Joanna Newsom and Robin Pecknold: The Story of the Faerie Princess and The Forest Gnome


There was a faerie princess named Joanna Newsom who hailed from the glens of Nevada City, California and was known for her outstanding beauty and talent. Though she was only 28 (thousand) years old, she had been travelling the realm  for six (thousand) years and had been charming both faeries and cranky goblin critics alike with her magical harp, oddball style of singing, and voice of an angel.

Joanna was like all faerie musicians, and had a “magical skill, and many songs and airs which today are widely known in the human world have their origins in Faerie.”*

Glamour and Faerie Music
Her melodies had thrice been captured on something called an “album”, and named with puzzling titles including The Milk-Eyed Mender (all faeries like milk, especially trixter Pixies who steal it from farmers), YS (five songs which to the human seem to last an eternity) and her latest, Have One On Me, an epic three-parter in which she employs glamour, a method used to dazzle humans.

Robin Pecknold, the Forest Gnome
On August 5, Joanna travelled to the western, mountain lands of Vancouver to perform behind an imperceptible (to humans) and magical curtain which would protect her audience from the irritating Faerie “problem” of  lulling people into a fatal sleep. She brought with her a dear Gnome friend, younger than she by 4 (thousand) years, Robin Pecknold. Robin had left his Gnomeish red pointed hat (and his former band Fleet Foxes) at home in the Washington forests for this visit. Instead, the scraggly bearded one brought with him all manner of guitars and a voice as equally betwitching as Joanna’s. Along with a smattering of solo tracks, the gnome presented to the reverential audience a version of the Fleet’s “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” which had all swooning. He thanked the humans for sitting so still, so quiet and so wrapt and called us all sweet, several times. He looked to be happy, like all Gnomes do.

Joanna, Faerie Princess
When it was time for Joanna, the Faerie Princess sweltered under the humans’ lights and said  it had been “the sweatiest tour” (most Faeries live in shadows near primroses, ragworts and toadstools). Joanna and her band played both human and unique faerie instruments including those most rock: the gigantic harp and the Steinway piano. The others in her band were a mischievous and wonderful barefoot drummer, two violinists, a trombonist and Jew’s harp player, and a chap who rather seriously performed typical faerie instruments including the English flute and mandolin.

Good Intentions Paving Company
Songs like “Cosmia”, “Monkey & Bear” (from YS), “Inflammatory Writ” and the playful “Peach, Plum, Pear (from Milk…), plus many from Have One On Me, including the title air, “Go Long”, “Kingfisher” (a fan fave at the Steinway) and “Soft as Chalk” all enchanted the audience. However, the magic curtain did slip a few times too early. Fellow locals did occasionally become lulled into a light, happy sleep but they awoke in time for perhaps the most wondrous moment of the night:  the six-part otherworldly harmony on “Monkey and Bear” (animals who are not friends to the faeries).

Crazy People
Joanna flicked her blondeish locks and looked pretty in her summer dress, and smiled and laughed and made charming conversation with the crowd, (“Phew,” she said, all sweetly sweating, “I feel like the crazy old lady on the bus. Uh, not that there’s anything wrong with old women, crazy people or….uh, the bus.”).

Then her magical fingers began to play a tune and her sometimes baby-like, sometimes dusky, mostly Kate Bush-like voice and fascinating phrasing drifted over the audience. By the last of the encore, the curtain of protection had fallen entirely and the audience had become “drawn into a melancholic forgetfulness hearing forever the vague, yearning music, a constant reminder of the unattainable.”

….THE END \m/

*With thanks to Brian Froud and Allan Lee, the faerie experts.

8 responses to “Joanna Newsom and Robin Pecknold: The Story of the Faerie Princess and The Forest Gnome”

  1. Wow. Sorry you feel that way. I LOVED the show and was coming at the review from the perspective that Joanna’s music and voice (like Robin’s) are otherworldly. And wanted to have fun with it. I thought it was really complimentary. But hey ho, each to her own :).

  2. “My voice in combination with the harp – which, by the way, I use because I’ve played it my entire life, not to make some statement about the harp – somehow has … coloured people’s interpretations of the music and projected an idea of childlike or fairytale quality or innocence. Which sometimes prevents people from listening to the songs the way I would like them to be listened to.” – Joanna Newsom.

    “The thing that I don’t like is…when people throw the whole “nursery rhymes! fairy tales!” thing at me, and having an interpretation of every song that’s so inoffensive and light and fluffy and stuff – they’re not.” – Joanna Newsom

    Joanna has fought long and hard against being pigeon-holed into the ‘fairy princess’ label for the best part of her career, and I think it’s a massive mistake to take one look at her and decide she’s some whimsical elf. There’s a lot of depth and groundedness in Joanna’s music, she’s even said herself ‘Have One On Me’ is about ‘Earth and dirt, very grounded’,

    It’s a little perverse to be referring to a 28 year old woman – with a boyfriend and mortgage and house and job – in these childish terms, simply because she happens to have long blonde hair and to be a harpist. She deserves more credit for her beautiful, complex music than that.

  3. Fair enough and thanks for the details. Was certainly not my intention to offend (so, no need to be harsh -it’s just a music review). It’s a shame she loathes the comparisons, because I have great love for fairy tales – hence the comparison. Wish I could write more but am on my phone and about to board a plane. Thanks though!

  4. This is indeed the most cloying, poorly-conceived review I’ve read in a (thousand) year(s).

  5. I appreciate the input. If anything, I think the major failure here was in writing a review that was meant to be fun, only to find out that poor Ms. N has been choked by a million other, similar comparisons. So for that, yeah, I’m taking myself out to be lashed. It wasn’t my intent to be patronizing or (eek!) derivative. I hadn’t read the countless other reviews of her work, so this is fairly coincidental that I was echoing such an unpopular sentiment.

    Newsom is an incredible performer. But the vibe that night was very much joyful, quirky and fun. The audience basked in her glow and talent as if she WAS royalty. So I made a call – and, it turns out, a controversial one.

    I could have written the article in a more sober and academic fashion, absolutely. But then you lose the humour. So, hey, it is what it is.

    Appreciate the feedback.

  6. This is the most hilarious review I’ve read in a long time. I’m sure JN and RP can take the joke…. And who can’t get enough of faeries?? Read The Tale of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norris and maybe you can see why.

    There’s always a place for comedy. You all shouldn’t take yourselves and your idols so seriously. And that’s coming from a big fan. SUPER REVIEW!

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