Milford’s own Vanessa Carlton is returning home to perform before a sold-out audience at the new Milford Theater on Nov. 20.
Her hit single, “A Thousand Miles,” written when she was only 17, soared to the top of the Billboard charts and was nominated for three Grammy awards in 2002 (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist). A Billboard review said, “It’s the song’s classical-tied piano hook that endures with urgency throughout the song that lends it spectacular charm, along with the artist’s vulnerable vocal style... A truly auspicious opening.” It remains the most requested song at her concerts today.
Vanessa grew up in Milford and was trained in piano by her mother, Heidi Carlton, a well-known and well-loved local piano teacher. It’s no surprise that the famous riff at the beginning of the song was influenced by Vanessa’s classical musical background. The story of this hit song can be viewed on YouTube at tinyurl.com/4ymp6yds.
Carlton says this song changed her life. “To have a moment like that with a piece of music is very special,” she said. “It allowed me to be very independent in terms of projects I want to do. I get to explore ideas freely. I’m very grateful for its success and the ability to support myself that it’s given me.”
In her career, Vanessa has shown that she is fiercely independent, outspoken, and gutsy. She attended the School of American Ballet in New York City, and then Columbia University. “The ballet world is really tough, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to grow personally in that environment,” she said. She knew that when she started to skip ballet class to play the piano, she was going to have a career in music. That’s when she began writing “A Thousand Miles.”
Vanessa’s two favorite albums are “Rabbits on the Run” and “Liberman” (named for her grandfather). “Rabbits” was her first Indy record, and she felt like it was the beginning of the rest of her career. It was a huge turning point for her. “Liberman” is like a brain bath – a meditative, contemplative album. Her latest album, “Love is an Art” (Deluxe version, 2021), is “a meditation on the eternal seesaw that is human connection. It’s that constantly evolving nature of love that Vanessa analyzes from all angles – romantic to parental to the friends that hold us up – to the leaders that repeatedly let us down.” (See sidebar for a list of her albums.)
‘Not some fancy-pants shi-shi lady’
Vanessa married fellow singer John McCauley in 2013, and they have a six-year-old daughter, Sidney. She says she and John share their household duties equally. He makes lunches and snacks, and is “amazing,” she said. Her current tour is short (she and John take turns touring so they can spend more time with their daughter). It starts in Providence, Rhode Island, then moves on to Milford, to Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts, and finally back to Rhode Island.
Vanessa is really excited about coming back Milford. “I love Milford,” she said. “I love the wildlife and the direction that I have seen the town becoming. I never saw that in the ‘80s when I was growing up here. Now, people are able to walk down the beautiful sidewalks. It’s a place for the LBGTQ community to feel they belong here. I love the women-run businesses. It has the potential — the seeds of what could be a safe haven for everyone. That’s what makes the town so magical and the arts is one way that can bring people together.”
Beth O’Neil, the artistic director of the Milford Theater, said, “I’ve known Vanessa since we were kids growing up in Milford and throughout our time living in New York City as our careers developed. I’m so grateful that she’s coming home to perform and support the arts here in Milford. Vanessa and I have talked a lot about the importance of the young people in this community having the arts be part of their lives, and she knows that I am fully committed to that cause.”
Vanessa wants everyone to feel comfortable walking down the streets of Milford. She wants everyone to know, “I am not some fancy-pants shi-shi lady from out of town. Milford is me. It’s a place where you can dream. It’s such a huge part of me.”
Vanessa will be sharing the stage on November 20 with Isabel Castellvi on cello and Skye Steele on violin and guitar.
Her latest album is “a meditation on the eternal seesaw that is human connection, that constantly evolving nature of love – romantic to parental to the friends that hold us up – to the leaders that repeatedly let us down.”