When the magic wand goes over the world, what has to go, and what has to stay?
That’s the question Carrie Newcomer posed, minutes after we met for the first time.
“Thermonuclear warfare? That has to go,” she said. “Wheels? Wheels can stay.”
It’s that sort of outlook on life that Newcomer brought with her when she visited campus on September 27–28. Since her first visit to Wabash in 1991, the Indiana-based singer-songwriter has developed a strong fanbase in the Crawfordsville community, and on Wednesday night, she wowed audiences with a sold-out show in Salter Hall.
“Bringing [in] Carrie Newcomer is a nice bridge to the community,” said Associate Professor of Art and Visiting Artist Series Implementation Committee Chair Annie Strader. “It’s also a nice way of welcoming people back to the College who maybe haven’t been here since pre-COVID.”
“I really love people. I know it’s really unpopular to say that, but I really do. People are amazing, they’re brilliant and beautiful and inspiring and disappointing. I want my songs to be three minutes of human empathy.”Carrie Newcomer
In addition to her performance, she spent Wednesday and Thursday afternoon meeting with Professor Ables’s Music in Society class, Professor Williams’s Music Theory class and the Glee Club, talking about folk music and writing a song together in class.
“She comes with all this nice openness,” Strader said, “this professional person who is really collaborative and generous with her knowledge and experience.”
If part of her role as a visiting artist is to share her experience as a folk musician, it becomes necessary to define the genre — a task easier said than done.
“What defines folk music for me is a freedom of subject matter and topic,” said Newcomer. “I appreciate being able to deal with all kinds of subject matter, whether it’s personal relationships, family relationships, spiritual relationships or political relationships.”
Relationships have long been at the heart of Newcomer’s musicianship. Joining her at her Wabash performance were longtime collaborators, pianist Gary Walters and Allie van Wassenaer-Summers.
“When you find musicians that get what we’re each individually bringing and what the spirit of the song is, there’s nothing like it,” Newcomer said. “I’ve worked with a lot of great people, but getting to work with Ally Summers and Gary Walters has been a particular gift.”
Newcomer’s relationship with music all started from a young age, when the Elkhart, Indiana native began pursuing flute and guitar to fulfill an innate drive to create.
“My favorite game when I was a little kid was a game called ‘Makin’ Somethin’.’ ‘What are you doing Carrie?’ ‘I’m makin’ somethin’. I was making poems. I was making stories. I was painting pictures. I was making songs. And all these years later, I’m still inordinately happy when I’m making something,” Newcomer said.
And while she attends a monthly Quaker meeting, to label her a Quaker or a follower of any particular religion would be a massive simplification of her true nature. She simply writes to tell stories about the human experience.
Newcomer’s purpose in creating music is to engage with topics that are important to her. Together with her husband, Wabash alumnus Robert Meitus ’85, Newcomer has been producing a diverse catalog of music for more than 30 years. Listening to her music, you get a sense of the unique way Newcomer sees the world.
“I really love people. I know it’s really unpopular to say that, but I really do. People are amazing, they’re brilliant and beautiful and inspiring and disappointing,” Newcomer said. “I want my songs to be three minutes of human empathy.”
“I create music, poetry and art to try to create beauty in a world that feels broken sometimes.”Carrie Newcomer
More than empathetic in words, Newcomer is also dedicated to a life of activism. Taking multiple trips to India and Kenya as part of the Interfaith Hunger Initiative, her music also frequently revolves around themes of social and political change.
“She’s willing to talk about difficult things without being combative, which is such an unusual thing these days,” said Fine Arts Center Academic Administrative Coordinator Julia Phipps, who was instrumental in bringing Newcomer to campus. “She’s a breath of fresh air.”
What makes Newcomer so refreshing is her honest individuality and bold humility.
“[I want] to be the only Carrie Newcomer — to be the best Carrie Newcomer I know how to be in my art and in my life.”
What’s next for Newcomer? After her new album, “A Great Wild Mercy,” debuts on October 13, 2023, she has no plans to slow down, currently working on a podcast and a Substack page where she posts videos, poetry and songs.
“Writing songs is like breathing,” Newcomer said. “I don’t think I’ll stop doing one until I stop doing the other.”
Carrie Newcomer is one of life’s few remaining genuine people, who has a beautiful spirit and passion for doing good.
“There is something luminous and beautiful that threads through the world,” said Newcomer. “I create music, poetry and art to try to create beauty in a world that feels broken sometimes.”
In her own way, Newcomer plays the role of that magic wand, reordering the world in a better way. She may not get rid of thermonuclear warfare any time soon, but what she realizes — and what she urges us all to understand — is that each person has the ability to spread a little bit more love and peace in the world.