Elle Varner Illuminates

Varner+performing+for+Middlebury%E2%80%99s+annual+Fall+Concert
Varner performing for Middlebury’s annual Fall Concert

Varner performing for Middlebury’s annual Fall Concert

EMMA STAPLETON

EMMA STAPLETON

Varner performing for Middlebury’s annual Fall Concert

By NATE OBBARD

This past Friday, Elle Varner performed for Middlebury’s annual Fall Concert. The Grammy-winning Los Angeles singer sang a mix of tracks from her album, Perfectly Imperfect, and some new music in Wilson Hall. The energy of both Varner and the crowd was palpable from the moment she stepped onstage, and refused to die down until she stepped away.

This artist goes for a sort of blunt lyricism that puts honesty above all else, creating some very raw and powerful vocal performances. The highs of ‘Fuck It Out’ and the twangs of ‘Refill’ were brought to life by Varner’s energetic and passionate delivery. Her music is very close to reality: songs about people with real, relatable problems, delivered in a way that makes you feel an empathetic link with individuals we’ve never met. And when the performance climaxed, as it did when Varner showed off her pipes in ‘I Don’t Care,’ the passion of crowd and performer made a lasting imprint.

Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between. Many of Varner’s songs were a bit flat in their ebb and flow, as well as in their production. Her pre-recorded pop bits and live acoustic verses were all well-made, but a bit repetitive and safe. While each song carried its own distinct sound, the individual tracks often felt too conservative.

Nonetheless, Varner often defied genre classification, using a pop-base for music that could be described at times as hip-hop, country, or even folk. She deliverd an impressive live performance that isn’t done justice by her pre-recorded works, and made for an enjoyable show.

In the end, one of the most striking pieces of the show was not Varner herself, but the crowd in attendance. It was substantially more diverse than the school as whole. Though it may bill itself as a diverse institution, the visible truth is that Middlebury is still overwhelmingly white. The crowd was small, and perhaps not as representative of Midd as many would purport, but it gave the show an inclusive feeling. One which seemed to say that everyone wanted to be there and was nearly as interested in what Varner had to say as they were in what she was singing.

In between songs, her messages about college and adulthood were well met, and she put a (perhaps undeservedly) positive spin on the environment we’re in now. She wryly remarked on what might happen when we enter the world, and then quickly added something to the effect of “well, you’re sort of already in the world.”

Perhaps we are. But our existence within a bubble of incredible privilege and physical isolation is a certainty. For better or worse, this reality shapes and influences all of our four years here.

When Varner spoke about going out into the world to a group of people who can sometimes feel estranged from it or about following passion at a school that constantly sends us emails about careers in finance, she became a valuable reminder of just what possible at Midd, and how we might use what we find here to go forward in the world.

This is why the booking of Varner was such an excellent choice on the Concert Board’s part. It seems that a lot of Midd’s value ought to come from the diversity of thought and experiences it offers, and some of that can get lost in what can feel like a homogenous campus. The atmosphere that Varner created and the mood and makeup of the crowd certainly fed the ideal of diversity.

As a member of the Concert Board pointed out, some students look for more of a “party vibe” from their concerts. This everpresent tension boiled over at the Noname concert as people who cared about the artist and lyricism were forced to contend with those who were determined to make it a rager. By bringing artists like Varner to campus, Middlebury may not be appeasing the latter group. Yet a strong woman of color like Varner, whose music is definitely, uniquely hers, was almost certainly more valuable in feeding hearts and artistic desires of our students.

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Elle Varner Illuminates