When Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, and Julien Baker announced their joint tour back in January, fans expected a lot of things. A summit of acclaimed female singer-songwriters, perhaps. An indie coalition reclaiming the opportunities for performance that were ceded during the pandemic lockdown and its attendant yearlong concert drought, sure. A cost-effective one-stop shop for atmospheric songs driven forward by a yearning heart, maybe. What probably nobody expected was Camp Van Olsenbaker.
“We had a group skate date yesterday, which was really cute,” Van Etten says from Boise on a free day. “The bandmates, the crew, everyone, it does feel like summer camp. We were just outside of Seattle, at the Marymoor, and there were bikes around and I would see bandmates riding across the lawn as I’m practicing guitar.”
That sense of easygoing freedom isn’t one that’s often brought up in discussions of multi-artist traveling bills with a combined crew of more than 40 people, but the Wild Hearts Tour — which lands at the Leader Bank Pavilion on Aug. 18 — seems to be special to the women with their names above the title. Says Van Etten, “It does feel like this greater collective. I think in a lot of ways, the people on this tour feel like they have a lot more support, when [touring] can be a pretty isolating thing. So that’s been really nice to see, just everybody coming together and splintering off in different groups every day.”
The acts on the tour are something of a longstanding mutual admiration society, starting when Van Etten became friends with Olsen after becoming a fan of her music a decade ago. “We were playing in Amsterdam on the same night and we ended up at the same bar, and she pushed the tables together,” Van Etten says with a laugh. “And that simple gesture just meant so much to me. I’ll never forget that because that’s exactly who she is, just constantly trying to bring people together.”
Baker entered Van Etten’s orbit under similar circumstances, with the added dimension of social media when the latter shared one of the former’s songs to her followers. “We made plans to meet up in New York when she was going to be there for her show,” says Van Etten. “I think it was her first show under her name in New York. And she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited and nervous and this really sweet ball of nervous energy, and I really connected with that.”
The genesis of the three artists joining forces came when, after years of being unable to tour due to the COVID pandemic, Olsen and Van Etten realized that they’d both be releasing albums — “Big Time” and “We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong,” respectively — within weeks of one another. It turned out to be the solution to Van Etten’s struggle to find the enthusiasm to get back on the road.
“I wasn’t jumping at the chance to tour, to be honest,” she says. “I just thought, there’s gonna be so much competition and fans are gonna be a little skittish to want to go to shows. So how can we make it a special show for not only the fans but also for the artists that are kind of shell-shocked, too? So we came up with the idea of touring together so that we could show the mutual respect for each other and [that] we’re not competitive people.”
But it wasn’t just the artists’ experience that Van Etten, Olsen, and Baker had in mind. “Let’s make it easier for our fans — where we might have a similar fan base — not have to decide between seeing me or Angel or Julien,” says Van Etten. “We could have it in a safe space that’s outside so that fans can feel a little bit more confident in attending the show. And maybe one day this will turn into a festival or something. But we really just want people to feel safe and also get to see bands that they would probably have seen separately, that they maybe have had to choose [between] because of the way of the world right now.”
It’s an impulse that runs in parallel to the one that fuels “We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong,” driven in large part by the responsibility Van Etten feels as an artist to the son she had in 2017. “This new record, the whole time I’m just bracing myself trying to learn how to talk to him about what’s actually happening in the world while also wanting to protect him from everything,” she says. “I keep thinking of this world that I actually want to live in, as opposed to the world that we are. And I don’t want to lie to him. But I think I want to create a world where he feels safe and he feels free and he feels the confidence to be himself and thriving. And it makes me want to be that person.”
In the meantime, Wild Hearts chugs ahead as the largest tour Van Etten’s ever been part of, with more people, more buses, more equipment. But she says that those logistics only add to the intimacy between the artists and between the artists and their crews. “Because of the way we set this tour up, everybody’s on the phone talking about how we make this all happen together, because with the amount of ins and outs and how many people are on it, everybody has to know every detail.”
Even so, camp remains in session. “If it makes it any better,” Van Etten says, “just imagine Angel and I holding hands around the roller rink and our heads hurting this morning.”
WILD HEARTS TOUR: SHARON VAN ETTEN, ANGEL OLSEN, AND JULIEN BAKER
At Leader Bank Pavilion. Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m. $30.50-$50.50. www.livenation.com
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.