The heat wave that had been smothering the country all week was still refusing to budge when “The Wild Hearts Tour” kicked off Thursday (July 21st) at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia (get tickets here). A tote bag at the merch stand read, “I went to ‘The Wild Hearts Tour’ and all I got was emotional,” the unofficial mission statement of the triple bill.
“This is my summer camp,” Angel Olsen told the audience during her nine-song set later in the night. The tour featuring Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, and Julien Baker will continue to cross the country this summer at a COVID-safe series of outdoor venues: three singer-songwriters at the top of their respective games, who are also just three friends who will return to the same tour bus every night, creating a shared experience during what will be the coldest summer of the rest of their lives.
The sun was setting as Julien Baker took the west-facing stage; had she gone on even a few minutes earlier, it would have shone directly in her eyes. Even under the airy wooden rafters of Wolf Trap’s open-air and seated Filene Center it was tough to find a breeze. Undaunted by the sea of sweaty faces in the audience, Baker purposefully dove right into a full-throated version of a sparsely-instrumented song, the title track to her 2015 album Sprained Ankle.
Baker is a consummate and polished professional, even while delivering songs about the chaotic forces of addiction and poor mental health. She was the first artist on the bill — but not the last — to inform the audience that the schedule for her set was tight. Wolf Trap is run by the National Park Service, and it seemed like a stern park ranger or two had put the fear of God in all three of them: Wrap by 11, or else.
Baker charged through “Bloodshot,” from 2021’s Little Oblivions — her third LP and her first full-band album. She seemed a little harried as she unstrapped her guitar and moved across the stage to take her place behind the keyboard, even as the ambient temperature finally started to drop by maybe one degree. After playing standalone single “Tokyo,” Baker took a measured approach to Little Oblivions tracks “Favor” and “Relative Fiction.”