Close this search box.

well established and here for you

independently owned and operated since 1977

Rufus Wainwright: Still Unfollowing the Rules

Photo: Miranda Turin

by G.W. Mercure

Rufus Wainwright, the illustrious Canadian-American singer-songwriter, continues to redefine his musical narrative as he prepares to take the stage at Provincetown Town Hall as part of the Payomet Performing Arts Center’s summer concert season. Wainwright’s journey spans decades and a range of musical disciplines diverse enough to keep his work from any easy classification, from pop albums to operatic compositions, each project reflecting a distinct phase of his artistic evolution.

Wainwright’s father is singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, and his mother was songwriter and folk musician Kate McGarrigle. “The troubadour tradition has existed in my family now for a couple of generations,” he says. (And counting: Wainwright has a child with Leonard Cohen’s daughter.) He is also the brother of singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright.

Upon that musical foundation, Wainwright has built an empire. His career began with his self-titled debut album in 1998, and since then, he has expanded his discography with 11 studio albums and ventured into classical music, penning operas and setting Shakespearean sonnets to music. For many among the younger generations, the first time they heard Cohen’s Hallelujah it was Wainwright’s wistful and tone-perfect reading for the Shrek soundtrack. 2001’s Poses launched him to modest stardom and brought critical adulation. Since then, he has visited Judy Garland, musical theater, Shakespeare, opera, folk music, and beyond.

“It is interesting,” he says, “having very young people, you know, people who are 19 or something—young kids really—come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I loved [the 2012 album] Out of the Game. That’s when I heard your music for the first time.’ Which seems like a record I made yesterday. You know, I don’t think of it. I think of the older albums from when I started, but there are other generations that are more accustomed to what I think is my newest work, so it’s exciting.”

The nature of his songwriting has shifted over the years. Initially driven by the ambition to write hit songs, Wainwright’s approach has transformed into something more instinctive. “It was like training for the Olympics,” he recalls about his early career. Now, his process is woven into the fabric of his daily life, requiring less conscious effort yet demanding constant engagement with his craft. “It’s still a lot of work,” he admits. “For me, it’s very important to play once a day, you know, the piano or the guitar, and keep making a daily kind of ritual. Constantly singing voice memos into my phone and trying to be receptive to the messages that come in from God knows where.”

According to Wainwright, success necessitates a continuous challenge. This has pushed him toward more complex artistic endeavors, such as writing operas and, more recently, a requiem set to premiere in Paris. He believes these ventures are essential to personal and professional growth. “That was wonderful, but also a very hard job to do for a full chorus and orchestra.”

His creative output remains prolific, as demonstrated by his recent ventures into musical theater with a show in London and the aforementioned Dream Requiem. These projects underscore his relentless pursuit of new artistic challenges and his desire to contribute meaningfully to the fields that have inspired him.

Wainwright’s upcoming performance at Provincetown Town Hall promises an eclectic showcase spanning his catalog. Reflecting on the essence of his current shows, he describes them as a blend of personal journey and homage to his musical heritage. “It’s me going out and singing stuff from all over my catalog,” he explains. “And also, whatever strikes me that day.” His performances eschew predictability, offering audiences a unique experience that is both intimate and spontaneous. “I do try to remain open and limber and in the moment.”

Wainwright does not see his work with opera, classical music, and musical theater as departures but as a return to his first loves. His early exposure to musical theater profoundly shaped his artistic sensibility, which later found its way into his pop songwriting as what he calls a “secret sauce.” These influences are now explicitly embraced in his larger compositions, bringing his career full circle.

Provincetown holds a special place for Wainwright, connecting him with fond memories and new experiences. His first encounter with the area came through a visit to the Kennedy compound. More recently, he enjoyed his first visit to Provincetown as a performer last summer. The town has increasingly endeared itself to him. “It’s starting to seep in for sure,”
he says, reflecting on his growing attachment to the locale.

As Wainwright prepares to take the stage in Provincetown, audiences can anticipate a performance that embraces his musical evolution and invites them into the intimate spaces of his creative journey. This upcoming show is not merely a concert but a narrative tableau, offering insights into the life of an artist who continues to evolve, challenge himself, and inspire his listeners. It promises to be an enriching addition to the Payomet Performing Arts Center’s summer season, embodying the spirit of musical and personal growth that Wainwright himself epitomizes.

Wainwright is a revered and influential composer whose innovations and explorations have changed popular songwriting. During another time, he would be called a troubadour. But his work and path defy that or any other label. Like David Bowie, Miles Davis, and Bob Dylan before him, his meandering and restless path has been musical and artistic rather than chronological or territorial. The fact that he is bound to be on his way again soon doesn’t mean he hasn’t arrived somewhere.

“I have a tendency, it seems, in my career, to always try to create something more difficult,” he says. “I think it’s always important to challenge yourself musically and to never get too comfortable in it. That being said, I have moments now where I feel, ‘Yeah, that effort has paid off.’”

Payomet Performing Arts Center presents Rufus Wainwright live in concert at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., Saturday, May 25, 7:30 p.m. For tickets ($45 – $85*/Members: $42 – $82) and information call 508.487.5400 or visit NOTE: Advance purchase suggested as ticket prices may increase day-of-show.

Recent Posts

Sign up for our Newsletter

Scroll to Top

Sign up for our Newsletter

Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

Keep in touch

Fill in your details and I will get back to you in no time.

Phone: + 1 508-487-1000 ext 6
[email protected] 14 Center St. Provincetown MA, 02657