Photography by Kendall Wilson
‘Why don’t I like sweaty men?’ ponders Melissa Carper on her song 'Pray The Gay Away'.
It was an apt question for her set on the opening day of Black Deer Festival, where she was accompanied by co-writer Brennen Leigh on guitar and the mercury hit almost 30 degrees, producing a tent full of damp chaps practically pouring with the stuff.
As the hilarious tune goes, no amount of praying will stop Carper from waking up gay, but it turns out that she and the dripping fans who filled her set to the rafters still hold each other in great affection anyway.
Melissa, of course, was unperturbed by the swelter, commanding the room and her upright bass in boots, full length trousers, shirt, waistcoat and full brimmed hat, perhaps explained by her fellow Arkansas native Willi Carlile’s admission earlier in the day that “this is Arkansas March weather”.
In an hour long, 14-song set that covered songs from 2015’s Arkansas Bound, 2021’s Daddy’s Country Gold and 2022’s Ramblin Soul, Carper and Leigh mesmerised. Despite their insistence that they have no time to practice, you’d never know it; if the quality of their set is the measure of success, then they never need to.
When listening to a Melissa Carper record, it’s natural to assume that her voice, which sounds like it’s being wired (streamed seems too modern a word to describe it) through an old gramophone, has had a muffle or some kind of coat placed upon it during production.
Her live performances cast aside any such thoughts, her voice as thick and sweet as ever. Talking to her afterwards at the side of the stage, where she manned the card machine for her merch and chatted to an endless line of fans, she speaks as she sings, her fierce blue eyes as mesmeric as her honey tongue.
Photography by Kendall Wilson
That voice could easily fill a set with sweet and simple love songs to leave even the most hardened fans puttied, but Carper doesn’t rest on it; her songs remain interesting, funny and satirical as always.
She draws laughs on tunes like 'Would You Like To Get Some Goats?' (complete with bleats), toe taps on 'Boxers on Backwards' and 'Texas, Texas, Texas' and quizzical brows on Don’t Let The Aliens Take Him Away (“they finally told us aliens are real; of course we already knew that”), where Leigh’s incredible picking turns her guitar into an extra terrestrial sound machine.
It’s quite something to make a hilariously queasy line like “when she starts ovulating I will start the turkey basting” sound sweet, but she manages it on closer 'Christian Girlfriend', where she recalls “I told my sister I was looking at Luke, I was looking at Daisy Duke”.
That’s the power of Carper and Leigh; they’re just too magical to manage anything other than pure old-time charm.
Melissa Carper - Setlist
Taken from her set at Black Deer Festival on Friday, June 16, 2023 at Eridge Park, Kent.
For more coverage of Black Deer Festival 2023, see below: