Brandi Carlile’s Second Annual Mothership Was a (Chosen) Family Reunion

Music Features Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile’s Second Annual Mothership Was a (Chosen) Family Reunion

They call themselves the Bramily, and they showed up in force on Miramar Beach, Florida, for Brandi Carlile’s Mothership festival last weekend. And while not everyone joining the kick-off beach bonfire or singing Saturday morning Brandi-oke were members of Carlile’s official fan club, it seemed like returning guests outnumbered newcomers for just the second year of the gathering.

Mothership is part of the Topeka lineup, a series of weekend music vacations on the same festival grounds on Florida’s panhandle, the brainchild of Andy Levine, founder of the Sixthman music cruises. Levine made the switch from musician to music manager in the 1990s Florida music scene before essentially inventing the music cruise in the early 2000s. The band he managed, Sister Hazel, headlined the first Rock Boat, alongside Edwin McCain, Pat McGee and Cowboy Mouth. Over the next two decades, Levine would oversee dozens of music cruises, including Cayamo, The KISS Kruise and the Mayercraft Carrier, eventually selling Sixthman to the Norwegian Cruise Line.

Now he’s created a similar concept for landlubbers, a destination festival complete with fishing outings or a pickleball tournament without the need for a passport or Dramamine. Attendees are allotted a personal “cove”—essentially a roped off spot on the field that they can decorate with flags or holiday lights and, most importantly, get to know their neighbors throughout the weekend. My wife and I had been on four of the Cayamo cruises featuring Carlile, and were familiar with the camaraderie among her fans. Mothership, with its group activities during the day and music at night, was a perfect fit.

But we were there mostly for the music, and the lineup was outstanding all three nights.

The Hanseroth Twins kicked it all off on Friday and had us speeding down from Atlanta to make sure we didn’t miss them. Tim and Phil Hanseroth make up two-thirds of the musical act known as Brandi Carlile, sharing in the songwriting duties, playing guitar and bass respectively and singing those angelic harmonies. Though they got their start in the Seattle grunge scene, their first single as a duo, the just-released “Remember Me” is a spare, folky ballad more reminiscent of the Everly Brothers than Mother Love Bone. After a handful of original songs from their forthcoming debut album, they closed their set with a lovely cover of Erasure’s “A Little Respect.”

The voices blended gorgeously as they do on so many Brandi Carlile songs, and the crowd was clearly relishing the chance to see them step into the spotlight on their own. “I haven’t been nervous on stage in 20 years,” Phil told me later. “I was nervous out there, but our fans are just the best.”

Black Pumas followed before Brandi Carlile came on for her first performance of the weekend. Drummer Victor Indrizzo was part of her live band for the first time since playing in the studio on her third album, Give Up the Ghost, and she used the opportunity to go deep into that album, playing songs she hadn’t played live in years. The members of Nickel Creek joined her on stage at one point for a rendition of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” She also covered Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” but the highlight of the night might have been her duet with her wife Catherine Shepherd on Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.”

Saturday was the only night Carlile didn’t perform, but Devon Gilfillian, Nickel Creek and Sara Bareilles made for a solid day two lineup. And she returned to the stage on Sunday, playing an acoustic set of (mostly) different songs, sandwiched between an up-and-coming favorite, S.G. Goodman, and a legend, Bonnie Raitt.

There’s been no announcement on a third year of Mothership, though I’d be surprised if Carlile (and most of the crowd) doesn’t return to Florida next year. But for those wanting a destination music festival experience, Topeka is hosting more events this fall: The Luke Combs Bootleggers Bonfire Oct. 10-12, the Moon Crush “Cowboy Moon” curated by Lyle Lovett Nov. 1-3 and the Moon Crush “An Avett Moon” featuring the Avett Brothers Nov. 8-10.

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