When I found out I was going to the Sara Bareilles concert at the Mann last Thursday, I reacted with the type of feverish panic that only female pop artists can awaken in me. I had never listened to her before. In fact, I kind of loathe her kind of pop-rock. Would I be smothered in the midst of a feel-good group hug during one of her ballads? Would I fall into a quiet coma during a set of whispered love songs, left to rot on the lawn amongst half-finished wine coolers? Or, worse … would I actually enjoy it?
Here are five things I learned at the show:
1. This chick has a serious following.
The majority of concert attendees were female, save for the occasional doting husband. The fans were all ages: a solid mix of 18 to 45 year olds, spread out on the Mann Center’s lawn. I spread my blanket out next to two girls in their mid-twenties, and a mother with her two college-aged daughters. Though my black leather Chuck Taylors felt conspicuous amongst the landscape of pastel sundresses, I did my best to disguise my false fandom, Googling Bareilles tracks on my iPhone so I knew what to expect. I leaned over to my boyfriend, who I lured there with the promise of free-flowing beer, and asked, “Do you know any of her songs?” Immediately, I felt 10 sets of eyes piercing me, dripping with scrutiny and disdain for my lack of Sara knowledge. When she finally took the stage, the screams were loud; the dedication was palpable.
2. Said following is not to be messed with.
Before the show started, I was in need of sustenance in the form of Little Baby’s ice cream. So I started stepping over limbs to head to the line of food trucks toward the side of the lawn. The lights were drawn, but I figured I had a few minutes before Sara would take the stage. Eyes on the frozen prize, I waited for a woman to move her purse from my path. “She’s about to start singing, you know,” she said, looking at me like I was selling designer drugs to the crowd. I almost marched back to my blanket, but I charged on despite her huffing and puffing. Unless this woman was going to tackle me into submission, I was getting that Bourbon Bourbon Vanilla. These fans were clearly serious.
3. She seems like a genuinely great person.
Before the show started, I noticed a group of people gathered in the middle of the lawn, all wearing the same t-shirts. The group turned out to be called “Team Charley,” gathered in support of Charlotte Grace, a baby girl who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. Charley’s mother is a huge fan of Bareilles, and friends were kind enough to relay Charley's story to the star. In support of Team Charley, Sara sent a personalized video to the family, singing her song, “Brave,” and expressing her support of the little girl’s journey. During Sara’s performance, she took time to say hello to the group, who stood near the stage holding a sign they had made. Her genuine concern with the family’s struggle, and the happiness it brought Charley’s friends and family was touching.
4. This girl can belt.
Though she didn't quite change my opinion about pop-rock, I actually enjoyed Bareilles’ piano-based sound, and dug the jazz and soul sounds that influenced her tracks. Her voice is undeniably great; it stands beautifully on its own without the interference of technology. Her lyrics, while girl power-y, are honest and vulnerable, and clearly speak to her intended audience. She danced and interacted with the crowd, belting out singles from her newest album (The Blessed Unrest) and some songs from past albums ("Love Song", "King of Anything.") She's a seasoned performer, and it showed.
5. The Mann is definitely the best concert venue in Philadelphia.
I won’t be bashful about my love for this venue. Whether bands perform on the main stage, or the Skyline Stage like Sara, the space itself never fails to disappoint. The sound is always incredible, the staff friendly, the city view unparalleled, the bar situation never too painful, and there’s the food trucks. The Mann had the power of making or breaking the show for me, and luckily it did the former. Seeing your all-time favorite band in a seedy basement-like bar is one thing; you’ll be too enthralled to feel the stickiness of the floor or care about the poor acoustics. If you’re an almost fan or the guest of a diehard, the venue matters. If Sara collapsed mid-ballad I may not have noticed, I was happily sprawled across my blanket without the lingering fear of hypodermic needles underneath, the city lights twinkling in the distance, the perfect summer breeze touching my shoulders. Final verdict: I would see just about anything at the Mann.