Catie Curtis’ memory of Ann Arbor is fuzzy. The Boston-based folkie, who spent two years in the quaint town 14 years ago, blames being incoherent (in other words, totally wasted) when she sauntered into a popular gay nightclub.
“I think there was something about a tangerine, or orange, or … ” Curtis laughs, before Between The Lines reminds her: It was the Nectarine.
Three fond faves of Curtis won’t get the neglectful Necto treatment when she returns to Ann Arbor for a gig on May 7 at The Ark: Zingerman’s Deli, Stucchi’s and Sweetwaters Cafe. The New England-native, who lives with her partner and their two children, is touring in support of her 2006 album, “Long Night Moon,” a reflection of trying times and the glisten of hope she sees in her kids.
“I try not to be all about happy family life,” Curtis notes, as she emphasizes her local pit-stop will be a palette of new material, her back catalog and requests – sometimes preluded by goofy stories. “There’s a lot more to life, and I try to cover that, too.”
Professionally, that may be true. However, since both children are toy-obsessed tots – Celia is two and Lucy is four – Curtis can’t trek the country on long tours; instead, it’s like a weekend getaway.
“Sometimes when I’m in New England we’ll all pile in the car – the dog and everything – and go up and stay with relatives and use that as a base while I play other shows. But outside of New England it’s kind of hard to bring them with me.”
Part of our world
Curtis is lucky. When she hits the road, her companion, Liz, goes into single-mom mode. Liz, a summer camp director, will tow the family with her in their decent travel-buggy (a Volkswagen Passat Wagon) to their usual summer escape: a traditional campground just on the outskirts of Shelby and on the dunes of Lake Michigan. While there, Curtis will play the Mountain Stage in July.
That platform is where Curtis, a soulful force who has garnered a mess of praiseworthy concert reviews, belongs. The same could be true for her oldest child.
“Lucy keeps wanting to dance on stage,” she laughs, adding that on one particular morning her daughter wanted to hone her shimming skills for her big debut. “She’s not really going to come up and dance at a show any time soon but she’s convinced (she will). She says, ‘I’m going to help you with your show. Let’s practice.'”
Curtis sees her daughter as a producer – and as the Anna Wintour of the music biz. “She’s pretty bossy,” Curtis laughs. The li’l one relishes the popular Ariel-sung theme (“Part Of Your World”) from “The Little Mermaid” – which inspired Curtis to pen her own ditty about her daughter’s song obsession appropriately titled “The Princess and The Mermaid.” “It’s so sweet because she’s adopted and I feel like it’s so sincere when she’s singing it. Like, how much she just wants to be part of our world,” Curtis gushes.
The matriarchal musician carves out time to write (she’s finished a handful of songs for an upcoming record) while her daughters are in daycare. Curtis began penning lyrics in high school, but she resists returning to those cliche-laden testimonials where she relied on cheesy pop songs as stimuli.
Some lyrics, though, dug deeper. “They were kind of about the war within,” she says, referring to the game of sexual orientation tug-of-war she was playing.
Others were about romantic ties – a topic Curtis still relishes today, but to a more eloquent outcome. “I still am drawn to writing primarily about … relationship stuff but I try to find new and different ways to do it. Sometimes it’s about being in a committed relationship for a long time; sometimes it’s about the struggles involved in being in a committed relationship for a long time. It’s not always about glorifying it.”
Conjuring up images
On “Long Night Moon” Curtis and songwriter Mark Erelli viscerally capture the sluggish government response to Hurricane Katrina on “People Look Around,” the grand-prize winner of the International Songwriting Competition – besting 15,000 entries in over 80 countries. The two spent an entire day ranting – similar to what she did in this interview, she notes – about inerasable images, like people desperately waving from the roofs of their drowning homes.
“What gets us really peeved is that we live in the wealthiest country in the world yet we can’t take care of our most vulnerable people, and we can’t take care of our environment. If we can’t do it, who can?”
Curtis, who gained exposure through television shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dawson’s Creek,” is now the star of a shelved documentary about the year in the life of an indie folk singer. She was apprehensive befriending the camera, but after realizing 100 hours of footage (some more scandalous than others) would be squeezed into a two-hour film, she chilled.
“He keeps re-editing and re-pitching so it still hasn’t come out. So, I don’t know when it will, but,” she pauses and laughs, “I think eventually he’ll come out with it.”
8 p.m. May 7
The Ark, Ann Arbor