One Fine Night

Natalie Merchant

Jamestown native Merchant to perform with CSO

Josh Cooper | Staff Writer

When internationally acclaimed singer and songwriter Natalie Merchant comes to Chautauqua, it will be a homecoming of sorts.

Merchant is a native of nearby Jamestown, N.Y. Her earliest venture into the musical world was with the band 10,000 Maniacs, the members of which also hailed from Jamestown.

Merchant told NPR host Scott Simon that some of her prominent memories of Jamestown are the times she snuck into local bars when she was 16 years old to play shows.

“The only places, the only venues that were available to us were … a strip of biker bars, actually, and the biker groups would get in fights every once in a while,” she said.

Tonight’s concert, at 8:15 p.m. in the Amphitheater, will feature Merchant with members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the direction of James Bagwell, who heads the music program at Bard College.

Merchant’s concerts with orchestras have become a staple of her performance activity.

“I’ve been doing these concerts with orchestras for a couple of years now,” Merchant told The Chautauqua Region Word. “It’s… been in preparation for a while to get the repertoire to the point where the scores are flawless.”

Merchant’s introduction to performing with orchestras was abrupt.

“I started with the Boston Pops,” Merchant told the Word. “That was my first performance (with an orchestra), and kind of a baptism by fire. Then I took my scores and went and kind of woodshedded for a while.”

Merchant said some of the songs she’ll be performing are familiar and some new.

“Some of them are from previous albums, some are unreleased,” she told the Word. “Some are tested in the studio, and others we still have to test onstage with different orchestras. It’s been a two-year process to get this program together.”

Merchant’s latest album, “Leave Your Sleep,” was released in 2010, her first studio album since 2003. In a video interview on her website, Merchant said the album is the result of five years of work; she calls it “the most elaborate project I could ever conceive of.”

Merchant said the project originated when she started writing songs for her baby daughter. As her daughter grew, the project started to shift into a more universal exploration of childhood. “Leave Your Sleep” includes poetry touching on these themes that Merchant uncovered through years of research.

“The project has opened my eyes to the power of the word, the beauty of the word, and the whole art form,” she said.