Browne, North County native Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek and others at the 1,600-seat The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles to perform a Tribute to Linda Ronstadt on behalf of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. 

"There's something I love about an intimate venue," Clark said. "Because I feel I'm at my best when I make people feel like they are in my living room. The trick is how to make arenas feel like that. But I've seen a few artists - like Billy Joel and Adele - do it, for sure. They are very different sorts of performers, but they make those huge venues feel small, in the best way."

One of the few openly gay singer-songwriters to thrive in country music, Clark brings a keen observational eye to her songs. The impact of her lyrics is enhanced by her conversational, fuss-free vocal style.

Carols by Candlelight 27th anniversary concert

With: BJ Thomas, Brandy Clark, Colin Raye, Noah Guthrie, Eve Selis, Anna Vaus and Steve Vaus

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: California Center for the Arts, 340 North Escondido Blvd., Escondido

Tickets: $18-$67 (general public)

Phone: (800) 988-4253

Online: carolsbycandlelight.com

"There's an elegant succinctness to how Brandy delivers what she sings," said Dwight Yoakam, who duetted with Clark on her stirring ballad, "Hold My Hand," during the 2015 Grammy Awards telecast.

A Washington state native, Clark may be best known for writing or co-writing hit songs for Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, The Band Perry and Kacey Musgraves. But she shines brightest on her two acclaimed solo albums, 2013's "12 Stories" and this year's "Big Day in a Small Town."

Both feature songs that are earthy and eloquent. They paint vivid pictures of real people confronting the challenges, ironies and hypocrisy of everyday life. Her pithy song titles alone - "Take a Little Pill," "Hungover," "Drinkin', Smokin', Cheatin' " and "Love Can Go to Hell" - reflect her no-nonsense approach.

So do her "take-a-hike" lyrics to such songs as "Girl Next Door," which features the withering chorus: So, baby, if you want the girl next door / Then go next door and go right now / And don't look back, don't turn around / And don't call me when you get bored / Yeah, if you want the girl next door / Then go next door.

"I'm singing about the real stuff, maybe a little of the 'un-pretty' stuff," Clark, 41, said. "In fact, a songwriter I'm working with on a TV project recently said to me: 'You should name your next album, Brandy Clark Talking About Some People Going Through Some S---!' So, yeah, I feel a responsibility to tell those stories and be those voices.

"For me, most songs start with at least a grain of truth. Sometimes, it's my truth or somebody else's truth. But I like to tell other people's stories as much as I like to tell my own. And I still have people saying: 'Thanks for singing about the things you do because it makes me not feel so alone'." 

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