Mary McBride, a Washington, D.C.-based singer-songwriter with Louisiana roots, got the idea for the Home Tour in 2010. The inspiration came at a senior center in D.C., when a woman over 90 told McBride she never got to hear musical performances. She wished McBride could play a concert in her living room.
McBride’s Home Tour goes to places where musical performances normally don’t happen. The singer and her band perform at shelters, detox centers, long-term health-care facilities, orphanages, military outposts and more unconventional venues.
“We go and perform for them and we give them the opportunity to perform with us,” McBride said this week after a performance at the Detox Center of Louisiana. “It becomes a community event.”
McBride’s Home Tour takes spirit-lifting American music — rock 'n' roll, soul, country and gospel music — to audiences throughout the world. Under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State, McBride and her band have traveled to 30 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Vietnam.
One of McBride’s early Home Tours included the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. She’s back in Louisiana this week, performing eight concerts and conducting songwriting workshops in Baton Rouge, St. Gabriel and Ilse de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish. The tour’s presenting organizations include the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority and Episcopal School’s Quest for Peace Program. The concerts are generally not open to the public.
“We wanted to come back to Louisiana,” McBride said of her current visit. “We hope this is the first part of expanding the Home Tour throughout the state. Every time I do a Home Tour, I’m amazed at how many organizations would love to have live music, but so many of them aren’t able to get them on a regular basis.”
McBride doesn’t charge for Home Tour concerts and workshops. Grants from foundations and individuals and some corporate funding support the nonprofit venture. “We don’t ask anything from the places where we play,” McBride said.
McBride’s Louisiana Home Tour follows recent performances in Russia and the former Soviet republic of Moldova.
“There’s such an audience for rock ’n’ roll all over the world,” she said.
McBride made her performance debut at 12, singing show tunes in a beauty salon in Washington, D.C. Her parents were from Louisiana. In the nation’s capital, her father, Charles McBride, served as Sen. Russell Long’s press secretary and Sen. J. Bennett Johnston’s chief of staff. Her mother led the watchdog organization Common Cause.
“I spent much of my childhood going to Louisiana for the summer,” McBride said. “I have a big family in Louisiana, so it’s really nice to be down here.”
McBride studied opera but, after moving to New York City, shifted to theater and rock music. In 2002, she released her album debut, "Everything Seemed Alright." It’s an often-raucous collection of country and rock featuring 10 of her original songs. On stage, McBride’s wide-ranging sets include her original songs, rhythm-and-blues classics by Ray Charles, Irma Thomas and Aretha Franklin and, a song she always performs, the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
McBride’s shows also features “No One’s Gonna Love You Like Me,” the country ballad she recorded for the Oscar-winning movie “Brokeback Mountain.”
“I always tell the story about the song being in ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ whether we’re in Iraq, Afghanistan, New Orleans, Baton Rouge,” she said. “I talk about how proud I am to be in Brokeback Mountain.”
While McBride and her band do play commercial music venues, she intends to continue the Home Tours indefinitely.
“We play clubs and places we love playing, but if somebody told me, ‘You can have a commercial music career, but you can’t keep doing the Home Tour,’ I don’t think I would do it. I find it so satisfying to do the outreach work that we’re doing.”
While the Home Tour performances in Louisiana are not open to the general public, you can learn more about McBride and her band at marymcbride.com.