A Crooked Mile

Sometimes an album comes out and its songs seem to hit you right where you are in that moment. It feels like the artist is singing to you and only you. Or that the universe sent this music to you to teach, inspire, or comfort you. This happened to me in 1997 with Kim Richey’s second album, Bitter Sweet.

When the album came out that Spring, I was just a few months out of a 3-year relationship. I related to the songs about heartbreak, loss, and regret.

There goes my whole word up in smoke.
(“My Whole World”)

I like to think nobody knows what’s goin’ on inside
You like to say it didn’t mean a thing or hurt to say goodbye
(“To Tell The Truth”)

Then, that summer, when I met my future husband Danny, I clung to the lyrics about longing, hope, and love.

When the day comes that I don’t love you
Every star will fall out of the sky
And every mountain will tumble down
And every river run dry
(“Every River”)

Sometimes one song (“I’m Alright”) encapsulated both moods:

After all was said and done
There was nothing left to do
The hardest mile I ever walked
Was the one I walked away from you

I’m alright
Sacked down but I’m still standing
Yeah I’m alright
Little banged up from the fall
But I’m alright
Still shaky from the landing
Yeah I’m alright after all

Kim Richey's Bitter Sweet CD
Kim Richey's Bitter Sweet CD cover and back

While Kim’s first and self-titled album was full of gems—there may not be a better debut single than “Just My Luck”—Bitter Sweet made me a fan for life. I’ve gotten every one of her records, CDs, and downloads ever since. Even though I’ve loved her music for over 25 years, I had never seen her perform live. Life has a way of getting in the way of fun sometimes.

That is, until this year.

When the lineup for Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend 5 in Mexico was announced in September 2023, and I saw Kim Richey would be performing alongside three other favorite artists (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Brandi Carlile, and Brandy Clark) as the Titans of Americana, I knew Danny and I had to attend.

We were both at work when we simultaneously shared the lineup with each other via text. Since the previous Girls Just Wanna Weekends sold out fast, and we didn’t want to miss the chance, we bought a festival package and secured our admission within hours. Now all we had to do was wait for 2024 to arrive.

The festival took place at the Barcelo Maya Resort along the Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and ran for 4 nights starting on January 18th. A festival-provided shuttle bus picked us up at the Cancun airport for the 1-hour drive south to the resort. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since I had never been to Mexico, an all-inclusive resort, or a music festival.

We knew there’d be a lot of women—it’s a festival to celebrate the matriarchy—so we wanted to honor and respect that by being as inconspicuous as possible. But when you’re only two of a handful of men, you kind of stick out whether you want to or not. (Our guesstimate is 5% to 10% of the attendees were men.)

Before arriving, we worried about how we would be received. Within minutes after checking in, we had our answer. This was an all-inclusive event. It didn’t matter if you were a man, woman, boy, girl, binary, nonbinary, gay, straight, trans, queer, old or young. Everyone was welcome. We met so many wonderful people. Some newbies like us. Some Girls Just Wanna Weekend veterans. All there to have a good time.

Allison Russell and Brandi Carlile kicked things off with incredible performances on Thursday night. Danny and I had seen Brandi Carlile once at the Beacon Theatre and twice at Madison Square Garden. But it took this trip to Mexico to see her perform two of my favorite songs: “Beginning To Feel The Years” and “I Belong To You.”

I Belong To You

Beginning To Feel The Years

The next afternoon, we went to the pool. We searched for empty chairs and found two near the base of a footbridge that spanned over the water. We settled in to relax. I was just about to open a book when someone caught my eye just under the bridge. It was Kim Richey. At least I thought it was her. It was hard to tell since her hair was wet, and well, she was in a pool, a context that threw me off. But I was sure it was her. I hopped in the pool to get a closer look.

“Kim Richey?” I asked.

She seemed surprised to be recognized but confirmed she was who I thought she was. I shook her hand and told her I was a big fan and that Bitter Sweet changed my life. I thanked her for replying to my comments on her Instagram posts.

“Wait, are you Pete?” she asked.

I nodded. She commented how weird it was to meet each other in a pool at a resort in Mexico.

We chatted a bit about the festival, her gigs in the NYC area, and other stuff I can’t remember. She was so gracious, personable, and funny. After a few minutes of talking, she got out of the pool to get something to eat.

“Can’t wait for tomorrow night,” I said.

“And maybe we’ll see you at the costume contest you’re judging on Sunday,” Danny said.

“I accept bribes,” Kim said jokingly.

“We didn’t bring costumes,” Danny said, “we’re not competing.”

“You can still bribe me,” she said and walked away.

Preshow video for the Titans of Americana

The next night, Danny and I got in line early so we could be near the stage for the Titans of Americana performance. The arrangement on stage, four chairs behind four mic stands, suggested we were going to be treated to an intimate performance. The Titans of Americana came on stage, sat in the chairs, and got ready to share stories, play, and sing. 

Kim sang 3 songs, 2 of which were from Bitter Sweet, “Straight as the Crow Flies” and “I’m Alright.” Mary treated us to a new, unrecorded song about getting older. Simply poignant and beautiful. Brandi Carlile sang “The Mother,” which always makes me emotional because it brings me back to Danny and I becoming fathers. Brandy Clark sang “Buried,” a song about lost love. Brandi and Brandy performed their duet “Dear Insecurity,” song of the year for me.

Titans of Americana at Girls Just Wanna Weekend
Kim Richey & Mary Chapin
(2 legends—no words)
Titans of Americana at Girls Just Wanna Weekend
The Titans of Americana (Brandi Carlile, Mary Chapin, Kim Richey, Brandy Clark)

After their set, Sarah McLachlan took the stage to sing and share more stories. A little after 10pm, the vibe switched and the party began. Wendy and Lisa from The Revolution rocked the house with “1999,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Purple Rain.” Then Annie Lennox, the (worst kept) secret special guest, made the crowd ecstatic. I mean, come on, words cannot describe this force of nature. She is everything: goddess, mother, father, rocker, saint, crooner, fireball, timeless, elegance, soulful, and a magnificently tender sweet dream all rolled into one insanely talented angel.

We woke up late the next morning. I posted a few photos from the Titans set. Kim Richey reposted one of them. Later that afternoon, Danny and I arrived early to the costume contest. Kim was there early, too. I waved. She smiled and waved back. When she walked by us, I asked if we could take a picture together.

“No pictures,” she said so dryly I couldn’t tell she was joking. Then she put her arm around me for the photo.

Pete Mercurio & Kim Richey
Me and Kim

“I don’t have any bribes for you,” I said, “but I’d love to give you this.” I handed her a copy of my children’s picture book, Our Subway Baby. She accepted it graciously and then asked me to sign it. So I did. 

But I couldn’t help thinking: “Am I really signing this for Kim Richey? Bitter Sweet Kim Richey? The artist whose music spoke directly to me, soothed after a breakup, and nurtured a new beginning?” 

Yes, it was. It took a few crooked miles and over 25 years of being a fan, but it was really her.

Thank you for the music, Kim. I can’t wait for more.

Kim Richey & Brandi Carlile sing “Angel of the Morning”

Here’s a playlist of some my favorite Kim Richey songs:

And that’s the story…

Fan Jam at Girls Just Wanna Weekend. (Sorry for the shakiness. I was swaying and singing.)

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