Proud ‘Carter Girl’ lifts her voice in Port Angeles

Juan de Fuca Foundation concert Saturday

Carlene Carter

Carlene Carter

PORT ANGELES — At this point in her life, Carlene Carter is feeling good and strong.

“We make a lot of noise, my two guys and I: a joyful noise. I get very personal. I tell lots of stories, and I always fly by the seat of my pants,” the singer-songwriter said of her concerts, one of which will happen at the Performing Arts Center at Port Angeles High School this Saturday night.

Maybelle Carter

Maybelle Carter

Carter, 64, is a member of country music’s first family: the grandchild of “Mother” Maybelle Carter (1909-1978) and daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter Cash, she had Johnny Cash as a stepdad. And while she considers it her responsibility to carry on her kin’s legacy — hence her 2014 album “Carter Girl” — the artist has additional plans.

“Some have said I was too rock for country or too country for rock. So I said, ‘Why can’t I just be rock and country?’ Eventually they came around to my way of thinking,” Carter added.

As she prepares to release a new album, she’s touring the United States this winter into spring. Saturday’s show, with her band featuring multi-instrumentalists Chris Casello and Al Hill, is a Juan de Fuca Foundation season concert to start at 7 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center, 304 E. Park Ave.

Advance tickets start at $18 for adults while youngsters 14 and under get in for $10; outlets include www.JFFA.org and Port Book and News in Port Angeles. Information awaits at www.JFFA.org and 360-457-5411. If still available, tickets will be $5 more at the door on concert night.

Like a thread interwoven, Carter’s thoughts on her family’s history run through Ken Burns’ “Country Music” documentary. The series, released on PBS last September, was a welcome walk through her memories.

Watching it, “I cried several times. It was beautiful,” Carter said.

Steve Gilchrist of Sequim also savored “Country Music,” having been a devoted fan of honky-tonk, Western swing and barroom ballads — including those penned by Carter.

“I first heard of Carlene Carter as a co-writer of the song ‘Easy from Now On’ by Emmylou Harris,” Gilchrist recalled.

“I was also familiar with an energetic rockabilly song she recorded in 1990, ‘I Fell in Love,’ ” but it wasn’t until he saw Burns’ documentary that he realized Carter’s family roots.

Kayla Oakes, executive director of the Juan de Fuca Foundation, likewise marvels at how Carter grew up steeped in the real thing.

“In her family, you learned how to play the guitar and sing. That was the culture and expectation,” Oakes said, adding that every family has their traditions: In hers, she quipped, it’s cribbage and skiing.

“The fascinating thing about Carlene Carter,” Oakes said, “is how she used her traditional country music influence to cross musical genres into rock and pop,” and make her own mark.

Album and song titles tell a story: Carter put out “Two Sides to Every Woman” in 1979, “Little Love Letters” and “Little Acts of Treason” in 1993 and 1995 respectively, and “Stronger” in 2008. Come 2016 she teamed with John Mellencamp on the “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies” album, debuting its songs “Indigo Sunset” and “My Soul’s Got Wings” on their concert tour.

These days the woman is busy, whether at home in Madison, Tenn., or on the road: In the fall she hosts a songwriters’ get-together at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe called “The Wonderful World of Women Who Write.” Turns out “there are just as many women songwriters as there are men,” she said.

Carter lived in California for many years, and finds herself happier in Tennessee, “back with my peers,” she said. At the Bluebird, “We have a big ol’ hen party.”

Carter has also performed on the Outlaw Country Cruise across the Caribbean Sea and traveled with Mellencamp as part of his “Plain Spoken” tour.

“I have a lot of joyful things in my life,” she said.

“I have two hands full of incredible women friends, women I’ve known most of my life. We have a tribe. We have each other’s backs,” just as her matriarchal family did when she was growing up. Carter’s was a clan of sisters, aunts and grandmas, and when living out West, “I missed it so much.”

“You have to take care of those relationships,” she said.

Now living a mile from the place where she was born, Carter also revels in the Nashville music scene, where she can find good stuff any night of the week.

As for her own gigs, including Saturday’s, they’re “a conglomeration of everything I’ve ever done,” including rock ’n’ roll with her beloved electric guitar.

“Before every show, I say a prayer,” for God to fill her with his light so that she can give her audience what they need on this particular night. Just before going out on stage, she finishes with “and please let me rock like hell.”

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