Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

REVIEW: Rhiannon Giddens brings an evening of mesmerizing storytelling to Eisenhower Auditorium

By Erica Brown

Two-time Grammy Award winner Rhiannon Giddens visited Eisenhower Auditorium on Tuesday, March 19, as part of the Center for the Performing Arts 2023–24 season. With an opening set by Charly Lowry, the two-hour-plus concert presented an evening of heartfelt and compelling narratives set to music.

The show started with Lowry, a singer-songwriter, Lumbee/Tuscarora Native and a finalist on season three of “American Idol.”

She captivated the audience by opening her set with a drum and a song from her childhood. Titled “My People, My Land,” Lowry explained that the song unites native people from the water regions of North Carolina and Virginia. She told her life story using music to connect with her audience as she shared a song she wrote in college called “Brown Skin.”

“Each of us is an individual; everyone is unique, and we should celebrate that,” Lowry said before singing the song, indicating that it was for all women.

Her new single, “Stay,” enveloped the audience in a story about intimacy and getting close to another person. Through her masterful lyrics, strong vocals and emotion, the audience sat in awe even after she stopped singing. I heard comments from patrons around me about how amazed they were.

Lowry completed her set by singing a cover of “What’s Up,” originally performed by 4 Non Blondes. She invited people to sing along toward the end of the song on the iconic “Heys,” which helped to hype the audience up for Giddens. Her set was an amazing collection of stories made more compelling because of her vocal inflections and expressions.

Giddens took to the stage with a band of five musicians behind her and began her set by highlighting five songs about love — the first about falling in love and the second about unrequited love. It was a strong way to ease the audience into her music, and she showed her versatility across different genres of music, such as country, folk and jazz. Through the layering of instruments, Giddens and her band proved they could masterfully move between genres.

The artist showed her gratitude for her band members by highlighting and interweaving their musical journeys and stories within her own. It was fun to see her interact with Francesco Turrisi, and they bonded over their love of music and found a way to combine their two cultures into beautiful music.

Giddens also highlighted Black history throughout her songs. One showstopper was “We Could Fly,” a song about African folklore carried down through generations. The way she performed “We Could Fly” was so captivating; I felt like I was transported to a place free from worries. The way Giddens moved between her head and chest voice to show the shift from the ground to flight was riveting and helped weave the complex story she was telling about Black history.

Another song of note was “Another Wasted Life,” which Giddens wrote in honor of a young Black American who was wrongly incarcerated as a teenager, which ultimately led to his suicide. A man joined Giddens on the stage and started rapping, which served as a beautiful contrast to her strong vocals. The lighting was lowered for the song as well, making the song that much more haunting.

Giddens also had a strong stage presence and interacted with the audience. She asked them to join in singing with her at the end of her setlist and responded to their cheers throughout. She answered the audience’s lament when she finished her final song by doing one encore song.

Her performance at Eisenhower Auditorium was an entertaining night full of immersive storytelling, a fusion of various genres of music and masterful vocals. Giddens is a powerful performer who captivated the audience from start to finish.

Erica Brown is a communications intern for the Center for the Performing Arts. She is a fourth-year student studying advertising/public relations and English. In her free time, she loves to read the latest romance and fantasy novels and sing with Penn State’s Blue in the FACE, a co-ed a cappella group. Email her at ehb5130@psu.edu.