As soon as the last notes were played, a quiet fell over the room. And in that moment, Inda Eaton knew “Shelter In Place” would be the best record she and her longtime band had ever made.
Except that was almost two years ago. And to this day, only her most devoted fans have heard it.
“This whole last year has been like walking through quicksand,” Eaton explained last week from her home in Springs, where she recorded her eighth studio album independently and entirely on location. “And yet, all the way through this, we never lost sight that we love, love, love this record — never lost sight that we want to share this with so many people.”
And share it she will, in concert, on Saturday, March 7, at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, with nearly all the talent that worked on the album, including Michael Guglielmo, Jeff Marshall, B. Rehm-Gerdes, Jeffrey Smith, Lee Lawler, Rose Kerin and Nancy Atlas.
Directed by Kate Mueth, the show will include music and visuals and take a rousing look at the allure and chaos of the road, as well as living on the East End as a western expat, and navigating joy, pain, adventure and loss — as “Shelter In Place” took on new meaning with every turn, the Americana singer-songwriter-storyteller said.
“I think it takes time to catch up. As a songwriter, you keep thinking you’re catching up,” Eaton said. “I think my emotional energy far leads what I can understand and verbalize, and I think that’s why art’s so powerful. You just do it and sometimes you don’t even know, you can’t even put context to it. It’s almost as if I foreshadowed the entire experience with the art project.”
The initial inspiration behind “Shelter in Place” dates back to late 2016 during a cross-country road trip. Even though it was just after the presidential election, political signs still dominated lawns across the motherland — notably in the American West, where Eaton grew up, she said — giving her a sense of just how divided America had become.
“You could just see people were hunkering down. They were sheltering in place,” she said. “By the end of that road trip, I knew that the next record would be called, ‘Shelter In Place.’ And then it took on extra meaning because, ultimately, we decided to blow out the house and record here, and do a live-in and really get intimate with the material and not go back and forth, and just really be here and live with each other and make the record.”
In a career that spans 20 years and a blur of endless tours, Eaton opted for once to stay put. In the stillness of the album-writing process, she sifted through her scrapbook of travels, creating a Huck Finn-spirited collection of story-rich heartland rock songs brimming with adventure and personal reflection across 11 tracks.
“That record is some of the best work I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a great album, there’s nothing I would take back from that,” she said. “A lot of times when you have a project, it gets scary when you commit it to a recording because you can’t take it back. That recording process, everything about that record is over the top for me. I’m so in love with that record, and we knew it when we recorded it.”
Besides geographic travels, “Shelter In Place” is rife with coming-of-age themes, threaded with Eaton’s multi-layered take on America. But, in the end, the album would also be couched in loss.
“There we were, we are so fired up about it — I mean, over the moon — and they were getting ready to master this thing, and I kid you not, I got a call from my mother in Arizona,” Eaton said. “She called to tell me she had just been a victim of a home invasion. So that then leads to a CAT scan, which leads to the fact that she has cancer, which ultimately leads to the fact that she passed away that fall.”
Eaton would feel her own shelter in place ripped out from underneath her — and with it, floods of grief that, in time, took her on a profound journey.
“It’s really made me cast into my heart as a communicator,” she said. “I completely sprained my brain. I ran out of adrenaline, I’m broken of cortisol, and so there’s no other thing to use except my heart, which I think is synonymous with vulnerability. There’s no way I could be in that relationship with my heart and vulnerability had she not passed. There is just no way.”
Before she died on October 6, 2018, Twila Lowenthal visited with her daughter and her daughter’s wife, Annemarie McCoy, for a couple months in Springs. And when people would ask her what she thought of “Shelter In Place,” she would say, “I think I’m here to help give it birth.”
At the time, Eaton couldn’t understand what she meant — and, admittedly, Lowenthal wasn’t sure, either, her daughter recalled with a soft laugh. But her mother loved the new album and its energy, the musician said, and in some way, transferred some of her own to it.
“She hadn’t been to shows in 20 years because she didn’t live here, and she did get to an Inda show and she danced during a show at The Talkhouse,” Eaton said. “It was her last dance and she loved to dance and she danced there. She has a huge imprint on this record.”
After a smattering of acoustic shows, the musician said she finally feels called to launch the album in the way she always envisioned — with a full band on a stage big enough to hold their love for this record, and what it means to them.
Telling part of the story is photographer Mike Lavin’s footage from the band’s tour in Wyoming this past fall, which will make its premiere at Bay Street as the soon-to-be-released music video for “Free.”
“I think that music video brought us back in love with the process. We could see, ‘Wow, now we have a visual representation of one of our favorite songs,’ and I think that inspired us to get this emergent energy and get back to connecting and get back to shows and start working on new material,” Eaton said. “And just get back on the horse and get out there.”
Inda Eaton will play in concert to introduce her latest album, “Shelter In Place,” on Saturday, March 7, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Advance tickets are $30 and $40 at the door. For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.