Published in Asheville Scene, Oct. 22, 2021
With a catalogue that falls somewhere between folk, jazz and pop, with a pinch of country-Americana and world music thrown in, singer-songwriter Susan Werner stands poised and ready to please any crowd, no matter the musical taste.
Though she’s known, first and foremost, as a fixture in folk, Werner isn’t afraid to follow her adventurous musical muse — exploring new genres and adding her own unique flair and lyrical mastery. This is partially out of “a love of music and the challenge of mastering new genres or new skills on the piano or guitar,” she said. But it’s also borne from a passion to entertain: “A new style of music keeps an audience engaged, surprised. An audience deserves that, in my opinion. They drove over here, they paid to park, they bought a ticket. I mean, deliver for them!”
Making her debut performance at just 5 years old, Werner’s lifelong passion for music began the moment she first laid eyes on a guitar. “I thought it was the most fascinating thing ever,” she said. “My older brother … taught me three chords, and that was it. Game over. I’d found my life’s purpose even before I knew it.”
With musical talents matched by her signature wit and charm, Werner’s irresistible energy shines through with or without a stage. In fact, during the height of pandemic isolation, Werner used her creativity to bring people together, to entertain, uplift and distract from worldly woes, even if just for an hour, online, each Sunday night.
“Here’s the strange truth,” Werner said. “Although the pandemic was dreadful — personally, just crap — it was a kind of concept album of its own, bringing a new themed show to an audience of hundreds every week.
“I did one show of songs you hear at weddings — beautiful ones, cheesy ones, all of it,” she recalled. “I bought a wedding gown at a secondhand shop and ate a wedding cake during the show.”
At another, Werner created an entire Rat Pack-themed show, “where I rented a tuxedo and smoked a cigarette. I even did a Variety Hour with two performing cats, live-streaming from their home in Sacramento, and I played every cat song I could think of: ‘Memory’ from ‘Cats,’ ‘Cats in the Cradle,’ ‘Get Back Honky Cat.’” In fact, she continued, “the cats had more tricks than I thought possible, so I had to keep playing — and just started playing Cat Stevens songs.
“I couldn’t really know at the time, but it’s become clear … just how much people needed entertainment and connection during the big lockdown,” Werner explained. “So the livestream was, amidst all of the awfulness, kind of wonderful.”
This touring season, the celebrated performing songwriter has a new set of songs up her sleeve, including releases from her latest Americana and country-inspired album, “Flyover Country,” released in September.
At her first show back in front of a live crowd, “during that brief ‘no mask’ euphoria phase, pre-Delta,” Werner peeked through the curtain to see her audience, 15 minutes before showtime. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, these people are real,’” she recalled. After months of live-streams, of seeing her audience as tiny tiles on a screen — or as just usernames, it was seeing, hearing, smelling this first audience that really reminded her, “in no uncertain terms, an audience is a living, breathing thing. [And I need to] do right by them.”
IF YOU GO
What: Susan Werner
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27
Where: Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, 18 Biltmore Ave., downtown Asheville (livestream of performance available)
Tickets: $42 regular, $37 students with valid I.D., $20 child; online at worthamarts.org or by calling the box office at 828-257-4530 ($10 student rush tickets available day-of)