By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT TOWNSEND — Mollie O'Brien loves to sing a juicy tale. And she loves to travel around with her husband, Rich Moore.
Fortunately, he is a blues-bluegrass-folk guitar player who fits snugly beside her on a stage.
“We just have a really good time performing,” O'Brien said in an interview from her home in Denver.
The singer, who came to teach and perform at Centrum's Voice Works festival last summer, is returning, alongside Moore, for a show at The Upstage, one of Port Townsend's all-ages music venues. The pair will step up at 7:30 this Wednesday night. Tickets are $15 at The Upstage, 923 Washington St., and via 360-385-2216.
'Saints and Sinners'
The main course will be “Saints and Sinners,” O'Brien and Moore's album of songs from the likes of George Harrison, Harry Nilsson and Jesse Winchester. But “we've got some new stuff up our sleeves,” O'Brien promised. Songs, stories and old-fashioned interaction with the audience and each other are their strong suit, after 30-plus years together.
“We're very comfortable, very relaxed on stage,” O'Brien said. “Rich is a very funny guy,” despite that straight face he has in their publicity photos.
O'Brien and Moore met after she moved from her home town of Wheeling, W.Va., to Boulder, Colo., in 1980. Her brother, Tim O'Brien, was in the midst of building a career in music there.
Laying her young eyes on Moore, “I fell madly in love,” O'Brien recalled.
The couple moved to Denver and have lived there since, enjoying what O'Brien said is a healthy music scene.
O'Brien always knew she had a strong voice. She took lessons in high school and college, and got serious about performing while in her 20s.
“Then I had kids, and my voice changed. It got a bit deeper. I quit smoking, too,” she said.
O'Brien has since toured the world, made 15 records and entertained on shows such as “Mountain Stage” and “A Prairie Home Companion.”
These days she's feeling a fresh burst of energy.
“I'm 60. And I feel like I can still sing,” O'Brien deadpanned.
Her peers agree.
“Mollie O'Brien and Rich Moore are two national musical treasures,” declared Dave Alvin, an artist who first gained fame with the rockabilly band the Blasters in the 1980s.
“With their soulful voices, Mollie and Rich are a constant source of joy and inspiration to me,” added Alvin. “They are truly among the best out there keeping American music alive and vital.”
O'Brien sashays from bluegrass to gospel to rhythm and blues, even sprinkling in a pop song like Terence Trent D'Arby's “Sign Your Name (Across My Heart)” on her album “Tell It True.”
When asked if she might offer that one at The Upstage, O'Brien replied: “I should dust that off. It's a great song. Very sexy.”
For “Saints and Sinners,” O'Brien and Moore looked across time and genre, recording Rodgers and Hart's “Everything I've Got,” Richard Thompson's “The Ghost of You Walks,” and “Cuba,” Moore's own tribute to the tropical island. Also here is “Don't Bother Me,” a song George Harrison wrote when he was 17.
O'Brien saluted songwriter Si Kahn, one of her inspirations, who said a singer doesn't truly know a song till he or she has sung it 100 times.
“If it's a good song, it's pretty hard to get tired of it,” she said.
“You're really telling a story . . . mostly I just love to do it, and hopefully that comes across.”
O'Brien and Moore discovered Port Townsend about five years ago. They took a 25th anniversary trip to the Pacific Northwest, went sailing among the San Juan Islands, then saw Maria Muldaur perform at The Upstage.
Their gig here Wednesday follows on the heels of a headlining performance at Wintergrass, the festival that runs through Sunday in Bellevue.
The show here, O'Brien added, will be “kind of crazy and fun and wild. I expect that in Port Townsend.”
For more details about the Mollie O'Brien-Rich Moore concert and other events at The Upstage, see www.UpstageRestaurant.com.