Dead Heads, Parrotheads, Beliebers—if you get big enough, your fans name themselves. While followers of country-folk singer Brandi Carlile may not have a name as cool as fans of Jimmy Buffet—they call themselves AT'ers after the Carlile fan site againtoday.com—they are just as committed. Maybe even more so.
If you were at Carlile's Les Schwab Amphitheater show this past summer, chances are you were hit up by someone soliciting your email address for the singer's Looking Out Foundation. That person would have been wearing a t-shirt reading "Brandi Carlile Street Team" and brandishing an iPad. Brace yourself—it's going to happen again when Carlile returns to Bend for a double feature concert at the Tower Theatre Dec. 7.
These people don't tour with Carlile. They don't even work for her foundation. They are just part of the improbable legions of people in American cities big and small who love the diminutive and feisty version of Patsy Cline as well as the vintage country sound her band mates often employ. And they're at the ready to champion Carlile's foundation when she comes to town. It could be without equal for a fan base. They've all got their reasons—believe me—and they congregate online at againtoday.com to talk about them.
Founded by uber-fans Holly Zipperer and Roberta Goschler, and named after a Carlile song, Again Today is the place for gushing about the singer. Many people are daily visitors who share videos, exchange tickets and generally just go gaga over her. It's also where the street teams get organized.
I reached out to local fan Lisa Baker—whom I knew was one of those iPad toting street teamers this summer—for some insight into the whole modus operandi.
"We submit a little form on Again Today with why you want to [volunteer] and which shows you're available for," said Baker. "If you're picked, the tour manager contacts you and you meet up before the show. They give you an iPad and special T-shirts. Then you start collecting email address for Looking Out."
Based on what Baker had to tell me, as well as Again Today's annual Raise the Roof fundraiser to support LOF, it's obvious fans believe in what Carlile is doing.
"Looking Out started as a charity focused on the environment," said Baker. "But since then Brandi has used it to support women, with self-defense classes, and to help feed the poor. She has a very good heart."
And, as far as what the LOF does with all those email addresses once the street team gets them, Baker says don't worry—you won't be bombarded. In fact, you will only get about one email a month letting you know about upcoming fundraisers and the kind of impact the foundation is having on people in need.
Baker also sent an all-hands-on-deck email to other AT'ers asking them if they had more insight for me. Within minutes, my inbox was flooded with replies—people really wanted to talk about Carlile. But one in particular caught my eye. It was a response from Heather Knight in Portland.
At Carlile's last show in Bend, the singer paused for a moment and made a special dedication to a fan seeing her 50th show. That person was Knight. This was definitely the fan I wanted to talk to.
"I was a street team member at the show in Jacksonville, Oregon, this past August," wrote Knight. "People were interested in what we had to say about the Looking Out Foundation. A lot of people wanted to know if we were touring with the band, so finally I just gave in and would say, 'Yeah tomorrow we are playing in Bend then we have a break before we head out on our fall tour.' A lot of people also wanted to know if we could get them backstage—Um no!"
And, like Baker, Knight is a big AT'er, too.
"I've been a member of Again Today since late 2007," said Knight. "In the early years, I posted daily and actively participated in many great discussions and concert reviews. I met a lot of amazing people in those first few years that I still consider to be good friends."
Trying to play down her involvement with AT these days, Knight said travel has cut down on the time she spends on the site. She claims she only checks the site a few times a week. Clearly, once a fan is hooked they're hooked, even if life does get busier.
For all the fans I talked to, the stories of how they get hooked are all very similar. They almost always start with their first Carlile concert. I can relate—even I still remember my first Carlile show.
It was in 2007 at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland and it was a fantastic show. It included a very special moment when Carlile's attentive fans followed her instructions to stay quiet while she and the band sang a beautiful a capella song without microphones. Three more Carlile concerts since and at each one I can always feel love oozing from the crowd for Carlile.
Fans' participation on AT, as well as with the street teams, is proof that their admiration for the singer translates into a whole lot more action than just buying concert tickets. Carlile's music and humbleness gets to them and they want to help her help others because of it.
It's not lost on her either. Carlile often appears overwhelmed on stage by the reactions of the crowd, and she just can't thank them enough. There is a real connection.
So don't be surprised if you happen to be passing by the Tower Theatre during the next First Friday Art Walk and someone asks you for your email address. There will be a good reason for it. And don't worry. While that person will indeed be a fanatic, they'll be the best kind—a Brandi Carlile fan.
6 p.m. & 9:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7
835 NW Wall St.
Tickets at www.towertheatre.org