She’s the only artist to win four straight Grammys for Best Female Country Vocalist.
On Friday, Nov. 27, Mary Chapin Carpenter streams a special concert at Wolf Trap.
“I had started doing one song a week, posting it to social media,” Carpenter told WTOP. “After almost 50 episodes of doing that since March, the idea of doing a full concert … was pretty appealing. Wolf Trap, being my hometown stage, they were absolutely fantastic when we reached out to see if it was something we could do.”
Born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1958, Carpenter lived briefly in Japan with her parents before her family ultimately settled in Washington D.C.
“I was 15 years old when my family arrived in D.C.,” Carpenter said. “I’ve lived all around the Beltway and made my way around the Beltway over the years. It’s just been my home ever since I’ve been a teenager, so it really is my hometown in that regard.”
She began performing at Gallagher’s Pub, now Nanny O’Briens, in Cleveland Park.
“That was the first place I ever went to an open-mic on Sunday night,” Carpenter said. “It was really a great way to meet other musicians and work out the kinks of a song. One night, I just got brave and asked the owner if they would give me a job playing.”
She continued to play local clubs, particularly The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Somebody from Sony Music in Nashville was chatting with the owner of The Birchmere and he mentioned my name,” Carpenter said. “The next thing you know they were asking for a tape, then the next thing that happened, they gave me a record deal. I was about as shocked as a person could be.”
After her debut album, “Hometown Girl” (1987), she went gold with “State of the Heart” (1989) and platinum with “Shooting Straight in the Dark” (1990). The latter made her a household name with the Grammy-winning single “Down at the Twist and Shout.”
“In Bethesda, there was the Twist & Shout Club,” Carpenter said. “It was the VFW hall that a local promoter would rent out on the weekends. … You could go in, pay a couple of bucks and get your hand stamped. … I remember going to see the great, seminal cajun band BeauSoleil one weekend — and that’s where the song came from.”
Hence, the lyric: “I wanna dance with a band from Louisian’ tonight.”
Her fourth album, “Come On, Come On” (1992), went quadruple platinum, featuring such hits as “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and the Grammy-winning “I Feel Lucky.”
“That was a song I co-wrote with my pal Don Schlitz,” Carpenter said. “We were just sitting around one day, hanging out and playing music and trying to write songs seriously. … To this day, I can’t believe that it has led me to so many places, but it was just something we wrote for fun and it ended up being a commercial success.”
Her fifth album, “Stones in the Road” (1994), went double platinum, featuring another Grammy-winning hit with an iconic cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses.”
“I was on tour with her in Australia many years ago and that record was one of my favorite records of hers,” Carpenter said. “She’d play that song every night and every night I’d play along, sing harmonies and tell her how much I loved the song. One night, I think she just got tired of hearing it and she said, ‘Why don’t you just record it?'”
The following year, Carpenter added two more Grammys for Best Country Album with “Stones in the Road” (1995) and for the hit single “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”
“It was truly an honor to receive those awards, but I don’t think anybody starts out playing music or pursuing their passion with an eye toward winning awards. You just do it because you feel you have to. I’m honored and grateful those awards came my way … but in the end, it’s really about a connection with music and with people.”
Lucky for us, she’ll connect once more next week at Wolf Trap.
“It means a lot to me after all these years of playing Wolf Trap nearly every summer to be on that stage,” Carpenter said. “To do that on the weekend of Thanksgiving, it just felt like a way to feel a little closer to everybody.”