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Patty Griffin, Carrie Rodriguez kick off outdoor series with quiet beauty and grace

The prospect of live music returning full-throttle to Austin if the pandemic continues to recede in 2021 might bring to mind throngs of fans releasing a year’s worth of pent-up energy in sweaty clubs or festival mosh pits. But sometimes the healing power of music arises from a much more subtle and peaceful place.

That’s the way it was on Saturday evening at the Long Center Lawn, which kicked off a spring run of its Long Live Music series with local favorites Patty Griffin and Carrie Rodriguez. The few hundred who attended the socially distanced concert seemed deeply grateful for the chance to hear two exquisite acoustic-based artists as a full moon rose above the downtown skyline.

Patty Griffin headlined Saturday's Long Live Music outdoor concert series opener at the Long Center Lawn, set against the downtown skyline.

“I feel like there’s optimism,” Griffin beamed midway through her 90-minute headlining set, mentioning recent progress with COVID-19 vaccines and a tentative trend toward lower coronavirus numbers.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but this concert series — which follows a similar batch of shows Luck Productions and the Long Center presented here last fall — seems a welcome first step in easing Austin back toward its Live Music Capital status.

Patty Griffin and David Pulkingham perform at the Long Center Lawn on March 27.

Accompanied by her longtime guitarist David Pulkingham, Griffin drew songs from her Grammy-winning 2019 self-titled album, along with favorites drawn from various stages of her quarter-century recording career, and delighted a crowd that remained very mellow and respectful throughout.

Patrons largely adhered to the rules of wearing masks when walking around the venue but removing them when seated in designated squares that held four people. Tickets for the shows in the series, which continues Sunday and next weekend, are being sold by the square only at a price that works out to $50-$100 per person.

MORE:Patty Griffin, Jade Bird, more booked for concert series on Long Center Lawn

Patrons purchased seats arranged in spaced-out four-person squares for Saturday's opening concert of the spring Long Live Music series at the Long Center Lawn.

Griffin was in good spirits, offering sincere thanks to the audience and congenially apologizing for early sound issues: “I haven’t done this for a year; I’m sorry, you guys.” At one point, she engaged the crowd in a conversation about what TV shows they’d gotten hooked on during the pandemic. (For her part, Griffin offered up “Schitt’s Creek,” “GameFace” and “Lodge 49.”)

Her setlist got more beautiful as she went along, especially with a move to grand piano for a dramatic rendition of the title track to her 2015 album “Servant of Love.” She dedicated the emotional “Luminous Places” to the late Austin bassist George Reiff, sang bittersweetly to Pulkingham’s gentle nylon-string guitar accompaniment on “What I Remember,” and hit an uplifting gospel note with “Standing” from 2004’s “Impossible Dream” album.

RELATED:Our 2015 interview with Patty Griffin

She saved the best for the end of the set, strumming a mandolin and inviting Rodriguez back to play fiddle on the radiant folk-pop number “Shine a Different Way.” “I’m gonna let it be the moon, let it play the tune, the one that keeps repeating,” she sang as the moonlight shone down upon us all, and for just a moment, it felt like it could go on forever.

Austin musician Carrie Rodriguez opened Saturday's show at the Long Center Lawn with a short set of songs in both English and Spanish.

Rodriguez had set the tone perfectly earlier with a graceful 30-minute opening set on fiddle and guitar that included songs sung in both English and Spanish. Musing that she’d seen her music referred to as “Americhicana” and kind of liked that description, she delivered songs ranging from the folk-tinged “Llano Estacado” off her 2016 album “Lola” and the bluesy “Devil in Mind” from 2013’s “Give Me All You Got.”

Luke Jacobs, her husband and guitar accompanist, might have stolen the show in his one lead vocal turn. During last month’s winter storm, he addressed Sen. Ted Cruz’s flight to Mexico by writing a short and pointed bit of satire titled “Cancun,” which sways with a sweetly tropical vibe as Jacobs twists the knife: “Trade the snow and the slush, for a toilet to flush, down in Cancun.”

RELATED: 2013 interview with Carrie Rodriguez

The Long Live Music series continues this weekend with a Sunday afternoon show by Billy Strings and concludes with two more shows: Jade Bird, Nikki Lane and Sir Woman on April 3, followed by Blind Boys of Alabama with Ray Prim on April 4. Tickets to the Blind Boys show are still available via the Long Center website.

A full moon rises as darkness begins to fall over the Long Center Lawn for the first of four Long Live Music outdoor concerts presented with Luck Productions.