Thirty years separate Tom Paxton and Lisa Loeb. But just one week will separate their performances at the Blumenthal’s cozy Stage Door Theater.
Paxton, 77 and a recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, has been one of the most vital voices in folk music since even before its hippie heyday. Grammy-nominated Loeb, 47, had a huge hit in 1994 with her platinum-selling “Stay (I Missed You),” a song that helped define that angst-ridden era.
Loeb, best known for that tune and her trademark cat-eye glasses, is also a prolific writer of children’s songs. She released her first children’s album, “Catch the Moon,” years before she had kids of her own.
Her favorite children’s albums as a kid, Marlo Thomas’ iconic “Free to Be You and Me” and Carole King’s “Really Rosie,” didn’t talk down to kids.
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She wanted to produce the same thing. “Sonically, I wanted ‘Catch the Moon’ to be the equivalent of a great grown-up album,” she said in a phone interview. Her next kids’ album, “Camp Lisa,” was filled with songs that are “silly, gross-out or sentimental.”
She loves performing her kids’ songs at “grown-up concerts.” Says Loeb: “It’s a fun left turn in the middle of a set. It lightens up a set that’s typically included songs of love and heartbreak.”
Loeb always takes requests – both on social media before her shows and during. “I’m a fan of being a happy audience member myself, so I want to make my audience happy.”
Making her audience happy includes singing her biggest hit. “People relate to it,” she says of “Stay,” from the film “Reality Bites.”
“They have memories associated with it,” she said. “And I have my own memories associated with it.” She wrote it when she and an ex-boyfriend were arguing in circles. (“You say: I only hear what I want to,” she sang.)
“It was all very dramatic then,” she said. “But when I play the song now, I hear it differently. It’s about sticking it out even in tough circumstances.”
Paxton, an elder statesman of folk music, has never shied away from addressing the toughest topics – like the environment and social justice. And he has own hits that audiences demand. He has to play “The Last Thing on My Mind” and “Ramblin’ Boy” at every show. He doesn’t mind; he still enjoys playing them.
Stage Door more closely resembles the Greenwich Village coffeehouses Paxton played in the 1960s than the grander venues he’s played during his long career. He’s played Carnegie Hall in a farewell to Woody Guthrie (alongside Bob Dylan and The Band) and Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden (with Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris, among others).
To think that Paxton is playing at a 180-seat theater should be enough to create a stampede at Blumenthal’s box office.
This tour will be his last, Paxton has said. “Parting Glass,” a song on his new release, “Redemption Road,” does more than hint at this being a farewell tour: “But since it falls unto my lot/That I should rise and you should not/I’ll gently rise and softly call/Good night and joy be with you all.”
Early in his career, Paxton found himself drawn to writing children’s music and books. He wrote 15 of them, in fact. (Unlike Loeb, he doesn’t usually perform those songs in concert.) He composed his first kids’ tune, “The Marvelous Toy,” on an Army typewriter at Fort Dix. A long way from Carnegie Hall.
Loeb, too, is happy playing small music rooms and marvels at the direction her career has taken. “In the early ’90s, I told my manager all I really wanted to do was play theaters and venues where people really listen,” she said. “I’m doing that. I’m really lucky.”
Catch Lisa Loeb at 8 p.m. Oct. 2. Tom Paxton will be in town Oct. 9. Both are at Blumenthal’s Stage Door Theater. Tickets (starting at $32.50 for Loeb and $35 for Paxton) available at carolinatix.org or 704-372-1000.