SCENES FROM THE SECOND PARISH: Sinners, Saints, and Fools

SCENES FROM THE SECOND PARISH: Sinners, Saints, and Fools
"A Court Jester,' by Attilio Simonetti, circa 1890-1900. Courtesy the Smithsonian Institute's Cooper Hewitt collection, via Smithsonian Open Access.

Let 'em laugh while they can
Let 'em spin, let 'em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I've seen how it ends
And the joke's on them

-- Brandi Carlile, "The Joke."

Last Friday night, I was in Boston at the TD Garden to see Brandi Carlile.

Over the last 25 years, I've gone to more concerts than I can honestly remember. At the height of it, I probably went into Boston and Cambridge two-to-three times a week to see bands and musicians you've probably heard of, and many more you probably haven't. It was altogether a good time, even though my ears are perpetually ringing these days and the idea of seeing a headliner at midnight or later is really less appealing than it used to be.

I went with an old friend of mine, a friend who was my co-pilot for dozens of those concerts over the years. I've always enjoyed Brandi Carlile, but she is a much bigger fan and wanted someone to go with her, so it's the least I could do. It was a nice day and felt a lot like reliving my early 20s - wandering the city, meeting people for dinner, hitting a rock show, getting home way past my bedtime. We wandered the North End, spent some time at the Copp's Hill Burial Ground, saw the Spite House, and detoured through the Boston Public Market - more on that last one in a minute.

Brandi Carlile was outstanding. I didn't go in with low expectations - after all, someone doesn't get to headline the Garden without having some chops - but she was just great for two hours. The band was tight, she tore through songs from one album after another with a professionalism and a sense of wonder that I hadn't seen in years. If she wasn't sincere in her astonishment that she was performing in a sports stadium, she is perhaps the best actress in the world.

One thing I appreciated the most about the concert, however, was her desire to bring people along for the ride. Her opener was Brittany Howard, perhaps better known to some as the lead singer of Alabama Shakes, and she set the bar extremely high with her vocals. Carlile later brought out guitarist Celisse, who tore it up on a handful of covers, and invited Allison Russell (who had one of my favorite albums last year in Outside Child) and her banjo out for a song during the encore. Carlile more recently made waves for orchestrating a surprise appearance by the legendary Joni Mitchell at the Newport Folk Festival this past summer, and the theme with Carlile for the last decade has really been about what she is doing to leave the roots/folk music community in a better place than how she found it.

It's been a slow couple weeks at the Tribune. Starting up a media venture, even a small local outfit, isn't easy, especially with competing responsibilities (and, well, rock shows). I was catching up on meetings this week, however, and it feels a little stark. Stark in a way I didn't anticipate, and stark in a way that contrasted with the Brandi Carlile method of existing in the world.

For example: I had every intention of doing a recap on this week's Planning Board meeting. After all, the Wonderland Cannabis Company opening is a pretty significant story in and of itself. I don't know if anyone tried to watch it, but... don't. Just don't do it. It's difficult for me to say this, but it is not worth your time unless you have seasonal depression to wallow in. There are a couple people on the Board that understand the situation in play - this is simply a tenant in a building with some additional rules from the state level - and a few who emphatically do not, as they ask for random and arbitrary changes to the entire site (that would impact all the businesses at the plot and require additional expenditures from the property owners) and go off on all sorts of irrelevant tangents. Combine that with the need for petitioners to grovel in front of the Board because certain documents didn't make it into their inbox by a time of day with no relationship to how projects are designed and applied for. It's just gross.

I know I'm not making any friends over at the Planning Board. God help me if I ever need to get anything I'm working on approved by them, I guess, but we're beyond the point of embarassment and we've moved fully into something much worse. Suffering through that meeting mere days after a lovely experience with Brandi Carlile only brought it into focus. A woman who uses the strength of her career not for some arbitrary goals, but to lift up everyone else with her and make the musical landscape a better place.

Let's be real, real direct here: what is the Planning Board improving at this point? It's certainly not the town they serve, given how they treat anyone unlucky enough to end up in front of them. Their "we're going to enorce the zoning laws without waivers (except when we think it's worth utilizing the waivers) (even though zoning laws allow for waivers) (even though the zoning laws are ancient and don't account for a lot of modern changes)" position is doesn't improve the town. Complaining about green spaces and concrete slabs doesn't improve the town. Arguing over whether someone uses a mesh cyclone fence or a gated vehicle fence for a marijuana dispensary definitely doesn't improve the town.

Our Planning Board doesn't improve the town.

I don't know what it's ultimately going to take to get the change we need - you would think after how much the Planning Board utterly fumbled the Rice Road project that we as a community would have woken up, or at least a couple members of the Planning Board would have had the dignity to save face and resign after such an epic failure. Since the most problematic members fail to understand the gravity of their incompetence, however, it leaves it to the rest of us.

The type of fundamental shift in approach to how we get members onto the Planning Board is unlikely to ever get through Town Meeting in any form. This means that, until then, we're stuck with a lot of really underqualified, unrepresentative members of one of the most critical institutions in municipal government, and it's a damn shame. Let's just hope they don't get an opportunity to screw up something extremely important along the way.

Jeff Raymond is a nearly 40-year resident of Millbury. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @jeffinmillbury.