On Saturday we went to see folk singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer, who was in town as artist-in-residence at Macalester, doing workshops at local colleges and playing a couple concerts. Saturday’s concert, a benefit for Open Arms, was her last appearance in town and drew a considerably larger audience than expected. It’s no wonder: she’s great! Seeing her live makes all the difference.

She introduced a few of her songs by talking about the characters in them, giving us back story and little glimpses into who they are: an elderly couple visiting a diner, the ritual banter between the old man and the waitress (“There are only three kinds of pie I like: cold, warm, and hot”), the fact that that man thinks he’s a big tipper because he leaves three quarters — and that his wife sneaks in another quarter and maybe a dime when he’s no looking. None of this comes up explicitly in the song, but it becomes clear that her thinking about these stories and aspects of character help fill out her sense of who she’s singing about. I see Kiara doing this with her writing, generating many more pages of material than she’ll ever use, developing the world she’s writing. What ends up making the cut in her final work end up being written with greater authority and clarity. It’s gratifying to hear a songwriter do the same.