From her current home base in a 200-year-old farmhouse in rural Vermont, Anaïs (“uh-NAY-iss”) Mitchell writes songs that are as intimate as conversations and as rich in detail as short stories. The daughter of “hippie back-to-the-landers” whose father was a novelist and English professor, she remembers her family’s home (another farmhouse in the same state) containing “a library full of novels, and lots of old folk and psychedelic rock albums. The books and the records all lived in the same room, which I am sure led to me thinking of songwriting as a kind of literature, a noble poetic enterprise.” No surprise, then, that the reference points of her music may seem to come from all over the map while still interconnected: the country ballads of the Carter Family, the hard-edged cabaret of Brecht and Weill, the story-songs of Randy Newman, the vast narrative scope of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and the intricately crafted tales of her namesake, bohemian feminist Anaïs Nin, to name a few.
All of these influences come together in Hadestown, an epic “folk opera” retelling of the Orpheus myth. The saga of the poet who ventures into the underworld to rescue his dead wife, a tale now set in a post-apocalyptic world of poverty, began as a live performance created in collaboration with fellow Vermont artists director Ben T. Matchstick and arranger/orchestrator Michael Chorney. In their neck of the woods, TV-less by choice, far from big cities, in a land of radical politics and culture, making your own entertainment, and getting your friends and neighbors to help you flesh it out, is the only way to go. After fine-tuning the show, the trio gathered a cast of two dozen, commandeered a silver-spray painted schoolbus, and hit the road (and several blizzards) for a couple of ragtag DIY tours of New England. The next logical step? Hadestown, the album, performed by a dream-team lineup including Ani DiFranco, Justin Vernon/Bon Iver, Greg Brown, and Mitchell herself, among others.
Anaïs Mitchell is the rare musician who is equally comfortable wielding an acoustic guitar alone onstage, sharing an album's worth of alt-country duets, or scripting a vast operatic journey into the underworld. She’s a fearless explorer, and her world just keeps getting larger.