Dancing on the Astral Plane Valerie June’s BSO performance was out of this world.


The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has done it again. As the third installment of their classic-meets-contemporary Pulse series, the BSO invited genre-bending “organic moonshine roots” musician Valerie June to join the fray—to astronomical effect.

As always, the show started with a set from the BSO itself, this time taking on Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence.” The strings-only piece was perhaps not as “rocking” as adorably earnest associate conductor Nicholas Hersh promised, but it was certainly beautiful—and Hersh’s encouragement to the audience to “clap when you feel it” led to a noisier (and more enthusiastic) than average atmosphere during the four-part piece.

When June took the stage, the enthusiasm didn’t abate, instead adopting a sort of cautious optimism. As someone with only a few songs’ worth of familiarity with June, I’ll be the first to admit: I wasn’t entirely on board at the outset. The singer-songwriter’s voice is highly unusual, in the sort of is-it-actually-good-or-not style most common to famously good lyricists (Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst or Neil Young, for example), and she was a bit odd in an ethereal way, talking about songs coming to her in the form of voices and offering other otherworldly ruminations.

As her set progressed, however, so too did the spell she cast—and soon, the whole audience was with her on whatever astral planes she was bouncing between. Her odd voice, prodigious playing of the guitar and banjo, and airy authenticity were irresistible, the music resonating even when the lyrics were unintelligible. Some of the best of the set? “Workin’ Woman Blues,” “Somebody to Love,” and of course “Astral Plane.”

When the BSO joined her on stage, the magic reached a galactic peak. The three songs of the set were beyond beautiful and sinfully short-lived, including a stunning new song called (forgive me) either “Fire and Flame” or “Flame and Fire.” The orchestra complemented June’s strings-forward music to lovely effect, adding a level of gravitas and glamour to her already-stellar performance.

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